Skip to Main Content

National Science Fiction Day: A History of Science and Technology in Fiction

January 4, 2022

January 2 marked the annual celebration of National Science Fiction Day. By no coincidence, this date is also the birthday of Isaac Asimov, a famous science fiction writer and professor of biochemistry. This day of celebration was chosen to honor Asimov (author of “I, Robot”) who, along with Robert A. Heinlein (“Starship Troopers”) and Arthur C. Clarke (“2001: A Space Odyssey”), is considered one of the three most influential sci-fi writers of the all time.

Science fiction, or “sci-fi”, is a broad term used to define the genre and it is often categorized as any fictional narrative that involves science and technology. More specifically, it is “fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances”, but can also be defined as “the literature of the human species encountering change or societal shifts”. Sci-fi is not only a genre of literature, but also refers to movies, TV shows, comics, and other media.

Science fiction has a played a surprisingly important role in our culture over the centuries, with a long history that dates back to the BCE era. Translated texts from ancient Mesopotamia, India, and Greece give depictions of space and air travel, advanced weaponry and technology, other worlds, and man’s search for meaning. Japanese tales from 720 CE are seen to detail time travel and humans living under the sea. Middle Eastern folklore of the 10th century feature cosmic and intergalactic travels, as well as usage of submarine-like vessels. Themes during the European Middle Ages (12th century) included robots, self-operating machinery, and advanced biology. The Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century gave rise to an interest in scientific discovery, and thus many works of science fiction developed during this time. But Mary Shelley in the 19th century truly defined the genre with her famous work “Frankenstein” which explored themes of science, technology, and the moral aspects implicit in their use. The genre has never looked back since, with artists in every field finding ways to express their sci-fi ideas to this very day.

There is a reason why science fiction has been so important for so long - because it gives voice to mankind’s imagination and search for meaning. It is often called the “literature of ideas”; ideas that can encourage advancement in areas of study, like those offered at Capitol Technology University in Astronautical Engineering, Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering Technology, and Unmanned and Autonomous Systems, to name just a few. Sci-fi ideas have breathed life into real technologies used today, like cell phones, credit cards, robotics, atomic energy, artificial intelligence (AI), avatars, and many other inventions. Sci-fi not only allows for technological advancements, but for us to look at aspects of society, like equality and morality, and gives us a platform to ask the hard questions and come up with creative answers. It provides insight into viewpoints outside our own. It allows us to explore the potential consequences and outcomes of our imagination, to pave new ways into the unknown. It makes us think about the future and the “what-if” scenarios, to see what is possible or impossible. Sci-fi is certainly a genre to be celebrated, as it has had great influence on our lives and will continue to impact our future.

 

Notable Moments in Sci-fi History:

2000 BCE – Ancient mythology and texts in the Hindu, Greek, and Mesopotamian cultures are seen to feature sci-fi elements.

17th Century – The Age of Enlightenment begins, with works by Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Francis Bacon providing templates for future sci-fi themes.

19th Century – Mary Shelley writes “Frankenstein”, a novel that introduces advanced science and technology themes, as well as the morality of such advancements.

1902 – First science fiction film “Le Voyage dans la Lune” by George Méliès debuted.

1928 – First sci-fi comic strip “Buck Rogers” was published in pulp magazine.

1937 – John W. Campbell became editor of sci-fi pulp magazineAstounding Science Fiction”, sparking great advancements for the genre.

1938 - "The War of the Worlds" aired on American radio, causing panic to those who believed it was a real invasion and not a sci-fi drama.

1938 to 1946 – The Golden Age of Science Fiction.

1939 – Robert A. Heinlein began his career writing stories for Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and his impact on the genre was immediately felt.

1939 – The First World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was held during the New York World's Fair.

1950 – Isaac Asimov wrote first sci-fi novel “Pebble in the Sky”.

1954 – Journalist Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of the science fiction fandom, coined the term “sci-fi”.

1955 – “Tomorrowland”, an exhibition of futuristic technology-based attractions, debuted with Disneyland’s Park opening.

1960s – The New Wave era began, with works like Frank Herbert’s “Dune” marking this era.

1968 – Author Arthur C. Clarke and Film Director Stanley Kubrick released “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a film noted for its realistic depiction of space travel and its futuristic special effects.

1980s to 2022 – Cyberpunk era redefines the genre with its unique style, persisting through to modern times today with releases like “The Matrix” movie and similar works.

 

Notable Works of Sci-fi:

Novels and Novellas

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (1818)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Jules Verne (1872)

The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (1895)

At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft (1936)

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950)

Dune – Frank Herbert (1965)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (1968)

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (1979)

Contact – Carl Sagan (1985)

Watchers – Dean Koontz (1987)

Prey – Michael Crichton (2002)

Leviathan Wakes – James S. A. Corey (2011)

 

Film and Television

Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902)

Doctor Who (1963)

Star Trek: The Original Series (1966)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

Alien (1979)

Blade Runner (1982)

The Thing (1982)

Terminator (1984)

Aeon Flux (1991)

Stargate (1994)

Gattaca (1997)

The X Files (1998)

The Matrix (1999)

Sunshine (2007)

District 9 (2009)

 

 

References:

History of science fiction. (2022, Jan 3). Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_fiction

Reasons why science fiction is a great genre of films. (2020, Sep 5). Scified. Retrieved from https://www.scified.com/news/reasons-why-science-fiction-is-a-great-genre-films

Strauss, M. (2012, Mar 15). Ten inventions inspired by science fiction. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-inventions-inspired-by-science-fiction-128080674/

 

 

National Science Fiction Day: A History of Science and Technology in Fiction