Who Invented Science-Fiction?

I was going to write about the inventor of a total science-fiction thing—meaning it was thought, but never created outside of sci-fi books—and I realized I already wrote multiple articles about sci-fi things (like the Laws of Robotics, teleportation, Solarpunk or Cyberpunk). This led me to think I should write about the genre itself. And so, I asked myself:

Who wrote the original science-fiction story?

There’s not an easy answer to that question. Why? Because everybody doesn’t seem to agree on what science-fiction is.

Before exploring that angle, we may just take a look at the naming of the genre. The story began in 1926 when Luxembourgish-American inventor and writer Hugo Gernsback launched Amazing Stories, the first magazine dedicated to science-fiction. He just loves the meeting between literature and science (75% of the first and 25 of the second was his preferred recipe).

Amazing Stories Magazine

In 1929, Gernsback coined the term “science fiction” (previously, he used “scientifiction” for scientific fiction). With Amazing Stories, he played a crucial role in the democratization of sci-fi. He was the first to call classic SF stories (From Poe, Wells & co) as such. By doing that, he created science fiction as a genre.

But it’s not the same thing as writing the first work of science fiction.

Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.” — Isaac Asimov.

What was the first science-fiction story?

We tend to give credit for the creation of the first who did it. It makes sense, but it’s not as easy as you may think with things like science-fiction.

People used to credit H.G. Wells and Jules Verne for the invention of science-fiction, but it’s not an opinion that is well-received nowadays. Instead, it was declared that Mary Shelley did it when she wrote: “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” in 1818. It’s also a valid opinion. Her novel is an important work in the genre, but was it the first?

“The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World” by Margaret Cavendish (1666)

If we really want a woman to be credited for the creation of science-fiction, why not Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle? In 1666, she wrote “The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World,” a romance/adventure story that takes us to a utopian kingdom in another world that can be reached via the North Pole. Some call it proto-science fiction.

A bit earlier, in 1608, Johannes Kepler wrote “Somnium” which presented a description of how the Earth might look when viewed from the Moon (it was published in 1634 by Kepler’s son).

For others, “One Thousand and One Nights” is an earlier example of science-fiction, like Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Even some Greek myths felt like sci-fi.

It all depends on the way you define a work of science-fiction, something that tends to divide a lot of passionate people. It seems that, since the beginning, human beings have had dreams about the future and they wrote about it.

If you are into sci-fi, you may be interested in an article I wrote about the history of UFO sightings.

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