Science fiction in the 1700s

Science fiction emerged about 300 years ago when science made great strides. Authors tried to understand their world by imagining a possible future.

Gulliver's Travels is the earliest science fiction. This satirical 1726 travel narrative is considered to be a precursor of the modern science fiction novel. Lemuel Gulliver encounters utopian and dystopian societies during his voyages. The novel describes scientists on islands whose experiments are pointless.

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Writing the future: A timeline of science fiction literature

1800s Science Fiction
  • 1818: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, who engineers a living creature in a hideous experiment. The novel is seen as a warning against the expansion of science without a moral context.
  • 1870: Jules Verne's tale of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is about the undersea adventures on the Nautilus. Verne imagined diving apparatus and a submarine.
  • 1895: HG Wells' The Time Machine is about time travel. It fuses science journalism with popular romance.
  • 1921: Yevgeny Zamyatin writes We after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The story is set in a dystopian society where people are numbered and live in glass buildings to allow them to be watched by the state.
  • 1926: Hugo Gernsback launches a pulp magazine and calls its fiction "Scientifiction", which blended romance, vision, and scientific knowledge. In 1929, Gernsback coins "science fiction" in his magazine.
  • 1932: Aldous Huxley writes in Brave New World about a dystopian world where genetic engineering becomes the norm and where science has eliminated unhappiness.
  • 1949: George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four during the Cold War. The book is set in a future Britain where the government monitors all private and public activity.
  • 1950: I, Robot is a collection of short stories written by American author and biochemist Isaac Asimov. He focuses on the future role of robots in society and also introduces his Three Laws of Robotics.
  • 1951: John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids is a tale of giant sentient plants. It is about a hero's efforts to survive in a broken society.
  • 1962: JG Ballard's The Drowned World is the first of his novels dealing with ecocatastrophes. He deals with the idea of societal breakdown after the polar ice caps have melted.
  • 1968: The futuristic novels of Philip K Dick provide the storyline for many modern sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is considering what makes a person human.
  • 1969: Author Ursula K Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness examines gender. Her characters are androgynous, taking on male or female characteristics every month.
  • 1974: Doris Lessing published a tale of post-apocalyptic societal breakdown in the novel Memoirs of a Survivor.
  • 1975: Academic and feminist Joanna Russ wrote The Female Man. She describes a positive community of women. The four main characters live in parallel worlds in different historical times and spaces.
  • 1979: Douglas Adams's series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is a parody of life across the Universe.
  • 1984: William Gibson blurs the boundary between human and machine in Neuromancer. Gibson's "console cowboys" chase each other through a virtual space known as the "matrix". Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" and is known for his prophetic visions of technology.
  • 1987: Octavia E Bulter wrote Dawn as part of a Xenogenesis trilogy to explore concepts of reproduction between species, gender and sexuality.
  • 1993: Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is about the colonisation of Mars as an analogy to the western expansion of the USA.

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