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parallaxicality
2006-Feb-21, 09:34 PM
All this talk of Utopia has reminded me of what my Renaissance literature professor, well, professed to me while discussing Shakespeare, that Thomas More's Utopia is the foundation text for science fiction.

But it got me thinking: what are the dividing lines between science fiction and other forms of fantastic literature? Utopia is an interesting test case. It is a fantasy, but it is not an impossible fantasy. There is nothing in Utopia that could not happen in the real world. The world obeys physical laws and has a functioning (if implausible) social structure.

However, there is little of modern scifi's preoccupation with technological advancement (though the 16th century's great technological leap forward, the printing press, does get a look in toward the end). That is mainly, I think, because the spiralling advance of technology that became a fact of life in the years after 1850 wasn't even a glimmer in philosophers' eyes.

Gulliver's Travels straddles the boundary between scifi and fantasy. Yes, the Liliputians are little, yes the Brobdignagians are big, yes, the Huynnhms are talking horses, but they are no more illogical than many aliens created by later scifi writers.

Mary Shelley is often credited with writing the first ever science fiction novel in Frankenstein, but in many ways it would be better to see that book as fantasy; it wasn't until she wrote her 1831 preface and introduced the idea of electricity as the reanimating force that it took on any vestiges of natural philosophy. If anything Frankenstein is an alchemist, not a scientist.

A far more apropos (and less known) candidate for "first scifi novel" in Shelley's bibliography is The Last Man; a novel that explores the implications of the French Revolution, the Romantic movement and the Peterloo Massacre. Set in the year 2075, it involves the social revolution that occurs when the British monarchy is overthrown. Although 250 years have passed since Shelley's time, technology has advanced hardly at all; indeed great play is made of the wonder of the mind of man in his having designed the hot air balloon. Again it is interesting to note how earlier concepts of futurity did not take the endless advancement of technology as a given. Eventually, the revolution is undone by a plague that leaves the narrator as possibly the last man on Earth, wandering through the ruins of his society.

Are these scifi novels? Is technology, machinery, or even what we now call science, necessary in creating science fiction? After all, look at Star Wars; it's principal governing power is not science, but animism.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Feb-21, 10:06 PM
I like to separate science fiction from fantasy, to the extent that it's possible to do so, but I'm not a big fan of rigid distinctions between hard and soft science fiction, or science fiction and science fantasy, which I find ultimately pedantic. In the end, no one knows what the future will be like, and you have to give science fiction writers some room for imagination.

I am also not too concerned with questions such as 'What was the first true science fiction story?' (sorry), because it seems to me that science fiction emerged through a broadly gradual process.

Still, the examples you give are interesting food for thought.


Utopia is an interesting test case. It is a fantasy, but it is not an impossible fantasy. There is nothing in Utopia that could not happen in the real world. The world obeys physical laws and has a functioning (if implausible) social structure.

However, there is little of modern scifi's preoccupation with technological advancement (though the 16th century's great technological leap forward, the printing press, does get a look in toward the end). That is mainly, I think, because the spiralling advance of technology that became a fact of life in the years after 1850 wasn't even a glimmer in philosophers' eyes.Indeed, the idea of scientific progress is not really present in Utopia, except in a roundabout way. If I remember well, the author placed his ideal city in an as-yet undiscovered land in the New World. Now, when he was writing, there were still parts of America which the Europeans had not explored. It would have been possible for a geographical discovery somewhere in the continent, or in other parts of the world, to confirm Moore's 'prediction' exactly or approximately, in his future. But I admit that this argument is a bit farfetched.


Gulliver's Travels straddles the boundary between scifi and fantasy. Yes, the Liliputians are little, yes the Brobdignagians are big, yes, the Huynnhms are talking horses, but they are no more illogical than many aliens created by later scifi writers.Agreed, although I've never read it myself.


Mary Shelley is often credited with writing the first ever science fiction novel in Frankenstein, but in many ways it would be better to see that book as fantasy; it wasn't until she wrote her 1831 preface and introduced the idea of electricity as the reanimating force that it took on any vestiges of natural philosophy. If anything Frankenstein is an alchemist, not a scientist.My objection would be what I wrote in my first paragraph. Even modern, "hard" science fiction writers sometimes bend the rules a little bit, or make a guess, to embellish a story, or because no story would be possible without it. For example, in Fountains of Paradise, Clarke readily admits that he made some changes to the geographical caracteristics of the island of Sri Lanka, to make his story plausible.

In my opinion, Mary Shelley's novel contains, in a very nearly open way, the idea of progress, the notion that future science might accomplish things which were not possible in her time. To me, this is the essence of science fiction.

But I see there's another candidate you like best... ;)


A far more apropos (and less known) candidate for "first scifi novel" in Shelley's bibliography is The Last Man; a novel that explores the implications of the French Revolution, the Romantic movement and the Peterloo Massacre. Set in the year 2075, it involves the social revolution that occurs when the British monarchy is overthrown. Although 250 years have passed since Shelley's time, technology has advanced hardly at all; indeed great play is made of the wonder of the mind of man in his having designed the hot air balloon. Again it is interesting to note how earlier concepts of futurity did not take the endless advancement of technology as a given. Eventually, the revolution is undone by a plague that leaves the narrator as possibly the last man on Earth, wandering through the ruins of his society.Very interesting! I've never read it. When did she publish it?

Swift
2006-Feb-21, 10:06 PM
I don't disagree with anything you said Parallaxicality. I suspect there is not going to be an absolute answer, because of the problem of defining exactly what science fiction is. But I think Jules Verne's work would have to be included in early SF.

From wikipedia.org (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Verne#Partial_list_of_works)
Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864
From the Earth to the Moon, 1865
Around the World in Eighty Days, 1872
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1873

Alasdhair
2006-Feb-21, 10:43 PM
Asimov liked to claim Greek mythology as SF; stating that Hephaestus' handmaidens were robots by any other name.

Fram
2006-Feb-22, 08:39 AM
Lucianus' "True histories" (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/lucian.htm) is often cited as the first SF novel, and was apparently an influence on Thomas More and Jonathan Swift.

parallaxicality
2006-Feb-22, 09:47 AM
Asimov liked to claim Greek mythology as SF; stating that Hephaestus' handmaidens were robots by any other name.

True, and there are scifi elements in Gilgamesh too. However, it's a bit of a slippery slope to start referring to mythology as science fiction; after all, when these stories were composed, people actually believed them to be true. Do myths become fiction simply because no one believes in them anymore, even if the authors themselves did? If it wasn't for the evangelising efforts of a few Judean religious zealots, it's likely the western world would still be worshipping those gods today. If we're going to call the Greek mythology fiction, we might just as well call the Bible fiction.

X-COM
2006-Feb-22, 10:26 AM
I consider the bible to be fiction, at least most of it. Some real eye witness accounts of events may be there but those are probaly hard to identify and most likely seriously effected by personal intepretation, bad memory and misstranslations, censorship and most likely some flat out lies. An interesting read but I doesn't trust it to be truthful in it's details. The bible also have several authors and their opinions may not been the same.

Wolverine
2006-Feb-22, 10:39 AM
A discussion of the Bible should be undertaken elsewhere, as per the forum rules (http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php?p=564845#post564845).

parallaxicality
2006-Feb-22, 10:57 AM
Very interesting! I've never read it. When did she publish it?

1826, shortly after her husband Percy Shelley's death. The novel is essentially a bit of perosonal wish-fulfillment. The deposed prince in the novel is transparently based on her husband; a character called Lord Raymond is transparently Lord Byron.

Count Zero
2006-Feb-23, 12:10 AM
I like to separate science fiction from fantasy, to the extent that it's possible to do so, but I'm not a big fan of rigid distinctions between hard and soft science fiction, or science fiction and science fantasy, which I find ultimately pedantic. In the end, no one knows what the future will be like, and you have to give science fiction writers some room for imagination.

"I define Science Fiction as that thing I am pointing at when I say, 'That is Science Fiction.'"

-J. Michael Straczinsky

Some people have pointed to Shakespeare as an early SF writer. To me, A Winter's Tale has very definite SF components; most notably a painted statue of someone's lost love that comes to life when music is played.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Feb-23, 12:18 AM
Sounds like magic to me...

mike alexander
2006-Feb-23, 12:31 AM
I would vote for Kepler's "Somnium".

Gas Giant
2006-Feb-24, 11:30 AM
"I define Science Fiction as that thing I am pointing at when I say, 'That is Science Fiction.'"

-J. Michael Straczinsky
You sure that's one of Joe's? I thought Isaac Asimov said that.

ToSeek
2006-Feb-24, 07:39 PM
You sure that's one of Joe's? I thought Isaac Asimov said that.

Damon Knight (http://notesfromthegeekshow.blogspot.com/2005/12/sf-considered-as-subset-of-sf.html).

Paul Beardsley
2006-Feb-25, 09:17 AM
The Encyclopedia of SF, edited by Peter Nicholls (circa 1978) introduced the useful term proto-SF.

I don't think you can include, say, mythology, because it didn't emerge from a scientific culture. The gods of Mount Olympus were gods per se, not just people who had used advanced technology to enhance their bodies and enable them to control the weather. Yes, there were indeed robots in The Iliad, but they had far more in common with possessed suits of armour in ghostie stories than Asimov's own Robbie or R. Daneel.

For my own part, I define science fiction as "1. Stories which deal with the fantastic in a rational manner. 2. Stories which use the tropes developed in the first definition to tell a story that could not otherwise have been told."

TheBlackCat
2006-Feb-25, 07:58 PM
I don't know, although I have never read it the personally the descriptions I have read of the flying island city of Laputa in Gulliver's travels seems extremely sci-fi to me. It is kept aloft by magnetic levitation (a lodestone). The tyrant king of the city keeps ground-based people in control by hovering over rebelious areas, depriving them of sunlight and rain, or even lowering the islan onto other cities (slowly, to keep from damaging the adamantine bottom of the island). It was full of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and musicians. It has something called "the engine", a mechanical device people think is the earliest description of anything resembling a computer and that is capable of coming up with answers to any question by combining letters from the alphabet (not sure if it is random or not). I would say that sounds pretty sci-fi to me.

hhEb09'1
2006-Feb-25, 08:25 PM
I would vote for Kepler's "Somnium".I was about to mention the same thing, but I had to google for the title. Glad I did: here's a webpage at Depauw (http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/8/christianson8art.htm) that appears to be an article from their Science Fiction Studies journal (http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/). It says, "Seen from the perspective of the twentieth century, there is no reason to dispute the assertion that Kepler’s Dream is the fons et origo (http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/dictionaries/difficultwords/data/d0005698.html) of modern science fiction."

Fons et origo? Was Origo the wise-cracking little guy who rode in the Fon's sidecar?

Added dictionary of difficult words link in the post

Relmuis
2006-Feb-25, 08:43 PM
Frankenstein, or a modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley deserves mention, though Somnium by Johannes Kepler was earlier.

The idea that life was based on electricity was quite scientific at the time, so reviving corpses by using electricity was perfectly good science fiction. Also the idea that one would need to use a jigsaw corpse is well thought out; that way one could abandon those organs whose failure caused death in the first place.

Eroica
2006-Feb-25, 09:27 PM
I would vote for Kepler's "Somnium".
I concur.

harlequin
2006-Feb-26, 05:49 AM
Mary Shelley is often credited with writing the first ever science fiction novel in Frankenstein, but in many ways it would be better to see that book as fantasy; it wasn't until she wrote her 1831 preface and introduced the idea of electricity as the reanimating force that it took on any vestiges of natural philosophy. If anything Frankenstein is an alchemist, not a scientist.


Might I point out that Mary Shelley was simply using ideas current for her time. The idea that electricity was connected to life was in vogue at the time. Indeed a thing that impressed people at the time was the electricity could make dead animals (usually frogs) twitch.

Of course we now know that those ideas are wrong....

Selenite
2006-Feb-26, 06:23 AM
Probably not very well known but my vote goes for Cyrano de Bergerac's Voyage to the Moon. (1657) In which a traveler fastens a quantity of small bottles filled with dew to his body. The sun sucks him up with the dew and he lands on the moon. Possibly one of the first stabs at describing interplanetary travel.

The link if you wish to read more.

http://www.princeton.edu/~stengel/cyrano.html

Eroica
2006-Feb-26, 11:29 AM
Probably not very well known but my vote goes for Cyrano de Bergerac's Voyage to the Moon. (1657)
Kepler's Somnium was written between 1620 and 1630.

Fram
2006-Feb-27, 10:05 AM
Kepler's Somnium was written between 1620 and 1630.

And why not Lucian? He's a bit earlier still...

Eroica
2006-Feb-27, 10:57 AM
And why not Lucian? He's a bit earlier still...Is A True Story really science fiction? It's a bit like claiming the apocryphal Biblical story of Susanna as the first piece of detective fiction - it's a bit of a stretch.

Jim
2006-Feb-27, 02:31 PM
I'd have to agree - at least in part - with Asimov.

Keep in mind that most Greeks worshipped the gods, but didn't really believe in them. Still, most of the Olympus myths were fantasy rather than science fiction.

However, the story of Icarus involves humans and technology. The gods are invoked only as a side bar.

But, it's more of a short story.

Fram
2006-Feb-27, 03:37 PM
Is A True Story really science fiction? It's a bit like claiming the apocryphal Biblical story of Susanna as the first piece of detective fiction - it's a bit of a stretch.

Well, it is presented as fiction, which the story of Susanna is not (IIRC).
Furthermore, it presents space travel, imaginary beasts (more fantasy than Sf, this one, but then, so are the Barsoom novels), scientific astronomic knowledge (the sun shines, while the moon reflects), a description of a telescope (more or less :D ), the intrinsic colour of the Sun (green); and in the Icaro-Menippus, he describes his flying machine, which was an improvement on Icarus' one (no wax!). I have to say that the Icaro-Menippus is a more modern text, perhaps more bound to be called SF than A True Story, but I can as well agree that neither is true SF. But it is clear that they have kernels of it in them, and that A True Story was a great influence on Swift and De Bergerac.

For those willing to read it, here is the Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10430/10430.txt) text (in English).

Disinfo Agent
2006-Feb-27, 03:40 PM
Keep in mind that most Greeks worshipped the gods, but didn't really believe in them.What?! Yes, they did!

Disinfo Agent
2006-Feb-27, 03:45 PM
Well, it is presented as fiction, which the story of Susanna is not (IIRC).
Furthermore, it presents space travelDoes he come up with a plausible scientific mechanism for the space travel ('Plausible' at the time the book was written; let's not be too picky.)


[...] imaginary beasts (more fantasy than Sf, this one, but then, so are the Barsoom novels)Indeed. Lord of the Rings has imaginary beasts, too.


[...] scientific astronomic knowledge (the sun shines, while the moon reflects)Where's the 'fiction' part of that?


[...] a description of a telescope (more or less :D ), the intrinsic colour of the Sun (green); and in the Icaro-Menippus, he describes his flying machine, which was an improvement on Icarus' one (no wax!).That might do the trick...

Fram
2006-Feb-28, 10:01 AM
Does he come up with a plausible scientific mechanism for the space travel ('Plausible' at the time the book was written; let's not be too picky.)
Not less plausible than being picked up by demons (like in Kepler's Somnium (http://www.thealienonline.net/columns/rcsf_kepler_sep02.asp?tid=7&scid=55&iid=1051)).
Let's see, what more does Kepler's Somnium have: imaginary creatures, no science except the current (cutting-edge, I have to say, but not "imaginative", no future), ... It does not describe a future, does not predict developments, has nothing of the future science that is one of the cornerstones of SF, and which make Verne and Wells so clearly SF writers.

I just want to show that while Kepler's work of course is more scientific than Lucian's, it is quite comparable in many aspects and when seen in its time. I wouldn't call Lucian SF, but I wouldn't call Kepler SF either, and would start SF with Verne (or perhaps Shelley). I see no reason to make a demarcation between Kepler and Lucian, while there can be made a demarcation between those and Verne, IMO.

eikep
2006-Feb-28, 02:23 PM
Brian Stableford in "The Cambrigde Companion to Science Fiction" names as the first Science Fiction Novels:

- Francis Bacon "New Atlantis" (written in 1617)
- Johann Valentin Andreae "Christianopolis" (1619)
- Tommaso Campanella "La Citta de Sole" (written in 1602)

(I have read neither of them, I'm just quoting Stablefords essay). He mentions "Frankenstein" as an example of "anti-science" fiction - it is after all a story about a traumatic failure and about borders which man was not supposed to cross etc.

Stableford also mentions that the term "science-fiction" was coined in 1851 by one british William Wilson, which was new to me - I always thought it was a derivate of Gernsbacks "scientifiction".

-- eike

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-01, 01:09 PM
I just want to show that while Kepler's work of course is more scientific than Lucian's, it is quite comparable in many aspects and when seen in its time. I wouldn't call Lucian SF, but I wouldn't call Kepler SF either, and would start SF with Verne (or perhaps Shelley). I see no reason to make a demarcation between Kepler and Lucian, while there can be made a demarcation between those and Verne, IMO.I agree with you, then. But what about Swift? Have you read Gulliver's Travels?

parallaxicality
2006-Mar-01, 01:39 PM
I think there's been something of a misunderstanding of what I wrote about Frankenstien.

What I meant to say was that, although the use of electricity (or as it was known at the time, galvanism, which I think is a much cooler term) is indeed good scifi, given the state of knowledge at the time, in the original novel, Frankenstein deliberately makes no mention of his methods for reanimating the Creature; he claims that to do so would be to impart to Walton the tools for his own destruction. It was only in her 1831 Preface, written for the second (and very different) edition of the novel, that Shelley introduced the idea that electricity could be the vital force employed in the Creature's reanimation. Without that Preface, Frankenstein shifts from scifi to alchemical fantasy.

And yes, the ancient Greeks certainly believed in their gods; so much so in fact, that they considered a spoken oath invoking a particular god to be more binding than a written contract, since anyone could forge a document, but no one would dare break an oath made in the name of a god, for fear of drawing celestial wrath upon themselves.

Now, the playwrights and poets, who used the myths in their works were free to embellish and shift them to dramatic effect as much as they pleased (the Greeks described this practice as something like "telling beautiful lies"), and thus Aschylus and Aristophanes could be accused of "fictionalising" the myths, but that does not mean that the either the authors or their audience did not believe the stories those works were based on were false.

Fram
2006-Mar-01, 01:54 PM
I agree with you, then. But what about Swift? Have you read Gulliver's Travels?

I've read it once complete, some 15 years ago (I had read many abbreviated versions before, in my innocent days of youth). Great novel, beautiful imagination, good satire, but not much SF, IIRC. Similar to the other precursors mentioned here. I should check it out again (Gutenberg will come to rescue me!).
On checking it out, I get the impression that the explanations for the floating island are closer to SF than what we saw with Lucian or Kepler. It's nearer to the line than those two, but I would still place it outside SF.
Like all such boundaries, this is debatable of course (OT, but I have witnessed fierce arguments about what is or isn't a comic, including things like the Bayeux Tapestry).

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-01, 11:25 PM
And yes, the ancient Greeks certainly believed in their gods; so much so in fact, that they considered a spoken oath invoking a particular god to be more binding than a written contract, since anyone could forge a document, but no one would dare break an oath made in the name of a god, for fear of drawing celestial wrath upon themselves.I'll add that some Greeks were apparently skeptical about the gods, but those always seemed to be a minority.

"As to the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or do not exist. For many are the obstacles that impede knowledge, both the obscurity of the question and the shortness of human life" Protagoras. (http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathp_greece.htm)


For such statements Protagoras was branded with impiety by Athenians and banished, while all his works were collected and burnt.

Grey
2006-Mar-02, 02:46 AM
I took a course in Greek literature once, and we ended up reading various works in roughly the chronological order of when they were written. It was subtle, but one thing you could see was a shift in the attitude toward the gods over the course of the centuries, moving from treating them as very real and involved in everyday occurrances, to being more abstract and impersonal, to being almost literary devices. By the time we reached the eras of things like Thucydides or the Old Comedies, it wasn't all that clear whether they still really believed in their gods or not. At the very least, the attitudes toward them had changed significantly.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-02, 01:07 PM
You mean the attitudes of Greek intellectuals towards the gods...

Grey
2006-Mar-02, 02:29 PM
You mean the attitudes of Greek intellectuals towards the gods...Or at least Greek authors. I'm not quite sure I'd insist that the authors of Old Comedies were intellectuals. ;) Valid point, though; it's hard to know what the average man on the street thought about such matters.

Relmuis
2006-Mar-02, 02:35 PM
Dante's Divina Commedia might be classed as science fiction. That is, if we accept the theology of Dante's day as science. Dante himself would have trusted this theology, so one might at least say that he intended to write science fiction (rather than just fantasy).

In the Inferno, he describes the absence of a definite vertical near the center of the Earth. In the Purgatorio, he describes what the stars would look like seen from the Southern Hemisphere, and in the Paradiso he gives a reason for the dark markings visible on the moon.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-02, 03:12 PM
[...] if we accept the theology of Dante's day as science. Dante himself would have trusted this theology, so one might at least say that he intended to write science fiction (rather than just fantasy).With such a broad concept of science fiction, almost any religious story could be classified as science fiction. Even the Bible...

Personally, I don't think we can speak of science fiction at a time when science itself was still in its infancy, barely distinct from magical thought.

Relmuis
2006-Mar-02, 04:00 PM
In the Middle Ages, theology was regarded as one of the sciences (along with grammar, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and a few others -- I forgot which). Therefore Dante was writing a fictional adventure based on what he (and his contemporaries) regarded as science. I.E. science fiction.

By the way, the Christ Clone trilogy by James Beauseigneur is found in the Science Fiction section of my local book shop. Though not every religious story is science fiction, some are.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-02, 04:12 PM
In the Middle Ages, 'science' was just a broad synonym for 'knowledge' (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=science), or 'study'. But that's not what we now call science.


Main modern (restricted) sense of "body of regular or methodical observations or propositions ... concerning any subject or speculation" is attested from 1725; in 17c.-18c. this concept commonly was called philosophy.

Relmuis
2006-Mar-02, 05:37 PM
So, they would have called The Divina Commedia science fiction, but our SF they would have called philosophy fiction. If such terms had already been in use, that is.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-02, 06:08 PM
But they weren't in use. And that's relevant, because it shows that medieval men very likely did not have any concept which even slightly resembled the modern notion of 'science fiction'.

Fram
2006-Mar-02, 08:30 PM
The Divina Commedia did not go to a future world, nor to parallel worlds or alternartive worlds. It went to uncharted territory in the known, contemporary world with the known, contemporary science, which makes it an adventure novel in the same vein (though with a bit more philosophical and stylistical baggage) as e.g. "King Solomon's Mines".

MadConflux
2006-Mar-03, 09:48 AM
What was the first scifi novel?

The Bible?

Relmuis
2006-Mar-03, 02:14 PM
The Divina Commedia did not go to a future world, nor to parallel worlds or alternartive worlds. It went to uncharted territory in the known, contemporary world with the known, contemporary science, which makes it an adventure novel in the same vein (though with a bit more philosophical and stylistical baggage) as e.g. "King Solomon's Mines".

The narrator does visit the Moon, the Sun, the known planets and the firmament (the sphere which the stars are attached to). He also visits the center of the Earth. Voyage to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne would be a science fiction novel, I think, just as 20,000 Miles beneath the Sea.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-03, 02:32 PM
Yes, but Verne wrote the voyages in a way that was scientifically plausible. He hinted that they were possibilities, not just imagination.

Fram
2006-Mar-03, 02:55 PM
The narrator does visit the Moon, the Sun, the known planets and the firmament (the sphere which the stars are attached to). He also visits the center of the Earth. Voyage to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne would be a science fiction novel, I think, just as 20,000 Miles beneath the Sea.

Just read Paradise Canto II (the visit to the Moon). Er, right. Where is the science in this fiction?

If you reread my description, Verne did not (in the novels yu give) use the known, contemporary science (and let me add technology, which I forgot in that post), but projects possibilities, which makes it a description of a future world. Dante does not do this. He uses the Moon to create an outerworldly, esoteric, transcendent, yes, religious experience.

Not all works of Verne are SF of course, "80 days", or "5 weeks in a balloon", are more "ordinary" adventure novels.

Relmuis
2006-Mar-03, 03:22 PM
Verne [...] projects possibilities, which makes it a description of a future world. Dante does not do this.

Must a Science Fiction story be about the future?

A story where someone is abducted by aliens, shown their spaceship, flown around the Solar Sytem, and then brought back, would be science fiction. As would a story about an aviator who discovers the remains of a 225 million year old city under the Antarctic ice cap. Or a story about a parapsychologist who gets to visit the hereafter, just like Dante did.

Inferno by Niven and Pournelle was a kind of update of Part I of the Divina Commedia, and is usually sold as science fiction.

ToSeek
2006-Mar-03, 03:32 PM
Inferno by Niven and Pournelle was a kind of update of Part I of the Divina Commedia, and is usually sold as science fiction.

Yes, but probably because it was written by a couple of science fiction writers. If Tom Clancy had written the same book, where do you think it would be shelved?

(It's a really fun book, by the way.)

A.DIM
2006-Mar-03, 03:47 PM
I'm one of those who allows the proto-science "fiction" to qualify as sci-fi.

As DisinfoAgent pointed out above, "scientific" understand, to the ancients, was "wisdom and knowledge." I think instances in ancient mythic and religious texts where we find individuals taken aloft in "whirlwinds" or vimanas, flying craft that is, by heavenly beings and shown "the ways of heaven" (astronomy) and the "secrets of letters and numbers"(writing and mathematics) can be consider sci-fi...
...if not History...
just kidding, just kidding!

Nonetheless, this is an interesting discussion about what qualifies as SciFi.

Here (http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/78/evans78art.htm) is an interesting paper dealing with sci-fi criticism I find relevant.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-03, 03:52 PM
Must a Science Fiction story be about the future?No, but I still agree very much with Fram's point. He's really nailed it: science fiction projects the possibilities of present science and technology into... the future, the present, the past -- it doesn't matter. The point is that science fiction extends present science, imagining new discoveries, or using hypothetical new technology as its background, in any case.

A.DIM
2006-Mar-03, 04:03 PM
If that's the case, then it strengthens my opinion on the topic, especially considering the countless flying "boats" or "cars," various "robots" and "ray" or "beam" weapons, genetically spliced creatures, et al found in the texts I referred to.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-03, 04:08 PM
I disagree, A.DIM, because I do not think the flying boats, etc., in those texts were conceived as scientific possibilities by ancient authors. I think they regarded those wonders as miracles, or magic.
Miracles and magic are the lore of religion, mysticism, legend, at best fantasy, but not of science fiction. The science element is missing.

P.S.

Here (http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/78/evans78art.htm) is an interesting paper dealing with sci-fi criticism I find relevant.Delightful! Thanks. :)

Relmuis
2006-Mar-03, 04:54 PM
Now take three mirrors, and put two of these
At the same distance, and the third one further
From both your eyes, but still between the others
Look at all three of them, and let some candles
Be lit behind you, thus to cause their radiance,
After reflection by the three, to reach your pupils.
Although the image which to you seems furthest,
Has less extent than in the other mirrors,
Yet will it prove to glow with the same brilliance.

(Paradiso, 2, 97-105)

Dante is here describing the difference between intrinsic and apparent luminosity, and arguing that different distances to different parts of the Moon cannot cause us to see dark and light regions; there must be actual differences in albedo.

(I translated this into English from what was already a translation into my native language; so some words may be slightly different from an official translation.)

A.DIM
2006-Mar-06, 03:50 PM
I disagree, A.DIM, because I do not think the flying boats, etc., in those texts were conceived as scientific possibilities by ancient authors. I think they regarded those wonders as miracles, or magic.

Hello DA.
As you well know, I see it otherwise. Countless mythic and religious texts are written matter-of-factly, almost historically. The ancients considered their "gods" as real flesh and blood beings possessed of such craft and weapons, physically interacting with humans.


Miracles and magic are the lore of religion, mysticism, legend, at best fantasy, but not of science fiction. The science element is missing.

OK, but as you pointed out, "science" to the ancients was "knowledge and wisdom," dealing with astronomy, mathematics, writing, architecture, and more; even the genetic mixing of beings and the secrets of immortality pervade these texts which, needless to say, are two very prominent scientific endeavors these days.
All in all, I realize my consideration of the "first" scifi is merely "proto" scifi in the minds of most.
No worries.


P.S.
Delightful! Thanks. :)

Most welcome!
I felt it shed some light on exactly what our discussion is based.
:)

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-06, 05:00 PM
OK, but as you pointed out, "science" to the ancients was "knowledge and wisdom," dealing with astronomy, mathematics, writing, architecture, and more; even the genetic mixing of beings and the secrets of immortality pervade these texts which, needless to say, are two very prominent scientific endeavors these days.
All in all, I realize my consideration of the "first" scifi is merely "proto" scifi in the minds of most.
No worries.Very "proto", and that's why I keep resisting the tendency to amalgamate them. While I acknowledge that the meaning of "science" has changed, I maintain that the ancients never had a specific notion of "science fiction".
Even the concept of "fiction" itself is fairly modern, I think. I would never call the Bible, or the Greek myths, "fiction". That's a modern, anachronistic label. The ancients believed in those stories, or at least thought they contained some religious truth in symbolic trappings. It was not fiction to them.

P.S. As a matter of fact, take a look at David Russen's comments about the translation of the adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac into English (1703), and the paragraphs that follow it, in the essay you linked to. :)

A.DIM
2006-Mar-06, 11:03 PM
Very "proto", and that's why I keep resisting the tendency to amalgamate them. While I acknowledge that the meaning of "science" has changed, I maintain that the ancients never had a specific notion of "science fiction". Even the concept of "fiction" itself is fairly modern, I think. I would never call the Bible, or the Greek myths, "fiction". That's a modern, anachronic label. The ancients believed in those stories, or at least thought they contained some religious truth in symbolic trappings. It was not fiction to them.

Of course not, it was History to them; it was very real and physically present, according to the texts.

Take the Vimanas (http://www.atributetohinduism.com/Vimanas.htm); these descriptions and uses strike me as more scientific than "religious" in purpose.



P.S. As a matter of fact, take a look at David Russen's comments about the translation of the adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac into English (1703), and the paragraphs that follow it, in the essay you linked to. :)

Thanks, I'll check it out.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Mar-06, 11:54 PM
Of course not, it was History to them; it was very real and physically present, according to the texts.I wouldn't call it history, either, as you have probably guessed. History was born with Herodotus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodotus). :)

Fram
2006-Mar-07, 08:50 AM
Of course not, it was History to them; it was very real and physically present, according to the texts.

Take the Vimanas (http://www.atributetohinduism.com/Vimanas.htm); these descriptions and uses strike me as more scientific than "religious" in purpose.

I guess we'll have to disagree about that. I'm looking at the references they give from the Rig Veda (Sacred Texts (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/)), and they are to me clearly religious texts, and not historical or scientific or even simply describing. They are prayers, "hymns" like they call it. I see no descriptions of gas-powered or powered cars, but evocations of Gods that travel on lightning and wind: unexplainable phenomena (for them, weather for us) explained as chariots of the Gods (sorry, bad pun). Some of the references given on that site seem wrong as well (9.14.1 does not contain any reference to a vehicle, as far as I see), or double (3.14.1). Claiming just like that that the Rig Veda is "the oldest document of the human race" is a bit easy as well, as that is heavily disputed.
And the translation of the Atharha-Veda strikes me as rather modern:

The atomic energy fissions the ninety-nine elements, covering its path by the bombardments of neutrons without let or hindrance. I have the feeling that from all possible translations of the original text, the one with the most modern scientific words has been used, and I would like to see another one, but I can't seem to find it for now. It doesn't convince me, anyway.

parallaxicality
2006-Mar-08, 10:37 AM
I have a problem with that sentence anyway, unless I'm taking it out of context: there aren't 99 elements. There are either 92 elements, if you only count those that are naturally occurring, or 110+ if you count those manufactured in labs.

Fram
2006-Mar-08, 12:17 PM
I suppose that while they could be creative with their translation, they could hardly change a number given (from 99 to 92 or so). Although someone can always claim that it is a transcription error, or perhaps that 7 more elements will be found to be occurring naturally, showing that the ancients were smarter than we are... :D