CanCon2015 day 2: The history of science fiction


Presenter: Dr. David G. Hartwell (and, his site).

DavidHartwell

Sorry for the poor pic. It was the best of the bunch I took 😦

Frankenstein (1818) was actually a collaboration between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Bodleian library holds the original manuscripts. They reveal four distinct hands. That it’s the first science fiction written by a woman is therefore debatable.

Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish, and Jane Louden could be contenders.

Many of the manuscripts from the early 20th century are now being re-examined.

Facsimile reprints only lasted 15 to 18 years for the research set. Now we have Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the like.

There have been no organized, concerted efforts dedicated to science fiction. It’s something fun for academic researchers. The early works, in particular, don’t get a lot of attention.

After Shelley, we have Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) and Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849).

Poe was, arguably, not a great writer, but he more or less created genre fiction, specifically mystery, science fiction, and horror.

Kafka (1883 – 1924) and Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803 – 1873) published speculative works as well.

There was a growth in modern nationalism and military invention at the end of the 1800s. The machine gun, the tank, and the air plane. It was largely considered the end of war the way it had always been fought. Governments other than monarchy developed.

More’s Utopia and Plato’s speculations were considered thought experiments. They were never realized.

By the 1890s, there was a large body of work that could be read and mimicked.

George Orwell was considered to have wrote scientific romances.

Currently, it is thought that the ‘important’ science fiction is written in one language, but there are French, German, Polish, and Italian writers in the genre.

Q: What is proto-science fiction?

Science fiction is a conscious effort. If it’s accidental, it’s proto-SF. The second consideration is that there has to have been an audience for the work.

Q: What about other literatures?

There are Arabic texts describing aliens that date back to Medieval times.

Q: Is Tom Swift considered science fiction?

Not really. It’s more adventure.

All imaginative literature got scrunched together and separated from ‘proper’ literature. The fantastic exists in literature since Gilgamesh. That doesn’t mean it was what we consider fantasy.

Q: What’s the difference between a techno-thriller and science fiction?

In the techno-thriller, the changes are temporary. The world reverts to normal. Science fiction tends to change the world permanently.

J.G. Ballard’s work usually involves a disaster of some variety and humanity must live with the results. It’s not the optimistic attitude of most science fiction.

Between 1920 and 1940, the literary establishment had to start excluding written material to maintain their elitism. The typical modernist text of the time was normal life with psychological insight.

John Updike wrote about The World Treasury of Science Fiction. He said it couldn’t be first rate literature.

The attitude of the literary establishment toward science fiction is not acceptable.

Q: Could you comment on Orwell? What about Huxley and Burgess?

Burgess liked reading science fiction, but his only analogue is A Clockwork Orange. Orwell wrote in the tradition of H.G. Wells. He would have been appalled if anyone called him a science fiction author.

Science fiction and fantasy are marketing categories.

Genre is an interaction between the author, the text, and the reader. There’s direct feedback. The traditional genres (literature, drama, poetry) don’t necessarily have that.

There was a fair amount that I didn’t get written down with this particular presentation, but it was still a great source of information. It filled in a few gaps for me from my previous studies. I have a feeling that Dr. Hartwell could have kept going 🙂

That’s it for this week.

I’m off to Bedfordshire (as in bed).

TTFN!

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