Good Reading : September 2005
22 goodreading Commonly abbreviated to SF, science fiction is associated in most people’s minds with movies and TV series such Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica . But this kind of visual media-based SF represents only a small part of a genre that has been around since the 19th century.While science fiction enjoyed a ‘Golden Age’ of immense popularity from the late-1940s to the mid-1970s, the genre seemed to lose some of its appeal by the late-’70s. The far future sub-genre of space opera was especially seen as stale and spent, but since the publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984, SF has enjoyed a resurgence at the hands of writers such as Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, Iain M Banks, Peter F Hamilton, Scott Westerfeld and the Adelaide-based duo of Sean Williams and Shane Dix. Science fiction stories and novels are set in the future, sometimes in the far future, but also just beyond the foresee- able future or in a present where the contemporary setting is disrupted by the introduction of an imaginary device such as a new invention or an alien artifact or being.While examples of speculative fic- tion such as Spenser’s The Faerie Queen and The Travels of Sir John Mandeville have been around for hundreds of years, science fiction writers claim their nar- ratives respect the boundaries of science and that the technological innovations included in their work are conceivable extrapolations from current scientific theory and technology.While this is an interesting theory, in practice relatively few science fiction writers are quite this conscientious except in the broadest sense of the concept. The term science fiction was not coined until the late-1920s and for many years the genre was termed sci- entific romance, particularly in Britain. Nevertheless, literature that has been inspired by scientific, social and political developments has been around since the early 1800s; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or,The Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818, is often considered the first rec- ognisably modern example of the genre. Some mid-19th-century writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe incorporated SF themes into their work, but it is not until the late 19th century, and the advent of works such as Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and HG Wells’ The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, that futuristic fiction as a genre became popular. Like most other forms of art and liter- ature,World War I had a profound impact on British science fiction and writers between the wars such as Olaf Stapledon and Aldous Huxley were almost obsessed with the idea that another large-scale war would destroy civilisation and precipitate a new Dark Age.The war, however, did not have the same impact in the United States categorical After a number of years in the doldrums, science fiction has returned renewed and reinvigorated. All it took was a little technology writes DARREN BAGULEY.