Science fiction, an acquired taste but ultimately, a genre intensely loved by many. A genre defined by time-travel, aliens, and galaxies far-far-away. Although its worth as a literary genre is hotly debated, science fiction has become such a pop culture giant that most people would have at least one sci-fi book, movie or tv show they like, no matter how they feel about the genre as a whole. As such, it gets its own special day to celebrate its history and the rich creativity of its creators and fans alike. January 2nd, chosen because of the birthdate of one of the genre’s most prolific authors, is a day to unofficially celebrate all things science fiction.
What is science fiction?
Science fiction (sci-fi) is a genre of fiction that speculates on the impact of science and technology on individuals or society whether this science is real or imagined. It was first popularised in the 1920s by Hugo Gernsback, an American publisher and one of the genre’s strongest advocates who founded the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926. Considered the ‘father of modern science fiction’, the Hugo awards, achievement awards given to the top creators in the genre, are named for him.
Sci-fi is mostly considered a modern genre, despite its long history, and is considered distinct from other forms of speculative fiction like fantasy or horror due to the technological plausibility it attempts in its works. Common tropes and themes of its works include: dystopias, allegories, prophetic warnings, science and technology for constructive or destructive purposes, self-knowledge (knowing what it means to be human) and unexplained phenomena e.g. UFOs.
History of science fiction
There is some debate as to the origins of the genre and which story or novel was the first of its kind. Usage of the term science fiction goes back to 1851 but some would argue that the genre itself is much older. Some scholars credit satirist Lucian with the first science fiction novel as his work A True Story published in 2nd Century CE includes many of the themes and tropes found in modern science fiction, including artificial life and extra-terrestrial life and travel. Others credit Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the first science fiction novel.
Whatever the genre’s origins, many critics would agree that H.G Wells and Jules Verne were two authors incredibly significant to the genre’s formation with their works Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870), The Time Machine (1895), Invisible Man (1897) and War of The Worlds (1898). Wells, in particular, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times and influenced real space travel so heavily that impact craters on both Mars and the Moon are named after him.
Science fiction’s Golden Age lasted from 1938 – 1946 and it was during that era that science fiction gained mainstream attention and many of the classics in the genre were published, including, I, Robot – Isaac Asimov, The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury, Brave New World – Aldous Huxley, 1984 – George Orwell and, Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury. This was followed by the New Wave of science fiction in the 1960s and 70s. By this point, the genre had moved to television and is when two of the best sci-fi shows were created; Doctor Who and Star Trek. Both became pop culture icons, with Doctor Who becoming a massive part of British culture and Star Trek leading to the creation of fanfiction and fan culture as we know it today. Both of these shows had and still have massive fanbases and are both still airing today, in fact Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi show worldwide.
Science fiction has become more than just a literary genre, it is now a thriving worldwide subculture which includes, books, movies, television shows, conventions attended by thousands.
Some Classic Recommendations
The world of science fiction can be a daunting place for those just starting to get into it and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some genre staples, perfect for beginners or seasoned fans wanting a refresh on the classics.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy – Douglas Adams (1979)
- Dune – Frank Herbert (1965)
- The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
- Kindred – Octavia E. Butler (1979)
- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932)
- Doctor Who (Classic Series 1963 – 1989)
- Star Trek (The Original Series: 1966 – 1969, The Animated Series: 1973 – 1974, The Next Generation: 1987 – 1994)
- The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964)
- Lost in Space (1965 – 1968)
- Battlestar Galactica (1978 – 1979)
- Star Wars: Original Trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983)
- Back To The Future (1985, 1989, 1990)
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
- Blade Runner (1982)
- Alien (1979) & Aliens (1986)
National Science Fiction Day is not just for celebrating the classics after all but also hyping up some new releases. Here are some great sci-fi works to get excited about!
- Battle of The Linguist Mages – Scotto Moore: an exciting book featuring VR gaming, spell-casting anarchists and combat linguistic – scheduled to be released January 11th, 2022
- Hunt The Stars – Jessie Mihalik: an enemies-to-lovers story featuring an intergalactic female bounty hunter and her crew – scheduled to be released February 1st, 2022
- Sisters of the Forsaken Stars – Linda Rather: a sequel to Sisters of the Vast Black, both stories feature interstellar nuns aboard their living ship ‘Our Lady of Impossible Constellations’ – scheduled to be released February 15th, 2022
- A Half-Built Garden – Ruthanna Emrys: a story about first contact, ‘extra-terrestrial diplomacy and urgent climate repair’ – scheduled to be released July 26th, 2022
- Sea of Tranquillity – Emily St. John Mandel: a pandemic story spanning from 1912 in Vancouver Island to a moon colony 300 years later – scheduled to be released April 5th, 2022
- Moonhaven Season 1: Set 100 years in the future, Bella Sway, a smuggler, and cargo pilot is accused of a crime and marooned on Moonhaven, a ‘utopian’ colony on the moon. Moonhaven is scheduled to be released on AMC in 2022, a UK release date is yet to be confirmed.
- Pantheon Season 1: Based on a series of short stories by Ken Liu about Uploaded Intelligence, Pantheon is animated series set to start on AMC in 2022. The first series will tell the story of woman who begins receiving messages from an unknown number claiming to be her deceased father.
- 4400 Season 1 (Part 2): In an instant, 4400 undervalued and marginalised people who vanished without a trace over 100 years are returned with no memory of what happened to them and without having aged a day. Part 1 was released on the CW network on October 25th, 2021, and Part 2 is scheduled to be released January 17th, 2022.