History of science fiction | Sunday Observer

History of science fiction

2 October, 2022

In the modern pop culture sphere, science fiction, or sci-fi as it commonly abbreviated, is a staple part of books, games, movies, TV, and most every other medium of entertainment.

Franchises that arise from this lofty genre draw in massive audiences and earn incalculable revenues every year, with its limits being literally as expansive as human imagination.

However, when it comes to its history, some can only cite popular late 20th century franchises such as Star Wars or Star Trek as the earliest examples of sci-fi. More literary minded fans could probably point out H. G. Wells and his seminal works such as The War of the Worlds.

This not only ignores the true extent of science fiction’s vague millennia old history, but also narrows the true scale of what exactly is possible within the genre.

Though it is such a ubiquitous term, even its most ardent fans have a hard time defining it. There is no one agreed upon definition, and as such, science fiction encompasses a very broad range of works across history. This vagueness also makes it difficult to separate science fiction stories from its sister genre of fantasy.

One of the more agreed upon definitions calls for stories under this genre to depict imaginary or futuristic depictions of scientific or technological concepts.

‘Epic of Gilgamesh’

Under this definition, some scholars argue that even the first recorded work of fiction mankind has ever produced, the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’, is technically a work of science fiction, dating the genre to as early as 2100 BC. The oldest story depicts instances of human reasoning, immortality and apocalyptic disasters, common themes of certain science fiction stories.

The Ramayana, one of the largest epics from ancient India, has more conventional depictions of science fiction, such as mechanical birds and even a spaceship.

Another popular example of historical science fiction comes from the Greek satirical novel ironically titled ‘A True Story’ by Lucian of Samosata which is considered the first known story to depict space travel, aliens and interplanetary war, making it an undeniable example of a science fiction story that has a lot of themes common with modern stories.

A common thread tying older stories is that they are ‘soft’ sci-fi, relying less on technical justifications and realistic science which is a characteristic of modern sci-fi.


Mary Shelley is thought to be responsible for the beginning of modern science fiction with Frankenstein in 1818, near the conclusion of the European Age of Enlightenment.

Later, Jules Verne, one of the forefathers of science fiction, wrote technologically advanced tales like ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace during Queen Victoria’s reign in the late 1800s.

During the same period, H.G. Wells, another pioneer of science fiction, foresaw the potential hazards of technological dehumanization and extraterrestrial life in his novels ‘The Time Machine’ and ‘War of the Worlds’.


Science fiction gained popularity in the 20th century as people started to depend more and more on technology. All of humanity’s rapid advancements and fantastical inventions are reflected in science fiction’s evolution from soft to hard sci-fi.

Decades before ‘Star Wars’, the first feature length sci fi movie, Metropolis, premiered in 1927, depicting a dystopian future of mankind oppressed by machines.

Pulp magazines brought science fiction into the mainstream in the 20s through the 40s, along the way inspiring precursors to the modern superheroes such as Flash Gordon, Doc Savage and The Shadow.

In the same time period, authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke became sci-fi heavy hitters, with their literature giving prophetic insight into artificial intelligence and space travel taken seriously by the scientific community to this day. Along the way, sci-fi saw an explosion of multimedia popularity across TV and movies with long lived classics in the 60s like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, until eventually blockbusters like ‘Star Wars’ thrust the whole world into a new age of sci-fi.