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ScienceFiction

A form of fiction that developed in the 20th century and deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals. The term is more generally used to refer to any literary fantasy that includes a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.


Such literature may consist of a careful and informed extrapolation of scientific facts and principles, or it may range into far-fetched areas flatly contradictory of such facts and principles. In either case, plausibility based on science is a requisite, so that such precursors of the genre as MaryShelley's Gothic novel ''FrankensteiN'', or the Modern Prometheus (1818) and Robert Louis Stevenson's ''Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde'' (1886) are ScienceFiction, whereas BramStoker's ''Dracula'' (1897), based as it is purely on the SupernaturaL, is not.

ScienceFiction was made possible only by the rise of modern science itself, notably the revolutions in astronomy and physics. Aside from the age-old genre of fantasy literature, which does not qualify, there were notable precursors: imaginary voyages
to the moon or to other planets in the 18th century and space travel in Voltaire's ''Micromégas'' (1752), alien cultures in JonathanSwift's ''Gulliver's Travels'' (1726), and SciencefictioN elements in the 19th-century stories of EdgarAllanPoe, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, and Fitz-James O'Brien. Science fiction proper began, however, toward the end of the 19th century with the scientific romances of JulesVerne, whose science was rather on the level of invention, as well as the science-oriented novels of social
criticism by HgWells.

The development of ScienceFiction as a self-conscious genre dates from 1926 when Hugo Gernsback, who coined the portmanteau word scientifiction, founded ''Amazing Stories'' magazine, which was devoted exclusively to ScienceFiction stories. Published in
this and other pulp magazines with great and growing success, such stories were not viewed as serious literature but as sensationalism. With the advent in 1937 of a demanding editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., of Astounding Science Fiction (founded in
1930) and with the publication of stories and novels by such writers as IsaacAsimov, ArthurCClarke, and RobertHeinlein, ScienceFiction emerged as a mode of serious fiction. Ventures into the genre by writers who were not devoted exclusively to science fiction, such as AldousHuxley, C.S. Lewis, and KurtVonnegut, also added respectability.

A great boom in the popularity of ScienceFiction followed World War II. The increasing intellectual sophistication of the genre and the emphasis on wider societal and psychological issues significantly broadened the appeal of ScienceFiction to the reading public. ScienceFiction became international, extending into the SovietUnion and other eastern European nations. Serious criticism of the genre became common, and, in the UnitedStates particularly, science fiction was studied as literature in colleges and universities. Magazines arose that were dedicated to informing the ScienceFiction fan on all aspects of the genre. Some science-fiction works became paperback best-sellers.

Besides such acknowledged masters of the genre as Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov, ScienceFiction writers of notable merit in the postwar period included A.E. Van Vogt, J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Harlan Ellison, Poul Anderson, Samuel R.
Delany, Ursula K. LeGuin, Frederik Pohl, Octavia E. Butler, and Brian Aldiss. These writers' approaches included predictions of future societies on Earth, analyses of the consequences of interstellar travel, and imaginative explorations of forms of intelligent life and their societies in other worlds. Radio, television, and motion pictures have reinforced the popularity of the genre.