Geeks today have a lot on their minds. So much new technology arrives every day, new and exciting television and movies, books and fan fictions abound. There’s so much going on that it’s easy for newer geeks to jump right in to the new stuff without paying homage to all those that came before. With so many sub-par film adaptations, it’s easy to loose sight of the originals and how great they truly were. Classical Geek is your guide to a classic geek education.
Part 1: The Forefathers (and mother) of SciFi Literature
I present to you, fair readers, a list of some of the most influential authors in Science Fiction literature. The writings of these greats have influenced every aspect of SciFi culture. This is by no means a completely comprehensive list; there are too many to mention in one place. I did my best to cover a wide variety of authors, including those who you may have passed over as a result of having been forced to read them in school. I present them to you in chronological order.
Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) – The novel as a form of literature didn’t become popular until the late 18th century. Shelley’s Frankenstein is arguably the first true science fiction novel and helped shape the genre. With the advent of the microscope and thermometer, medical science was taking its first baby steps during this time. Shelley took these new advancements and produced her own vision of what might happen. It really was the first novel of the genre; at its core, it was fiction based in science.
Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) – Along with H.G. Wells, Verne helped to expand and popularize science fiction. Around the World in Eighty Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Journey to the Center of the Earth also helped influence the Steampunk sub-genre. Many of Verne’s writings were rejected by publishers as being “too scientific” for the general public, and, as a result, many were not released until after his death.
H. G. Wells (1866 – 1946) – The influence that Wells had on the science fiction community cannot be denied. The 1938 radio drama adaptation of War of the Worlds caused mass panic. The Time Machine presents the reader with a dualistic of the future that could be. The Island of Doctor Moreau is still the scariest book I have ever read. Seriously. In addition to his many fictional triumphs, Wells also published two books standardizing rules for wargames. That’s right. Anyone who has ever played Warhammer or any other miniature game has H. G. Wells to thank for it.
H. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) – No one’s writing better embodies the notion that “there’s something out there and it’s going to get us” better that Lovecraft. The Lovecraft mythos of Cthulhu and the other elder gods has become part of modern mythology, possibly one of the last authors to truly do so. Even though Lovecraft is usually categorized as a horror author, I think it’s safe to say that the notion of some life form beyond the stars that is just waiting to consume the world falls neatly into the category of science fiction.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917 – 2008) – 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my father’s favorite books. He had a big influence in my love of SciFi, so many of his favorites are mine, too. The interesting about 2001 is that it was a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Clarke based on the short story “The Sentinel” that Clarke had written years earlier. Kubrick thought the story would make a great movie, but believed that it would be better to allow the story to work itself out in novel form before confining themselves to a script. Anyone who has seen Wall-E cannot deny that Clarke’s influence is still far reaching today.
Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986) – Dune is widely held to be the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. Herbert believed that science fiction could be used to help build a better future. He felt that the dark visions that many authors had for the future could serve as a guide or warning against what could be. His works are rife with commentary on politics, science, philosophy, religion, and ecology. Herbert helped the genre become elevated in the public eye as something more than literary fluff.
Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) – If you’ve seen the recent movie I, Robot with Will Smith, pretend you haven’t. Not that I have any real problems with the movie, but the only thing it has in common with the original book is the title. Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series are part of a sub-genre that he called “social science fiction”. Asimov’s works focus on the social interactions of beings and the rules and ethics by which they must abide, as well as the consequences when they don’t. His main characters tend to be an “everyman” that the reader can identify with who is forced to make difficult decisions relating to the complex society in which they live.
Ray Bradbury (b. 1920) – Bradbury is my favorite SciFi author. I can’t get enough. His writings tend to sway in and out of science fiction proper, some hovering around more general fiction, some leaning more towards horror or fantasy. Some of the more heavily SciFi rooted stories are The Martian Chronicals. When compared with War of the Worlds, they provide an interesting counterpoint view of life on Mars and Martians. Many of his works are collections of short stories rather than full length novels. For those younger geeks in our audience, I recommend Fahrenheit 451 as an excellent book to write a paper on. It’s a very enjoyable read and there’s lots to write about; teachers love it.
Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001) – While many of the previous science fiction authors include humor in their writings, none, I feel, do it so effortlessly as Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a fantastic story in every iteration it has been presented. The almost dadaist absurdity found throughout lends a lighthearted feel to even the most dire situations. In most science fiction, authors present a future or alternate past where all of the characters are a part of that world. Even in The Time Machine, Wells’ hero may be foreign to the times he visits, but the notion and technology of time travel are his own. The fantastic thing about Adams is that Arthur Dent, the hero, believes that he lives in a completely ordinary world. Then, out of the blue, he discovers that his world is not at all ordinary but that he is living a science fiction novel. Hilarity ensues.
That is my whirlwind trip through the greats of science fiction. None of these tiny descriptions do any sort of justice to the epic proportions of these works of literature. I beseech you to go out, read them, and reclaim your nerd roots.
Classical Geek is a series dedicated to ensuring today’s geeks are properly educated and informed.