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The History of Science Fiction

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The History of Science Fiction

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The History of Science Fiction
By Adam Roberts
Palgrave Histories of Literature
Palgrave MacMillan, New York: 2006
ISBN: 0-333-97022-5

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - Posted March 13, 2012

In The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts provides an overview of the history of science fiction literature from its inception in the realm of mythology and storytelling and onward into the twenty-first century. This is an in-depth survey of both the genre and the historical foundations of science fiction as a literary form, and its aim is to trace the development of modern science fiction back to its historic roots. The text is organized both chronologically and thematically. The first seven chapters in this book set up the foundation for a critical examination of the historical basis of science fiction literature and how it has developed over time. These seven chapters include:
  1. Definitions - in this chapter Roberts provides an expansive definition of what science fiction is, as well as its scientific and technological components.

  2. Science Fiction and the Ancient Novel and an Interlude: AD 400-1600 - this chapter traces the lineage of science fiction back to the adventure tales associated with classic Greek literature.

  3. Seventeenth-Century Science Fiction - deals with the advent of modern scientific discovery in the West and its influence on the literature of the period.

  4. Eighteenth-Century Science Fiction - deals with the impact of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution on futuristic literature.

  5. Early Nineteenth-Century Science Fiction - focuses on the development of what can be classed as the first modern works of science fiction such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

  6. Science Fiction 1850-1900 - deals with modern scientific developments and how they were interpreted in literature of the period.

  7. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells - this chapter concentrates on the works of these two pioneering science fiction writers and the impact that their writing had on the genre.
The remaining seven chapters deal with the modern, twentieth-century forms and phases of science fiction literature, namely: The text ends with a postscript on Twenty-First-Century Science Fiction that provides a hint at what the future may hold for science fiction literature.

The History of Science Fiction is a fascinating book to read, and it will enthrall scholars, writers, and fans of science fiction. This is an academically rigorous book that includes copious references and endnotes. Yet, rather than coming across as a pedantic textbook, this book is a lively and energetic, and Roberts' fondness for the subject matter is obvious. In writing this book he has expertly interwoven both commentaries on a wide range of science fiction works along with a detailed historical narrative that provides a compelling critical analysis of the science fiction literature. This book will fascinate anyone with an interest in the literary and historical aspects of science fiction, and it is sure to become the standard text in University level literature courses on Science Fiction.

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