How did science fiction begin? In this lesson, we’ll explore one of the predecessors to science fiction, scientific romance. We’ll look at what it was, and how British short stories in the 1800s represented the genre.
Lori loves to read. But she’s not a big fan of reading a little at a time to get to the end of a big story. When she sits down to read, she wants to finish whatever she’s reading in one sitting!Lori is likely to enjoy short stories, which are short pieces of fiction. Most are fewer than 30,000 words, though this length can vary somewhat. But the idea with a short story is that you are able to read it all the way through in one sitting.
Short stories have been around for a long time. They were particularly popular in the 19th century, as many were published in magazines and newspapers of the day. They were kind of like television shows today: people sat down to read one after a day of work.One of the more popular places for short stories in the 1800s was Great Britain, particularly England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. British short stories were some of the most popular of the time.
Lori loves science fiction.
Someone told her that she might like scientific romance stories too, but she’s not so sure. Though she likes stories about traveling through time, she’s not a big fan of people falling in love, so she doesn’t think she’d like romance.The thing that Lori needs to realize is that in literature, romance is a story involving a journey that changes a person. In a literary romance, a person travels and then arrives home again a new and changed person.
For example, L. Frank Baum’s famous book The Wizard of Oz is a classic romance: Dorothy travels to Oz, has lots of adventures that change her, and then she returns home again a changed person. So a romance in the traditional literary sense does not necessarily involve people falling in love.
If romance is about people going on a journey, Lori wonders, what’s a scientific romance? In 19th century parlance, scientific romance is a precursor to science fiction that involves a journey through time or space that left the main character changed.
The term ‘science fiction’ was not used until the 20th century, so in the 1800s, authors wrote scientific romance. If Lori likes science fiction, she’ll like scientific romance.The term scientific romance was popularized by the most famous British science fiction writer, H.
G. Wells. Wells wrote many short stories, including ”The Chronic Argonauts,” the first British story featuring a character who built a time machine (predating the more famous novel he wrote called ‘The Time Machine’).Other popular British authors who wrote in this genre include George Griffith, Jerome K.
Jerome, Grant Allen, and John Davidson.
With all the different British writers from the 19th century writing it, Lori imagines that there’s a wide variety of themes, ideas, and approaches. She’s right. Scientific romance varied in 19th century short stories, but there were a few elements that were common across the genre.
They included:1. A journey, often through time.In keeping with the idea of romance, most scientific romances included a journey, often through time. The main character of the story would construct a time machine that allowed him (and it was almost always a ‘him’) through the ages.
Thus, the journey in a scientific romance might be to an exotic location, but it was just as likely to be a journey to another time.2. Elements of science.This science could vary widely: it could involve technology, like the building of a time machine, or it could involve some other element of science, commonly related to the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin.
3. Critique of the culture of politics of the day.While a social critique was not present in all writers’ works, many scientific romance writers (including H.G. Wells) used the form to critique the world around them. It was common to see pro-socialist or pro-Marxist messages hidden in scientific romance short stories.
4. A main character who is focused on science and advancement.In keeping with the scientific trends of the genre, the main character of many British scientific romances was a hero or anti-hero who was focused on science and advancement, often to the point of obsession. Thus, the science was often brought about by the actions of the main character.
Short stories are short pieces of fiction meant to be read all the way through in one sitting.
In the 19th century there were many British short stories produced in the genre of scientific romance, a precursor to science fiction that involves a journey through time or space that left the main character changed. In the case of scientific romance (like in literature in general), the term romance simply means a story involving a journey that changes a person.Famous British scientific romance writers of the 19th century included H.G. Wells, George Griffith, Jerome K. Jerome, Grant Allen, and John Davidson. British scientific romance includes the following common elements: a journey, often through time; elements of science; a critique of the culture and politics of the day; and a main character who focuses on (or obsesses about) science and advancement.