This page is dedicated to works which may be considered purely science fiction rather than of the "future shock" category. As such it will cover works by authors such as Arthur C Clarke, Philip K Dick and others traditionally considered science fiction writers. However, not all science fiction covers extraplanetary themes: for example, much of Philip K Dick's work took place on earth and dealt with the nature of reality.
Science fiction often has underlying messages or philosophies in addition to its primary themes of what tomorrow might mean in terms of space travel, encounters with alien civilisations or the future of humanity. These tend to be either of a utopian or dystopian variety. Arthur C Clarke could probably be considered a utopian, while Philip K Dick's short stories were often dystopian. However the division may be oversimplistic: Ben Bova, for example, shows technological progress against the background of unchanging human character, which to my mind is perhaps the more realistic scenario.
The genre has evolved with the real scientific progress made over the centuries since Renaissance and Reformation times. Books about space travel, or at least travelling to the moon, were known even in those early days, but it was the Industrial Revolution and rise of machines which arguably sparked the first wave of popular sci-fi writers such as Jules Verne and H G Wells, as well as the ideas of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Hermann Oberth in the early twentieth century. Although popularly associated with pulp magazines, at least in the US, science fiction before the Second World War could also produce important works such as Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930). Experiments with and military use of rockets and nuclear power in the 30s and 40s spurred on the idea of space travel to other planets, but the more exotic ideas of encountering multiple intelligent species in our own solar system were rather dashed by the discoveries of the first space probes that Mars and Venus did not appear to be conducive to normal biological life, let alone alien civilisations. Space however was still "sexy" in the sixties with the Space Race and the moon landings, but again there was something of a damp squib after the cancellation of the last of the Apollo missions and the realisation that mankind was not about to hop off to Mars after all. Writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and Ben Bova have instead focused on what might be termed the long haul of space exploration (missions measured in handfuls of people spending months in space to reach their destination) rather than the old days of fondly imagined high speed interstellar flight. The latter still remains a fond idea, however, and its use in some of the great works of sci fi in no ways denigrates them.
Nature's End, Strieber and Kunetka.
The Drowned World, J G Ballard
Two novels on the Megalodon
The Rama series
An introduction to Philip K Dick, plus reviews of some works
Other science fiction novels and stories
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