Post by Jack Bohn Post by Lynn McGuire Post by Jack Bohn
I hope my snarkasm was not taken amiss. I've convinced myself that
everybody has agreed to use the silliest possible arguments in the
political threads, just to get my goat, and I let them flow by, but to
see it about the subject of the group...
Hugo Gernsback invented science fiction; not just the name, but the genre.
Wow, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells would be surprised to find out that
their wild stories in the 1800s were not Science Fiction.
[No, they wouldn't. This has since moved on.]
Post by Jack Bohn Post by Lynn McGuire
Science Fiction has been with us for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Hugo Gernsback may have coined the name but the spirit was already there.
The desire to tell or hear a weird tale exists. To what extent a
strain of it can be separated out and called "science fiction" is the
At this point in a genre-defining discussion I usually trot out my
distinction among modes, traditions and market categories. Gernsback
certainly invented the market category of science fiction; I don't
see any room for doubt about that. Were scientific romances even
marketed *as* scientific romances? - did ads for those books feature
any such term, or promise specifically scientific-seeming action?
There's also no doubt that the tradition of science fiction includes
Wells, Verne and Shelley, sometimes even Swift. But that's post
facto tradition. The tradition of fantasy trilogies clearly goes
back to Tolkien, but Tolkien didn't intend to write a fantasy trilogy
at all.  Similarly, none of Swift, Shelley, Verne or Wells
thought they were writing science fiction, though Wells lived long
enough to see the term coined. Traditions that know themselves as
"science fiction" all go back to Gernsback.
I don't much like working in modes, but Wells, Verne and Shelley
certainly belong in any reasonably defined science fiction mode; I
suspect Swift does too. My tongue-in-cheek candidate for the first
science fiction story by mode terms is the Gospel of Nicodemus. This
is most famous today as a seminal anti-Semitic document, and is well
known to be a patchup of two originally separate texts, but in fact,
the way it survives as a unit, it depicts the Crucifixion and
Resurrection as they would seem to, and as they would affect, one
population after another, both on Earth and in other realms. It's
unequivocal science fiction of the science, as it was termed in those
days (long after Christ), of theology. It's actually significant,
here, that we *are* long after Christ (about the 6th century AD). I
don't see how you can define a science fiction mode that doesn't call
on "science", and that means no science fiction mode can be
immemorial, can be older than human concepts understandable as
science. I've read much of what's older than about 400 BC, and I
wasn't tempted to call *any* of that proto-sf. 
All of that said, I no longer have the confidence I did when I came
up with this set that they really cover the field. I'm too used to
thinking with these categories to go further, but I suspect there are
still more ways people intend "genre", being illustrated in this
thread, that this set doesn't capture. Oh well.
 Trilogies by Eddison and Peake not only didn't have the same
impact, but were both completed posthumously *after* LotR, and both
authors seem to have intended more books, so only their deaths turned
their series into (potential) trilogies.
 Some people make claims for <Gilgamesh>, and although I read that
as either myth or fantasy, it's probably possible to define science
fiction modes that make the epic clearly sf. Similar goes for at
least two works from *between* 400 BC and the 6th century AD,
Lucian's <True History> and Lucan's <Pharsalia>.
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>