Science fiction in the 19th century

The beginning of science fiction as a literary genre

Though a number of earlier stories had contained science fiction elements (fantastic inventions, aliens, time travel, etc…), the first stories that resembled modern science fiction started to emerge in the 19th century. However, because it is hard to find a definition of science fiction that everyone agrees on, it is also difficult to determine who started the genre. Below, we will consider three possible candidates.

Mary Shelley

The British author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) is best known for the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818). The novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist whose experiments are focused on the creation of life. Victor eventually attempts to create human life, but the creature he produces is so hideous that he flees upon seeing it. The monster escapes and causes further trouble for Victor, but it is also revealed that the monster is suffering from loneliness and existential struggles, in some ways making the readers feel sorry for it.

Those who argue that Frankenstein should be considered the first science fiction novel focus on the fact that the main character is a scientist who uses technological means to carry out his plan, whereas earlier stories of human beings creating life tend to focus on magical or divine forces. Because Shelley attempts to create a scientific explanation for the supernatural event that occurs, this pulls the sto...

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