This chronological diagram map titled; A History of Science Fiction, maps out, left to right, the origins and evolution of an entire genre of popular fiction - Science Fiction.
Is this the picture of a whale, as the empty eye-sockets on the right suggest, or of a giant squid, its tentacles waving over on the left? It is neither, but the image of a sea-borne behemoth is perhaps appropriate, as mysterious creatures of the deep - Moby Dick, Nessie, the Nautilus - have a more than tangential bearing on this diagram. Which is what this picture, on closer inspection, appears to be. And much more: it is also a piece of art, and a timeline; a literary checklist, and a historiography of a particular genre. It is probably a few other things too, but first and foremost it is a map, of places known and unknown, and the connections between them.
This map is very detailed, measures 13 inches x 19 inches and is printed in full color. It comes rolled and shipped in a hard tube ready to frame. It is a must for any fan of Science Fiction. You will spend hours examining the details to see how your favorite; Books, Films and TV Shows have evolved over the years in our favorite Genre, Science Fiction.
A short, crisp definition of a genre as broad as Science Fiction is not easy, although a litmus test to distinguish it from its conjoined twin, fantasy is helpful: Science fiction deals with improbable possibilities, fantasy with plausible impossibilities. In layman’s terms: if it has elves, it’s fantasy. If it has aliens, it’s SF.
One thing to bear in mind: no matter how far into the future it is set, Science Fiction is always a critique of the time in which it was produced. Once this sinks in, you’re less likely to be annoyed by the flared-trousered spacesuits in Seventies SF. Then as now, some of the genre’s main themes revolve around deep space exploration, alien species contact, advances in robotics and computing, and human engineering of the space-time continuum.
But we are - perhaps true to the genre - getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s examine this map from its the curly-tentacled beginnings: the fear and wonder that have been humankind’s night-time companions ever since the invention of the campfire story.
Some ancient channels for pre-SF literature include philosophy (Plato’s Republic), mythology (the Anglo-Saxons’ Beowulf), pre-scientific imagination (the Golem of medieval Jewish lore), New World exploration (Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe) and art (Thomas More’s Utopia). The latter two works could just as easily have been classified in each other’s category, which reveals the flipside of this obsessively detailed work: its classifications are extremely debatable. That is, of course, part of the fun of this map.
Science Fiction remains a twinkle in the eye of the speculative fiction writer until two great literary traditions collide, or fuse: the Enlightenment (providing the science bit) and Romanticism (proffering the fiction part). This would ultimately lead to SF, meanwhile also cradling the Gothic novel, modern versions of folk and fairy tales, and other genres, some flowing into sinkholes towards, one suspects, elaborate diagrams of their own.
The years leading up to 1900 produced some classic works of early science fiction such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or L.S. Mercier’sL’An 2440. It also saw three prolific and iconic writers, each contributing to the fast-growing field of SF: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and E.A. Poe. After 1900, the genre explodes into an unwieldy clutter of subgenres, dominated by a plethora of influential magazines with titles like Weird Tales and Astounding.
A generalised chronology distinguishes between periods dominated by adventure (the ‘rockets and rayguns’ era after 1920), science (SF’s ‘Golden Age’, after 1940), sociology (the ‘Classic Period’, after 1950), form (a ‘New Wave’, after 1960), and Star Wars (SF morphs into Mainstream Styles, after 1980). Some influential genres are mentioned, like the Space Opera, ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ SF, and Cyberpunk. The rest of the diagram is replete with hundreds of books - and films - representing the widest imaginable variety of stories, thus providing, for even the semi-interested reader of SF, a handy map of vast areas yet to be explored.