Science fiction –or, as it is often called now, SF – is not easy to define, but an SF story is generally based on an imaginary development in science and technology or an imaginary but significant change in the environment, both of which – though improbable when the story is written – could be scientifically possible in the future or near future. There are, certainly, fantastic events in early literature. In The True History by Greek writer Lucian (about 115-180) the hero visits the moon, and fantastic journeys were a part of several well-known stories throughout the centuries, such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), But such stories show no interest in whether there events might be scientifically possible or not, so they are not defined as SF.
Is Frankenstein an early example of SF, or even the beginning of the modern genre? Although there are many Gothic elements in the story, Frankenstein is certainly not a magician from Gothic fiction; he is a student of science, and Mary Shelley said she had been inspired partly by recent scientific experiments. In the novel, she presents Frankenstein’s process of creating life as believable, although she gives only a couple of paragraphs to this without any details, apart from saying it involves body parts and chemistry.
The Industrial Revolution, which started in Britain in the 19th century involved great technological advanced, and some people name two of this period as the “grandparents” of SF: the Frenchman Jules Verne (1828-1905) and the Englishman H.G.Wells (1866-1946). Verne’s novels are adventure stories involving scientific projects such as in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), or technologically advanced machines, such as the submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (1869). But Wells is considered more “serious”. His stories usually had a political message, included themes which later became common in SF: time travel (The Time machine, 1895); experiments on animals (The Island of Doctor Moreau, 1896); alien invasion (The war of the Worlds, 1898); space travel (The First Men in the Moon, 1901).
The year 1926 might be considered another beginning for SF, when the American magazine Amazing stories was first published. The publisher, Hugo Gernsback, popularized the term “science fiction” – previously the genre had been called “scientific romance”. The annual SF, given since 1953 by the World Science Fiction Society, are the Hugo Awards in honor of Gernsback. Amazing Stories contained mostly adventures in space, and led to the enormous popularity of SF in pulp fiction and B movies. Since the 1950's, however, SF, or “speculative fiction” as it has recently been called, has included all kinds of writing, and even the recent winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, Doris Lessing, has written a series of SF novels, the Canopus in Argus Archives (1979-1983).