On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited by Gerry Canavan
Introduction to Older SF History
Let’s be realistic – let’s demand the impossible.
ANONYMUS SORBONENSIS (MAY 1968)
The history of science fiction, as the genre is defined in the first part of this book, gives rise to a number of significant and fascinating problems, which can in the present state of our knowledge be rather identified than resolved. One problem is the appearance of what seem to be temporal groupings or clusters – periods with a noticeably higher frequency of SF texts, separated from each other by gaps with a statistically significant lower frequency of SF texts. I am, alas, incompetent to even enter into tribal and extra-European narrative traditions (such as the Chinese one) and their independent but rich histories.1 But the Euro-Mediterranean tradition alone, of which this second part wishes to give a partial and abbreviated overview, consists – so far as we can now tell – most probably of six clusters: the Hellenic one (from folk myths and legends reactualized in Aeschylus and Aristophanes to Plato, Theopompus, Euhemerus, Hecataeus, and Iambulus), the Hellenistic-cum-Roman one (from Virgil to Antonius Diogenes and Lucian), the Renaissance-Baroque or Columbus-to-Louis-XIV one (ca. 1500–1660), the cluster of the democratic revolution (mainly 1770–1820), the fin-de-siècle cluster (ca. 1870–1910), and the modern SF cluster in the last 50 years or so. In the meantime, in periods of absolutist practice and world view – be they Ptolemaic or Newtonian – the subversive tradition of SF was driven underground (for example, the oral literature, apocrypha, and heretical writings...
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