Attacks from Martians, time travel, interplanetary travel and the impossible are possible within the realm of science fiction. The literary genre of science fiction houses some of the greatest pieces of literature of all time, by some of the greatest authors. Regarded among colleagues as one of the finest is the inspirational, ingenious and influential writer H. G. Wells.
Being the author of such classics as The Time Machine, The Island Of Dr Moreau and The Invisible Man H. G. Wells is considered the father and primary developer of science fiction. A title Wells was catapulted into with the publication of the 1898 science fiction classic, The War Of The Worlds. It was this new style of story, that would bring about and create this brand new, exciting and often educational form of literature.
It is The War Of The Worlds that really epitomizes what science fiction is and what it should be. The enchanting but gruesome tale of Martian invasion became the beginning of the modern science fiction story and was the first ever story about life on other planets attacking the human race (a now very popular theme).
Although this exclusive, appreciated and amusing style of writing was graced with instant success in its current form, it too, like any other style of writing changed with the times. Unfortunately the new variation was a change for the worse.
For many people nowadays science fiction or Sci-Fi as the media miscall it means movies. It means Star Wars and E. T. For others it signifies television shows or radio series, constantly broadcast in people’s homes perpetuating this common misconception. What many do not realise however is that science fiction as a genre of literature is an ancient art, one which is in mass quantity but lacking in the calibre of it predecessors. The dramatic influx of popular fiction and low quality novels illustrating a minor similarity to the genre of science fiction is diluting the quality with this genre.
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The main problem lies within the fairly open and murky definitional criteria. There are no set, distinct guidelines as to what science fiction is and what is not; however most definitions seem to revolve around the idea that science is reality, and how that science effects the reality it is in. It is meant to illustrate the relationship between cause and effect representing a society in chaos, disturbed by the scientific matter, which may or may not be based in fact. This longwinded explanation may seem complex but what it is really saying is that science fiction is meant to illustrate the effect of the improbable (within scientific plausibility) against the setting it is in. It studies the resulting events that did not happen, may have happened, or have not happened yet from a rational perspective, mostly interested in the impact on the people involved. Science fiction is a form of fantastic fiction which exploits the imaginative, and profound perspectives of modern science.
It differs from the fantasy genre to which it is commonly compared as it is meant to respect the limits of scientific possibility. This, however, is not a new form of writing inspired by dramatic scientific developments, but in fact it has been utilised since ancient times. Early works of the Babylonian era, such as Gilgamesh Epic of around 2000 BC also dealt with the search for ultimate knowledge and immortality. It was not the only scientifically founded work of ancient times, the Greek myths of Daedalus and the 160 AD story True History also dealt with scientific and mechanical issues along this tangent.
As time passed more and more stories addressed the advanced, scientific points and arguments on various issues in an amusing manner. Soon, because of the authors need for scientific knowledge science fiction became the entertainment and practice of the intellectual with many classics being written by the great minds of their respective time. British prelate and historian Francis Godwin as well as the highly regarded German astronomer Johannes Kepler, among others tried their hand at this refined art. It was not however until the mid 1800’s that the world’s first specialist in science fiction came to prominence.
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His name was Jules Verne, and the French author revived science fiction from a 100 year lull of excellence. Inspired by the first modern science fiction novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Jules Verne put science fiction back into plenitude within literary circles. His many classics such as Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, 20, 000 Leagues Under The Sea and From The Earth To The Moon were the beginning of a new era in science fiction and indeed fiction altogether. It was also around this time that perhaps the worlds greatest author of science fiction began writing, H. G.
Wells. Although he did not create the genre he is viewed as the father of science fiction for he extensively developed and expanded this style of writing through his exciting stories. Conceivably his best novel and undoubtedly one of the major developers of the science fiction genre is his action master piece The War Of The Worlds. As well as being the first and major developer of the science fiction genre, H. G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds was also the creator of the minor sub-genre of science fiction, epic science fiction.
The only difference between the genre of science fiction and it’s epic counterpart is that epic science fiction stories have a possible result on a major scale, one that effects the whole world rather than an isolated area. If The War Of The Worlds is indeed the major developer of modern science fiction and the creator of epic science fiction it must therefore belong to each these categories. By studying the text in terms of it’s genre we can determine if it does belong under those titles. To do this we must examine how it fits into each of the identifying criteria of the epic-science fiction genre which may be summarise d as: it must involve or have a result that will effect the entire world, it must maintain scientific matter -eg. aliens, space travel, time travel etc. -, it must show the changes in the society and / or people as the result of the introduced scientific matter, it may be based loosely in the fact of the time and must represent a society in chaos (which brings about the change in society) as a result of the scientific subject.
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For any science fiction story to be “epic” it must “involve or have a result that effects the entire world”, this is undeniably the case in The War Of The Worlds. We can see from the very beginning that the story is going to depict a conflict that involves the whole world just from reading the title. “The War” shows us that indeed conflict between two or more parties will occur within the narrative. The rest of the title, “Of The Worlds”, shows us that without a doubt the story is dealing with conflict which puts the whole world at risk. Furthermore with in the opening paragraphs of the story this point is outlined more so to increase the involvement and anxiety within the reader, making them realise that indeed the stakes are high and the world is at risk.” … in the last years of the nineteenth century this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligence’s greater than mans…
intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” Here we can see the alien invaders of Mars have been watching our planet “keenly and closely” and devising a plan against us. It is said they have been watching our planet with “envious eyes”, which obviously indicates that the Martians are interested in our planet for themselves and will take it through the use of force. Moreover they do not only wish to take our planet and use it as their own, but they also intend to use the human race as a life source – food. “I actually saw the Martians feeding off his just-butchered corpse. And I wondered if this was to be my fate, the fate of all human kind… to be no more than cattle bound for an alien slaughterhouse.” This quote depicts that the aliens intend to enslave the entire human race as comestibles.
It would seem that without resolution the human race over the entire world may be wiped out, victim of some bizarre alien genocide on a global scale. It is clear to see that indeed the story does involve the entire the world and the result of the conflict, whether it be good or bad will effect the entire planet. For any story to earn the title of science fiction it must have some form of scientifically based yet imaginary matter, this can take many forms but the most commonly recurring is the imaginary being. Non-human beings in science fiction take either of two forms. Either they are constructs, artificial creations such as androids and robots or they are products of some unearthly evolution – aliens. It is aliens that attempt to take over the earth in The War Of The Worlds and thus form the creative scientific matter in the story.
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“Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, it was rounded and had what one might say a face… Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of it’s appearance.” The disgusting alien is almost too horrible to describe, “the head of the thing”, “what one might say a face”, it is indeed something from deep inside the imagination of H. G.
Wells, however the plausibility of it’s existence, or at least something like it is shockingly large. Because of this the alien is accepted as the imaginative, yet possible subject of the story. Although any “science fiction” story may have an imaginative scientific base, the difference between high quality science fiction and modern day Sci-Fi is the author’s ability to show and illustrate the change in morals, ideologies and beliefs within the lead protagonists within the story. The story’s success lies within the writers capability to do so. The introduced scientific matter should allow the characters in the story to realise their own errors and faults so hopefully they will be better off despite the outcome. We can see a prime example of this change within the lead character of The War Of The Worlds when he discovers that the horrors inflicted upon the human race by the aliens are no more evil than the actions of any human in colonisation of another nations.
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” ‘Why are these things permitted? What sin have we done? … fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work… What are these Martians?’ ‘What are we?’ I answered.” By answering the priest’s question with the question “who are we?” the narrator is effectively realising and doing two things. Firstly he is comparing the human race to the Martian invaders and asking if we are much better.
He is in fact comparing the alien’s actions, the actions which bring chaos, to the actions of the human race, and then discovering they are not much different. To do so he later likens the Martian invasion to that of any invasions by the British empire or any empire of the time. Discovering the absolute horror and terror that we inflict on others everyday our hero has come to realise one of the major unseen errors within the society of the time, the second realisation, and thus he shall forever perceive society differently because of his newly changed views and morals. He will instead see society as a selfish, envious and “unsympathetic” system, just as he viewed the Martian world. The fourth definitional criteria of the science fiction genre requests the use of scientific fact within the story. Indeed, throughout the whole text, Wells uses and prides himself on the use of scientific fact but no excerpt is more powerful than his scientific description of the planet Mars.
“The planet Mars… revolves around the sun at a mean distance of 140, 000, 000 miles and the light and heat it receives… is barely half of that which reaches this world. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long before our earth ceased to be molten, life upon it’s surface must have begun it’s course. The fact that it is scarcely one seventh the volume of the Earth must have accelerated it’s cooling to the temperature at which life may begin ” Throughout this quote relevant scientific facts jump off the page.
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Accurate distances and measurements such as Mars’ distance from the Sun and it’s comparative size to that of the Earth are prime examples of how the current scientific knowledge is used to enhance the story. Furthermore deeper scientific research has gone in to discover such theories as the nebular hypothesis and secular cooling which gives the narrative a scientific base and foundation on which to build the story. By doing so H. G.
Wells has cleverly increased the apprehension within the reader, as the factual information gets the reader thinking “this could really happen.” Perhaps the most pressing issue about the facts represented in the novel, is the obvious concern of the aliens themselves, when we now know there is in fact no life on Mars. But what one must remember when examining the text for scientific grounding is that at the time, 1898, little was known about the population and surface of Mars but their was no evidence against the possibility of it having inhabitants. To H. G. Wells, the aliens were quite plausible. One of the more important features of the science fiction genre is the need to represent the instant result or conflict caused by the newly introduced subject matter.
This conflict plays a vital role in the development of a characters ability to realise faults, for it through the arisen conflict that the protagonist notices the given error. To describe this conflict the word “chaos” is often used but is a poor description for a versatile consummation, for the conflict may simply be a discussion or mental argument where as the word chaos is unanimous with social uproar. Although conflict is the correct word, what really does happen in The War Of The Worlds could not be described better than absolute chaos. .”.. If someone could have hung that morning in a balloon in the blazing above London, after the alien attack every northward and eastward road running out of the infinite tangle of streets would have seemed stippled black with the streaming fugitives, each dot a human agony and physical distress ” This needs little explanation, the scene depicted here by the articulate words of H. G.
Wells illustrates utter chaos as a result of the alien attack. We know indeed that this confusion is the work and result of the aliens from the simple line mixed in with the numerous adjectives, “after the alien attack” suggesting that none of the terror was occurring before the aliens offensive but only after, as a result of their violent actions. Over the past ten years numerous “Sci-Fi” stories have flooded the entertainment market. Book upon book, game upon game, film upon film, all claiming the excellence of the great science fiction novels of the 18 and 1900 s. Yet, despite their similarities, they don’t quite have it – they don’t quite represent the brilliance and eminence of the classic science fiction novel. The main difference between them is the amount of ignorance involved in their classification, for when one begins to examine the classic science fiction novels such as Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Dune and The War Of The Worlds in light of their allocated genre we can see just why they are classified as science fiction novels, they respect and recognise the constraints although they do not consciously attempt to fit in, but remarkably they do.
The remarkable thing about The War Of The Worlds is that it fits into every area of science fiction genre without exception. Is it then a coincidence that it is regarded as one of the best novels of all time, ? It is more likely that the format and outline of the book and indeed the genre conveys more to the reader. It has something indescribably tantalizing about it that comes from no other genre than science fiction. BY G. Spu tore.