SF and victorian realism

The Goggles Do Nothing — Crooked Timber

The ancestry of modern SF lies as much in the 19th century “condition of England” novel as it does in more obvious ancestors like Frankenstein. That is to say – one of the skeins one can trace back through modern SF is a vein of sociological rather than scientific speculation, in which events happening to individual characters serve as a means to capture arguments about what is happening to society as a whole. In the nineteenth century, there was clearly a tension between the novel-as-fleshing-out-of-individual-experience and the novel-as-depiction-of-our-social-state (Middlemarch is one of the few novels I’ve read from this period that really manages these tensions successfully). Science fiction took one of these routes (an awful lot of early SF – e.g. H.G. Wells is primarily sociological speculation). Returning to the long nineteenth century is nothing more and nothing less than SF coming back to its roots.

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