Scientific romance  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Scientific romance is a bygone name for what is now commonly known as science fiction. The term is most associated with early British science fiction. The earliest noteworthy use of the term scientific romance is believed to have been by Charles Howard Hinton in his 1886 collection. The term can, however, also refer to early science fiction from several other nations as well, in particular the works of French writers such as Jules Verne and Camille Flammarion.


History and use of the term

Brian Stableford, in The Science Romance in Britain: 1890-1950, argued that early British science-fiction writers who used this term differed in several significant ways from American science fiction writers of the time. Most notably, the British writers tended to minimized the role of individual "heroes", took an "evolutionary perspective", held a bleak view of the future, and had little interest in space as a new frontier. Regarding "heroes", several novels by H. G. Wells have the protagonist as nameless, and often powerless, in the face of natural forces. The evolutionary perspective can be seen in tales involving long time periods--two examples being The Time Machine by Wells and Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. Even in Scientific Romances that did not involve vast stretches of time, the issue of whether mankind was just another species subject to evolutionary pressures often arose, as can be seen in parts of The Hampdenshire Wonder by J. D. Beresford and several works by S. Fowler Wright. Regarding space, C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy took the position that "as long as humanity remains flawed and sinful, our exploration of other planets will tend to do them more harm than good"; and most Scientific Romance authors had not even that much interest in the topic. As for bleakness, it can be seen in many of the works by all the already cited authors: humanity was deemed by them flawed--either by original sin or, much more often, by biological factors inherited from our ape ancestors.

Nonetheless, not all British science fiction from that period comports with Stableford's thesis. Some, for example, reveled in adventures in space and held an optimistic view of the future. By the 1930s, there were British authors (such as Eric Frank Russell) who were intentionally writing "science fiction" for American publication. At that point, British writers who used the term "scientific romance" did so either because they were unaware of science fiction or because they chose not to be associated with itTemplate:Clarify meTemplate:Fact.

After World War II, the influence of American science fiction caused the term "Scientific Romance" to lose favor, a process accelerated by the fact that few writers of Scientific Romance considered themselves "Scientific Romance" writers, instead viewing themselves as "just writers"--or, on occasion, scientists--who occasionally happened to write a Scientific Romance. Even so, the Scientific-Romance era writers' influence persisted in British science fiction, and indeed had some impact on the American variety.

Revival of the term

Starting in the late 1970s, the term began to be used again, this time for eccentric, usually (but not always) British science fiction that intentionally reflects a Victorian or Edwardian outlook. Christopher Priest (a member of the H. G. Wells Society) has, for example, used or alluded to the term "scientific romance" in some of his novels. The contemporary use of the term also includes authors who, like the original "Scientific Romance writers", do not consider themselves to be science-fiction or scientific-romance authors. English historian Ronald Wright, for instance, wrote the Wells pastiche (or homage) A Scientific Romance: A Novel.[1]

The modern use of the term might superficially seem related to the rise of the "Steampunk" sub-genre, but there are notable differences between the two: modern "scientific romances" typically take a distinctly more nostalgic or romanticized view of the era than Steampunk, and also often involve the future rather than the past, albeit a future based on Victorian or Edwardian sensibilities. Modern Scientific Romances are not of any form of "punk" or cyberpunk.



See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Scientific romance" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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