What was the first science fiction novel? Many would say Frankenstein: The 1818 Text. But a lot of readers today think of sci-fi as being related to envisioning a future with new, exotic technologies. And if that is indeed essential to sci-fi then this book is in fact the first ever sci-fi novel. Beginning in 1911 the book started being published as a series of short stories but the author eventually brought them all together in this one book. It does have fantastic technologies–personal space travel, agricultural wonders, floating cities, and even the conquering of death.
What really caught my attention was how some technologies suggested were so distant, while other things sounded passe. The flying cars are still a long way off. But a flying taxi still had a driver, something that is not outdated yet, but will probably be in a decade.
Ultimately the book is a romance. The clear templates for masculinity and femininity are not chauvinistic or sexist (I think–but I’m a guy) and this older vision of human relationality will appeal to more conservative readers while leaving younger readers mystified. The book still reflects the naive modern confidence in human reason born of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’. Two world wars have disabused us of the falsity that science solves all our problems or that education somehow makes people good–though these myths are at the heart of that other sci-fi fairytale world, Star Trek.
Anyone interested in the history of sci-fi should read this book. It is a great book for when you cannot focus on detailed plot twists or read for lengthy periods of time. (This is my nice way of saying take with you when you take your kid to the dentist or are waiting in line at the post office.)