03 March 2016

Review: Origins of Futuristic Fiction by Paul K. Alkon

Hardcover, 341 pages
Published 1987
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
Origins of Futuristic Fiction by Paul K. Alkon

Alkon's book charts the rise of the genre of futuristic fiction, which eventually becomes subsumed into the larger genre of science fiction, once that emerges in the 1890s-1920s. He doesn't care much about why the genre emerges, but how it works, exploring its generic forms. Basically, the utopian story stops being spatially distant and starts becoming temporally distant, though he claims that early futuristic work's like Louis-Sébastien Mercier's L'An 2440: Rêve s'il en fut jamais [The Year 2440: A Dream If There Ever Was One] (1771) aren't really interested in extrapolation in the way that later works will be; their future histories aren't really connected to actual history, they're just distancing techniques. The background was really nice, of course, but as someone whose focus is 1818+, I really appreciated his exploration of the evolution of futuristic fiction in that period, as he charts what's new, and what's departing the genre, like the emphasis on where these narratives come from. An angel gives the narration of Loudon's 1827 novel The Mummy!: A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century a vision of the future, for example, but this technique is fading away by the time of H. G. Wells, though even as Wells makes the future more realistic, other authors are starting to use it just as a background for daring adventures.

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