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Science Fiction

Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho
El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World), 2012
Courtesy of the artists

Science Fiction, or Sci-Fi, describes a fictional narrative to which advanced technology or science is key. It is a theme that is often used to address the current social or environmental issues in contemporary art. Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho for example created El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World), 2012, which is a reflection on the human experience with art, portraying two artists; the male who is the last artist in the pre-apocalyptic world, and the female who is the first artist of the new world, post-apocalypse.

Cover of Amazing Stories
(Volume 4, No. 1), Apr 1929
Edited by Hugo Gernsback

Before Science Fiction was applied with technologies such as computer generated images (CGIs), the history of the term goes back to 1926, when the American publisher Hugo Gernsback published the first Sci-Fi magazine, Amazing Stories. Gernsback’s fascination with the genre was fuelled by an interest in Percival Lowell: an American businessman and astronomer who speculated that there were canals on Mars and began the Arizona observatory that later discovered Pluto, 14 years after his death. Gernsback is remembered in history by The Hugo Awards which have annually appraised leading Sci-Fi writers, editors, illustrators, films, and fanzines since 1953, and Amazing Stories remains in print.

While Gernsback’s publication created the first community of Sci-Fi fans, he cannot truly be credited with coining the term. ‘Science fiction’ first appeared in print in 1851, in English poet William Wilson’s A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject. Here, he examined fellow English poet R.H. Horne’s 1850 publication, Seven Eye-Sights and One Object in which an item is described through the eyes of a bee, ant, spider, perch, robin and a cat. Wilson explained that Horne’s literary tool “familiarised science” and hoped that soon we would “have other works of Science Fiction, such as books...create an interest, where, unhappily, science alone might fail.”

The potted history of Science Fiction is predominantly male-led, however its origins may lie with many other authors and visionaries – one of whom is Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein (1818). At just 18 years old, Shelley was staying with her husband near Lake Geneva in a property rented by Lord Byron, who one evening challenged the guests to write a horror story. Instead of a supernatural tale of monsters and ghouls, Shelley began writing Frankenstein: a novel about the dangers of playing god with new science, ultimately a tragedy, written after the death of her young daughter and sister. Initially published under a pseudonym, in 1821 Mary’s name was attributed, triggering the British Critic to state "the writer is a female...this is the prevailing fault...we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment,” despite this, Frankenstein achieved almost immediate success.

Cover of Frankenstein
Written by Mary Shelley

Related categories

Media Art

Theatricality

Art and Technology

Reality and Fiction

Narrative Art

High Technology

Surveillance

(Inspired by) Literature/Lecture

Cartoonish/Fictitious Characters

Blurred Images

Hybrid Creatures

Op Art