Prescient Precedents
Nineteenth century precursors to sci-fi


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Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley (1818)


Regarded as the first science fictional novel for its use of contemporary medical theory. Horror story about young doctor who creates living being using dead body parts. The monster is shunned by society and goes on a killing rampage. The prose is extraordinarily heavy going and Shelley's head-space is nothing short of psychotropic.





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Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe
by Edgar Allan Poe (1976)


Although one would be hard-pressed to call these stories 'science fiction', they certainly hold a lofty place in the historical development of the genre. More accurately described as treasure trove of Poe's wit and imagination from 1833-49 - ranging from pure horror to sublime humour, occasionally spiced with scientifical musings.





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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne (1870)


French writer generally regarded as the 'other' father of sci-fi - the first being H G Wells. His SF classic depicts the misanthropic Captain Nemo busily upsetting shipping routes in his plushly-furnished submarine Nautilus. Survivors of an attacked vessel get a guided tour of the ocean depths. Technology on the verge of startling reality.





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Flatland
by Edwin A Abbott (1884)


A mind-boggling mathematical treatise about the inhabitants of a two-dimensional world, told from the point of view of one A Square. Contact with the 3D world turns things on end in the stuffy class-conscious society of Flatland. A brilliant and wryly humorous attack on Victorian England that is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.





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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)


Classic story of creation destroying its creator. A London doctor concocts a potion that brings out his evil alter-ego. Mr Hyde sets about terrorising the city before meeting his inevitable end. Repeatedly filmed with original storyline and some fairly inventive variations. Well-written and an eminently enjoyable read despite its age.





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She
by H Rider Haggard (1886)


An important book in the historical development of sci-fi and a runaway 'lost worlds' bestseller in its day. Three men head off to Africa in search of a lost society. There they encounter the beautiful white goddess Ayesha - "She-who-must-be-obeyed!" From there the secret of immortality becomes central to the story. Ripping yarn and still an entertaining read.





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Looking Backward
by Edward Bellamy (1888)


Influential in its time, this is the story of a wealthy late-19th century American who is hypnotically catapulted into the year 2000. Here he falls in love with his fiancee's great-granddaughter who takes him on a tour of the "cooperative commonwealth". Inspired Morris' News From Nowhere and caused socialist ructions all across America.





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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain (1889)


A Connecticut Yankee gets a bump on the head an wakes up in medieval England at King Arthur's court. He introduces 19th-century technology to the place and, naturally, things get a bit topsy-turvy. Twain's biting social satire remains as enjoyable and relevant as the day it was written and helped set the stage for the 'steampunks'.


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