Ancient ‘science fiction’
2000 BC – The Epic of Gilgamesh
- While this Mesopotamian text does not explicitly reference science or technology, it is regarded by some to be the first precursor to the genre of science fiction
Early ‘science fiction’
101 – 200 AD – A True Story (Lucian of Samosata)
- This text was written centuries before the genre of science fiction was established but featured ‘sci fi’ elements such as aliens, space travel, colonisation and wars between planets and artificial lifeforms.
700 – 800 AD – The tale of Urashima Tarō
- This Japanese fairy tale is about time travel and is sometimes regarded as an early example of science fiction
901 – 1000 – One Thousand and One Nights
- A collection of Middle Eastern folk tales in which some feature science fiction elements of space travel, robotic figures and alternative societies.
901 – 1000 –The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
This Japanese tale is considered ‘proto-science fiction’ and features an extra-terrestrial protagonist from the moon and a manuscript illustration depicts a flying vessel that could resemble a flying saucer.
1516 – Utopia (Thomas More)
- More’s work featured an island, Utopia, that offered an alternative to contemporary society and introduced the idea of a Utopian society (and inspired its name) to science fiction.
1638 – The Man in the Moone (Francis Godwin)
- This text is largely regarded as the first official science fiction work and features a Utopian society living on the moon.
1666 – The Blazing World (Margaret Cavendish)
- This text is considered the first science fiction text by a woman and features a Utopian world, different life forms, submarines and invasions between worlds.
1726 – Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift)
- Considered a significant precursor to modern science fiction, this text contains sci fi elements such as utopian and dystopian societies, a flying island and alien cultures.
1752 – Micromégas (Voltaire)
- This text by Voltaire features space travel, aliens that live millions of years, planets with advanced societies and alien technology. This fascinating story explores humanity from the perspective of alien beings.
1770 – The Year 2440 (Louis-Sebastien Mercier)
- While the Paris of the future is not necessarily a sci fi world, this text featurs time travel from the 1700s to the year 2440 and follows the protagonist’s experience of a far off future world.
1805 – The Last Man (Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville)
- This French text is an early version of the dying earth genre and features an earth of the future that is becoming sterile.
1816 – The Sandman (E.T.A Hoffmann)
- This German short story (and others by Hoffmann) features automatons or robotic figures and advanced mechanics, and was of crucial importance to Freud’s theory of the Uncanny.
Modern science fiction
1818 – Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
- Regarded as the first modern science fiction text that introduced the distinct genre of science fiction, this text features the sci fi elements of the ‘mad scientist’, advanced technology and scientific innovation beyond the scope of science at the time. Shelley’s novel distinctly focused on science and technology, something she developed further in her 1826 short story “Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman” which featured the introduction of cryonics.
1827 – The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (Jane Webb Loudon)
- This novel features the mummy of Cheops reanimated in the year 2126 and a future of advanced technology such as automaton doctors and lawyers.
1864 – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Jules Verne)
- Verne published this novel of adventure to the core of the earth with prehistoric animals and suggestions of a human-like civilisation within the earth.
1869 – The Brick Moon (Edward Everett Hale)
- This novella is regarded as the first depiction of an artificial satellite and could also be the first concept of a space station.
1870 – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne)
- This novel inspired real world scientific advancements and research with its considerations of the submarine and under water exploration.
1872 – Erewhon (Samuel Butler)
- A sci fi novel about a country discovered by the protagonist. This text is regarded as the first to write about the consideration of machines developing into sentient beings.
1895 – The Time Machine (H.G Wells)
- This novella is credited with popularising the concept of time travel with a specific device – which Wells coined the Time Machine, a term central to modern science fiction.
1897 – Two Planets (Kurd Lasswitz)
- This novel features advanced alien life on Mars who resemble humans but with much larger eyes.
1898 – The War of the Worlds (H.G Wells)
- Wells’ novel was one of the first tales of war between humans and an alien race and featured an advanced Martian raced with fighting machines and developed technology.
1902 – A Trip to the Moon (Directed by Georges Méliès
- Considered the first science fiction film.
1905 – Sultana’s Dream (Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain)
- An early feminist science fiction story by Muslim feminist Hossain, the text features a female-ruled utopia in which there is labour free farming, flying cars, weather control and no crime, all due to female advances in technology and science.
1909 – The Machine Stops (E.M. Forster)
- This short story is published and predicts a kind of internet and instant messaging technology in a world below ground that runs on machines.
1911 – The Hampdenshire Wonder (J. D. Beresford)
- Regarded as one of the first depictions in science fiction of the ‘wunderkind’, which led to future depictions of the super child and superman.
1911 – Ralph 124C 41 + (Hugo Gernsback)
- This serialised novel predicted many technological advancements and provoked consideration of allowing authors to patent ideas for technology without a model. The novel predicted advancements such as sound movies, tape recorders, radar, synthetic foods and solar panels.
1915 – Herland (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
- Originally published in 1915, this novel was republished in 1979 (for the first time as a book) with the subtitle “A Lost Feminist Utopian Novel” and features an all-female utopian society.
1920 – R.U.R (Karel Čapek)
- This play features robots created in a factory with synthetic flesh and blood and sentient thoughts that rebel against humans. This play is significant in introducing the word ‘robot’ to the English language and to science fiction.
1926 – Amazing Stories
- The first science fiction magazine is established and the pulp magazine coined the term ‘scientifiction’ for the genre.
1927 – Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
- One of the first feature length science fiction films, this film is regarded as pioneering the science fiction film genre.
1929 – Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. (Phillip Nowlan)
- This comic strip is credited as the first non-humorous science fiction comic strip.
1930 – Last and First Men (Olaf Stapledon)
- A work covering two billion years and eighteen human species, this text features the rise and fall of future civilisations and explores the concepts of genetic engineering and hive minds of telepathically linked humans.
1930 – The Comet
- The first science fiction ‘fanzine’, a magazine by the science fiction fandom, is published.
1932 – Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
- This acclaimed dystopian novel anticipated advances in reproductive technology and psychological manipulation, suggesting classical conditioning.
1934 – Flash Gordon (Alex Raymond)
- The space opera and comic strip are published and Flash Gordon was later adapted into film, series and animated series.
1937 – Star Maker (Olaf Stapledon)
- One of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels in the genre’s history. The novel spans two billion years and features the accumulation of different minds and a meeting with the cosmic creator.
1938 – The War of the Worlds radio drama (Orson Welles)
- The radio broadcast drama of the novel of the same name. The episode allegedly caused panic for listeners who did not know it was a story and thought the broadcast-style of the story was legitimate.
1941 – Microcosmic God (Theodore Sturgeon)
- This text is an early example of the pocket universe concept of science fiction in which a microcosmic universe is created within a larger parent universe.
1945 – First Contact (Murray Leinster)
- This novelette featured one of the first concepts of a universal translator in science fiction.
1946 – The Best of Science Fiction
- An anthology of science fiction is published by Groff Conklin.
1949 – Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)
- Orwell publishes his dystopian novel based on totalitarianism, mass surveillance, censorship and government oppression. Often stylised as 1984, the novel remains hugely influential.
1950 – Astounding Science Fiction publishes Dianetics
- Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard publishes his first paper on Dianetics, which launches his new religion, in the science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction.
1950 – I, Robot (Isacc Asimov)
- This collection of stories featured the introduction to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and influenced thoughts around artificial intelligence.
1951 – The Day the Earth Stood Still
- An American black-and-whitescience fiction film is produced by Julian Blaustein and directed by Robert Wise for 20th Century Fox. It follows a humanoid alien visitor named Klaatu that comes to Earth, accompanied by a powerful eight-foot tall robot, Gort, to deliver an important message that will affect the entire human race. In 2008, a film loosely based on this one is released.
1953- Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
- Ray Bradbury publishes a novel about a futuristic world where books are outlawed. The novel is regarded as one if his greatest works and overlaps with the dystopian genre.
1954- I Am Legend and Other Stories (Richard Matheson)
- American writer, Richard Matheson, publishes a novel that influences the modern development of zombie and vampire literature and popularises the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease.
1959 – The Twilight Zone
- Rod Serling creates and presents a television series titled The Twilight Zone, which would go on to run for five seasons. Each episode presents a stand-alone story in which characters find themselves dealing with often disturbing or unusual events, an experience described as entering “the Twilight Zone,” often with a surprise ending and a moral.
1959 – Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keys)
- Daniel Keys publishes his short story about a laboratory mouse called Algernon who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence.
1962- A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
- A novel is published about a near-future society that has a youth subculture of extreme violence. The teenage protagonist, Alex, narrates his violent exploits and his experiences with state authorities intent on reforming him.
1962 – The Jetsons
- Hanna-Barbera’s Space Age counterpart to The Flintstones makes its debut. The Jetsons live in a comical version of a century in the future, with elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens, holograms, and whimsical inventions.
1963- Plant of the Apes (Pierre Boulle)
- Originally written in French, Boulle’s novel explores a world in which great apesare the dominant intelligent and civilized species, whereas humans are reduced to a savage animal-like state.
1963 – Doctor Who
- The popular British science fiction television programme premieres for the first time. The programme depicts the adventures of a Time Lord called “the Doctor” who explores the universe in a time-travelling spaceship called the TARDIS.
- – Dune (Frank Herbert)
- Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs, Dunetells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis.
1966- Star Trek
- The original television series makes its debut. It follows the voyages of the starship USS Enterprise on its five-year mission, the purpose of which was “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”.
1973 – Westworld
- Michael Crichton makes his feature directorial debut with an original screenplay about amusement park androidsthat malfunction and begin killing visitors.
1977- Star Wars: A New Hope
- George Lucas introduces the world to galaxies far far away for the first time. This first instalment follows the journey of Luke Skywalker, who along with Han Soloand the wizened Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, attempt to free Rebellion leader Princess Leia from the clutches of the Galactic Empire and the Sith lord Darth Vader. The heroes, in league with the Rebel Alliance, attempt to destroy the Empire’s planet-destroying space station, the Death Star.
1978 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(Douglas Adams)
- Douglas Adams creates his radio science fiction comedy series that airs on BBC Radio 4. In 1979, the first novel with the same title is published.
1979 – Madmax
- George Miller directs a film set in a future Australia, and presents a saga of societal collapse, murder, and revengein which an unhinged policeman becomes embroiled in a violent feud with a savage motorcycle gang.
- – Alien
- The iconic science fiction horror film is released. It follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo, who encounter the eponymous Alien, a deadly and aggressive extra-terrestrial set loose on the ship.
1982 – E- T.
- Steven Spielberg introduces the world to a friendly extra-terrestrial who finds itself trapped on earth.
1982 – Blade Runner
- A film that is later regarded as one of the best science fiction films of all time, makes its debut. It is loosely based on Philip K. Dick‘s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and is set in a dystopianfuture Los Angeles of 2019, in which synthetic humans known as replicants are bio-engineered by the powerful Tyrell Corporation to work on off-world colonies. When a fugitive group of advanced replicants led by Roy Batty escapes back to Earth, burnt-out cop Rick Deckard reluctantly agrees to hunt them down.
1984- The Terminator
- James Cameron’s first instalment of the “Terminator” film series hits the big screen. A cyborgassassin sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, whose son will one day become a saviour against machines in a post-apocalyptic
1985- The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
- Atwood’s award-winning novel is published. It explores themes of subjugated women in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women resist and attempt to gain individuality and independence. It is later adapted into a film and then a television series.
1985 – Back to the Future
- Robert Zimecks and Bob Gale team up and introduce the world to Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Marty accidentally travels back in timefrom 1985 to 1955, where he meets his future parents and becomes his mother’s romantic interest.
1985 – Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
- Card publishes a novel based off of a short story he wrote in 1977. Set at an unspecified date in Earth’s future, the novel presents an imperiled humankind after two conflicts with the Formics, an insectoidalien species. In preparation for an anticipated third invasion, children, including the novel’s protagonist, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, are trained from a very young age by putting them through increasingly difficult games, including some in zero gravity, where Ender’s tactical genius is revealed.
1985 – Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
- A novel is published that depicts the collapse of an amusement parkshowcasing genetically re-created dinosaurs to illustrate the mathematical concept of chaos theory and its real world implications. In 1993, a film based on the novel is released and it becomes the highest grossing film ever at that point
- – ᴁon Flux
- An American science fictionanimated television series airs on MTV and runs until 1995. In 2005, a film adaption is released, and it stars South African actress, Charlize Theron.
- – The Giver (Lois Lowry)
- An American science fiction, dystopiannovel is published. It follows a 12-year-old boy named Jonas. The society has taken away pain and strife by converting to “Sameness”, a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives.
- – The Fifth Element
- English/French science fiction action filmdirected and co-written by Luc Besson is released is primarily set in the 23rd century, the film’s central plot involves the survival of planet Earth.
1999- The Matrix
- The Wachowskis debut the first instalment of the Matrix franchise. The film depicts a dystopianfuture in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality, the Matrix, created by intelligent machines to distract humans while using their bodies as an energy source.
1999 – Futurama
- An American adult animatedscience-fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening airs on Fox. It follows the adventures of slacker Philip J. Fry, who is cryogenically preserved for 1000 years and is revived in the 31st century.
- – Revelation Space (Alastair Reynolds)
- Reynolds publishes a novel set in the year 2551. It reflects his professional background in astronomy.
- – Metaplanetary(Tony Daniel)
- Daniel’s novel centres around how the human race has extended itself into the far reaches of our solar system and has developed into something remarkable.
2001- A.I. Artificial Intelligence
- Steven Spielberg teams up with Ian Watson to create a film loosely based on Brian Aldiss’ short story titled “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”. I.tells the story of David, a childlike android uniquely programmed with the ability to love.
- – Altered Carbon(Richard Morgan)
- Morgan publishes a novel set in a future in which interstellar travel is facilitated by transferring consciousnesses between bodies (“sleeves”). In 2018, it is turned into a Netflix series.
- Minority Report
- Steven Spielbergdirects a film loosely based on the 1956 short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick. It is set primarily in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia in the year 2054, where PreCrime, a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by psychics called “precogs”.
- – The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
- Niffenegger publishes her debut novel. It is love story about a man with a genetic disorderthat causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences.
- – Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)
- Mitchell publishes a fantasticalspeculative fiction book that consists of six interconnected nested stories that take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to the island of Hawai’i in a distant post-apocalyptic
- – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Charlie Kaufman directs a film about an estranged couple who have erased each other from their memories.
- – Accelerando(Charles Stross)
- Stross publishes a novel consisting of a series of interconnected short science fiction stories.
- World War Z (Max Brooks)
- Brooks publishes a novel that is a collection of individual accountsnarrated by an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague.
- – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union(Michael Chabon)
- Chabon tells a detective storyset in an alternative history version of the present day, based on the premise that during World War II, a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees was established in Sitka, Alaska, in 1941, and that the fledgling State of Israel was destroyed in 1948.
- – The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
- Suzanne Collins’ first instalment of “The Hunger Games” trilogy is published. The story follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the future, post-apocalypticnation of Panem in North America
- The Host (Stephanie Meyer)
- Meyer’s publishes a book about Earth, in a post-apocalyptic time, that is invaded by a parasitic alien race, known as “Souls”. It follows one Soul’s predicament when the consciousness of her human host refuses to give up her body.
2008 – WALL-E
- Pixar Animation Studiosand Walt Disney Pictures team up to release a science fiction animated film. It follows the journey of a solitary trash compactor robot on a future, uninhabitable, deserted Earth, left to clean up garbage. However, he is visited by a probe sent by the starship Axiom, a robot called EVE, with whom he falls in love and pursues across the galaxy.
2009 – Under the Dome (Stephen King)
- Stephen King publishes his 48th It focusses on a small Mainetown, and tells an intricate, multi-character, alternating perspective story of how the town’s inhabitants contend with the calamity of being suddenly cut-off from the outside world by an impassable, invisible glass dome-like barrier that seemingly falls out of the sky, transforming the community into a domed city.
2009 – The Maze Runner(James Dashner)
- James Dashner’s first instalment of “The Maze Runner” series is published. It follows the story of Thomas, a young man who wakes up in a metal elevator that brings him to a place called the Glade. He has no memory of who he is or how he got there.
2009 – Avatar
- James Cameron releases his science fiction, fantasy film. It is set in the mid-22nd century when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moonof a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the mineral unobtanium, a room-temperature superconductor.
2009 – District 9
- South African director Neill Blomkamp directs a film about aliens. It is partially presented in a found footageformat by featuring fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras. The story begins in an alternate 1982, when an alien spaceship appears over Johannesburg, South Africa. When a population of sick and malnourished insectoid aliens are discovered on the ship, the South African government confines them to an internment camp called District 9.
- The Quantum Thief ( Hannu Rajaniemi)
- Rajaniemi’s debut novel is published. It is the first novel of a series. The novel is set in a post-human future Solar System. Jean le Flambeur is a legendary thief who has been imprisoned in a Dilemma Prison, a virtual jail of the Sobornost created by the Archons, themselves the creation of the Engineer-of-Souls.
- Ready Player One(Ernest Cline)
- Cline’s debut novel is published. It is set in a dystopiain 2045, follows protagonist Wade Watts on his search for an Easter egg in a worldwide virtual reality game, the discovery of which would lead him to inherit the game creator’s fortune.
- – Divergent (Veronica Roth)
- The first instalment of the “Divergent” series makes its debut. The novel is set in a post-apocalypticdystopian Citizens are organised by their social and personality-related affiliations into five different factions, which removes the threat of anyone exercising independent will and threatening the population’s safety.
- Inspired by older series such as The Twilight Zone, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones create a dystopian science fiction series. Each Episode is a standalone episode that is usually set in an alternative presentor the near future, often with a dark and satirical tone, although some are more experimental and lighter.
- 2312 (Kim Stanley Robinson)
- Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction novel is published. It is set in the year 2312 when society has spread out across the Solar System.
- The Shining Girls ( Lauren Beukes)
- South African author, Lauren Beukes’ science fiction novel is published. The novel centres on a time-traveling Depression-eradrifter who must murder the “shining girls” in order to continue his travels.
- Red Rising (Pierce Brown)
- Brown publishes his first novel in the “Red Rising” series. The story takes place seven hundred years after mankind has colonized other planets. The powerful ruling class of humans has installed a rigid, color-based social hierarchy where the physically superior Golds at the top rule with an iron fist.
- Christopher Nolan directs a science fiction film set in the year 2067. A global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole.
- Luna: New Moon (Ian McDonald)
- Mcdonald publishes a novel that explores the dangerous intrigue that surrounds the powerful Corta dynasty, one of the five families who control industry on the Moon.
2016 – Stranger Things
- The Duffer brothers create a science fiction horror series set in the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana, during the early 1980s. The nearby Hawkins National Laboratory ostensibly performs scientific research for the United States Department of Energy, but secretly does experiments into the paranormaland supernatural, including those that involve human test subjects. Inadvertently, they have created a portal to an alternate dimension, “the Upside Down”.
- The Wanderers (Meg Howrey)
- A novel about three astronauts training for the first-ever mission to Mars.
- The Calculating Star (Mary Robinette Kowal)
- This is the first book of the “Lady Astronaut” series. Set in 1952, the novel centres around efforts to colonize space and the story of Elma York. She joins the International Aerospace Coalition in its attempt to reach, first the Moon, then Mars.
- Alex Garland directs a film adaption of a science fiction novel with the same title. The story follows a group of scientists who enter “The Shimmer”, a mysterious quarantined zone of mutating plants and animals caused by an alien presence.
- The Testaments(Margaret Atwood)
- Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is published, over thirty years after the first novel. The novel alternates between the perspectives of three women, presented as portions of a manuscript written by one and testimony by the other two.
- The Vanished Birds (Simon Jimenez)
- Jimenez tells the story of a mysterious child who lands in the care of a solitary woman, changing both of their lives forever.
Illustration by Giovanna Janos and Kara Olivier