Storytellers since the time of the ancient Greeks have enjoyed imagining that people are capable of breaking the laws of nature and gaining fantastic strength or powers. They have also imagined amazing machines and mythical figures with magical abilities. In a sense, the spirit of discovery expressed in the scientific and industrial ages-and in new theories about the structure of the universe-was reflected as well in a type of literature that we today call science fiction. Since the time of the Scientific Revolution, literary fantasies have often taken a special form inspired by the achievements of science. A favorite subject of science fiction has been space travel. The great scientist Johannes Kepler, who played a major part in the revolution in astronomy during the 1600s, wrote a book called The Dream. In it, Kepler imagined his mother flying to the moon on a broomstick.
This book created problems for his mother, for it was used as evidence that she was a witch. Although not strictly within the realm of science fiction, Kepler’s work is an extremely imaginative description of life in space. Stories similar to today’s science fiction were popular in the 1700s and 1800s. The French philosopher Voltaire imagined a visit to Earth by an enormous native of the star Sirius. The English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley imagined a medical student named Victor Frankenstein, who created a living monster out of a corpse.
In the late 1800s, the French writer Jules Verne wrote a series of stories about incredible journeys-in a balloon, on a rocket, and in a submarine. In the late 1800s, the English novelist H. G. Wells imagined a machine that could stop time. He also imagined Martians invading Earth. In more recent times, much of science fiction-in films as well as books-has dealt with life on other worlds in space. However, the basic theme has remained the same: fantastic people or creatures who can do things that normally are impossible. By showing us the impossible, science fiction tries to teach us something about the limits of our lives.