Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Darwin and Science Fiction

In honor of Darwin Day, a quote about Charles Darwin's impact on science fiction from Lou Anders:
Gardner Dozois has pointed out elsewhere that science fiction really began with Charles Darwin, with the notion of evolution, geological time, and the concept that there was a future that would continue for long enough to be potentially different from the now. Pre-Darwin, the world hadn't been around for more than a few thousand years, and was probably going to end in the next hundred or so, so how could you have anything like off-world colonies, alien species, or a future radically different from the present? Post-Darwin, there was no one running the show and no guarantee that the engines that ran the world wouldn't shake us off and carry on without us.
Now I know that the idea of an older-than-6000-year-old earth started with 18th and early-19th century geologists such as James Hutton and Charles Lyell, and the notion that species evolve began with the work of natural philosophers like Lamarck and even Charles's granddaddy Erasmus. But Charles Darwin's Origin of Species brought evolution into both the mainstream of science and the public eye.

As Astrobiology Magazine points out, evolutionary themes were rapidly adopted by the 19th century writers of fantastic fiction:
The irresistible rise of the metaphor of evolution spawned around 70 futuristic fantasies in England between 1870 and 1900. As a result, an increasing number of people met the astrobiological ideas of Darwinian evolution, not through science, but as a text. These books inspired emotional as well as intellectual reactions and embedded the idea of evolution and the future of humanity even deeper into the public imagination.
The best known of those is, of course, HG Wells' 1895 classic, The Time Machine.

So, happy birthday Charles D, and thanks for more than 100 years of science fiction!

Image: Illustration from "How Will The World End?" by Herbert C Fyfe, Pearson's Magazine, July 1900. "Mr. H. G. Wells has drawn in his romance, "The Time Machine," a strangely impressive picture of the end of the world as he conceives it. The last man, according to his conception, freezes to death, and life becomes unsupportable on our planet, not because of great heat, but rather from intense cold. [. . .] Loathsome animals of huge size, brought into existence by the altered condition of affairs, creep over the masses of ice and crawl over the frozen seas and lakes. Little by little all trace of vegetation disappears -- a steady snowstorm settles down over the earth, and our planet revolves in space for a short time only to fall a frozen mass into the bosom of the dying sun."

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  1. There is definitely an evolutionary aspect of history of sf and Darwin the great deserves all the kudos for that ....
    And kudos to Peggy as well....

  2. Very good association. I have been reading your archives and I like the " parasites that control behavior " section and that is very thought provoking. The interaction at such complex levels of behavior with a simple compound is remarkable to someone who studies artificial intelligence and the brain.
    Addiction, healing, antibiotics, and even information itself. I have noticed some very strange phenomenon myself. When you combine this with quorum sensing and emergence and self-assembly it makes a very untidy infinity of possibility.
    Why don't squirrels start a venture capital firm if they are so smart?


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