During a time when an abundance of information wasn’t available, it’s incredible to think where authors of science fiction got their ideas from. At the same time, however, this lack of mass information is also the key to creating a great premise. Writers, back then, were forced to dig deep for ideas; looking at the state of society around them, studying the works of other revered thinkers and writers in libraries, or conducting thorough research in some other kind of fashion. Whatever their approach, the following authors have been responsible for some of the finest works of science fiction literature that still stand the test of time today.
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg (1824)
This book tells the tale of two estranged brothers, and has been described as ‘the most convincing representation of the power of evil in our literature’. The narrative comes both an unknown editor, who tells the story in parallel to the diary of one of the brothers, who is also the ‘sinner’ of the book. It is a fascinating mix of psychological crime fiction and gothic fantasy, which is a challenging but rewarding read.
Melmoth the Wanderer, Charles Maturin (1820)
This supernatural horror acts as an attack on Roman Catholicism through the author’s social commentary on the 19th Century. It is a story of temptation and sin, full of stories within stories and lots of twists and turns. This was the last complete work by Charles Maturin and is considered to be a true Gothic novel.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, Robert Louise Stevenson (1886)
A more familiar title, but no less interesting and enticing. This novel of course, explores the disorder of split personality, through the opposing characters within one man: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The novel discusses themes of morality, and analyses the good and evil that exists in us all. This novel was an instant success and has gone on to be made into over 120 film adaptations since it was published in 1886.
News From Nowhere, William Morris (1890)
This book explores the concept of a socialism utopia, as the central character falls asleep to find himself in a world of democratic ownership and control. In this new world, the author is free to describe what he believes would be a ‘better world’ – one with no big cities or monetary system, and one instead where people work simply because they enjoy to. Morris not only examines work and money, but life, love and gender. He also tackles some of the most common criticisms of socialism with his own thoughts and beliefs.
The Man in the Moon, Francis Godwin (1638)
This novel tells the tale of Domingo Gonsales, who flies to the moon using geese power, and explores the advanced utopian community that he finds there. ‘The Man of the Moon’ has gone on to inspire numerous writers and still lives on today as an impressive piece of work. The novel was originally published under the pseudonym Domingo Gonsales.
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (1898)
This novel is told in retrospect, from the point of view of the Governess, who tells the story from first person. This story is her struggle to protect her pupils from what she considers to be supernatural forces. Exploring themes of corruption of the innocent, destruction of heroism and the idea that our own vision has the ability to mislead us, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is a complex, layered novel that is much more than a simple ghost story.
The Last Man, Mary Shelley (1826)
‘The Last Man’ explores a post-plague world in which Shelly explores gender and power relations, as well as race in one striking scene of the novel. Many of the characters are auto-biographic, based on Shelly’s close family and some acquaintances, and she makes numerous references to other literacy scholars through the central character Lionel. This novel was relatively unknown and certainly unpraised until more recent years, as it was not until the 1960s that it began to gain critical attention.
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