Flight into space is the classic theme in sf. The lunar romances of Francis GODWIN, CYRANO DE BERGERAC et al. are the works most commonly and readily identified as PROTO SCIENCE FICTION. In modern times, as GENRE SF spilled out of print into the CINEMA, RADIO and TELEVISION, many of the archetypal works produced for these media were romances of space travel. Flight into space provides the stirring climax of the film THINGS TO COME(1936) and the subject-matter of DESTINATION MOON (1950) and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), as well as of Charles CHILTON's BBC radio serial Journey into Space (1953) and its sequels, and tv's STAR TREK. The landing of Apollo 11 on the MOON was seen by many as "science fiction come true". Itis natural that sf should be symbolized by the theme of space flight, in that it is primarily concerned with transcending imaginative boundaries, with breaking free of the gravitational force which holds consciousness to a traditional core of belief and expectancy. The means by which space flight has been achieved in sf - its many and various SPACESHIPS - have always been of secondary importance to the mythical impact of the theme. Only a handful of writers - notably Konstantin TSIOLKOVSKY - embodied realscientific ideas about the feasibility of space ROCKETS in fictional form for didactic purposes.Actually, all the early lunar voyages are stories of flight rather than of space flight, in that their authors took for granted the continuity of an atmospheric "ether" (a convenience ingeniously co-opted into modern sf by Bob SHAW in THE RAGGED ASTRONAUTS [1986] and its sequels). No early travellers had to contend with the interplanetary vacuum, not even the hero of Edgar Allan POE's "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" (1835; rev 1840), although this was the first of the traveller's tales in which the protagonist takes elaborate precautions to provide himself with air, in recognition of the tenuousness of the sublunar atmosphere. All romances of interplanetary flight prior to "Hans Pfaall" are didactic - either straightforwardly, after the fashion ofJohannes KEPLER's Somnium (1634) and Gabriel Daniel's A Voyage to the World of Cartesius (1690), or satirically, after the fashion of Daniel DEFOE's The Consolidator (1705). Poe's story is a satire, too, although the author advanced claims as to its verisimilitude. But it was really Jules VERNE who made the first serious attempt at realism in De la terre ala lune (1865; trans J.K. Hoyte as From the Earth to the Moon 1869 US) and its sequel Autour de la lune (1870; both trans Lewis Mercier and Eleanor King as From the Earth to the Moon 1873 UK). Hindsight invests19th-century lunar romances with the same mythical significance that sf has more recently lent to the notion of space travel, but the stories had no such significance in their own day. The idea of flight into space became the central myth of sf only once the genre had been identified and demarcated by Hugo GERNSBACK. This was not really a strategic move on Gernsback's part: his interest in the future and in the effect ofTECHNOLOGY on society was more catholic-with space travel as only one among a whole series of probable developments. It was because of the kind of impact sf made on the readers who discovered it - young, for the most part - that space flight acquired its special significance. Many sf readers found in sf a kind of revelation, a sudden mind-opening shock (CONCEPTUAL BREAKTHROUGH; SENSE OF WONDER): this was not the effect of anysingle story but the discovery of sf as a category, a genre of fictions presenting an infinity of possibilities. It is because of this element of revelation, the sudden awareness of a vast range of possibilities, that the paradigmatic examples of early sf are stories of escape from Earth into a Universe filled with worlds: the first SPACE OPERAS, notably E.E. "Doc" SMITH's The Skylark of Space (1928; 1946).As with other themes insf, the post-WWII period saw considerable sophistication of the myth of space flight. Significantly, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, there was relatively little development in verisimilitude outside the work of a very few technically adept authors. The most significant post-WWII stories related to the theme are not so much stories about space flight as commentaries upon the myth itself; they are concerned with imaginative horizons rather than hardware. One of the earliest examples of this kind of commentary is Ray BRADBURY's "King of the Gray Spaces" (1943; vt "R is for Rocket"); the classics are Robert A. HEINLEIN's "The Man who Sold the Moon" (1950) and Arthur C. CLARKE's Prelude to Space (1951). Othersinclude Murray LEINSTER's "The Story of Rod Cantrell" (1949), Fredric BROWN's The Lights in the Sky are Stars (1953; vt Project Jupiter 1954UK), Walter M. MILLER's "Death of a Spaceman" (1954; vt "Memento Homo") and Dean MCLAUGHLIN's The Man who Wanted Stars (fixup 1965). The mythic significance of the theme is most obvious in a story in which "space flight" is, from the viewpoint of the reader, purely metaphorical: James BLISH's "Surface Tension" (1952), in which a microscopic man buildshimself a protective shell and forces his way up through the surface of a pond into the open air. Also notable is a short story by Edmond HAMILTON, "The Pro" (1964), in which an ageing sf writer meets up with the realityof the myth when his son goes into space.Sf writers often became annoyed when, following Neil Armstrong's Moon landing in 1969, they were asked what they would find to write about in the future. In fact, a subtle change did overcome sf during the course of the Apollo programme. Since then, stories about space flight within the Solar System have been "demystified", and we have a generation of stories in which spacemenoperating within a "real" context come into conflict with the myth: Barry N. MALZBERG's The Falling Astronauts (1971), Nigel BALCHIN's Kings ofInfinite Space (1967), Ludek PESEK's Die Marsexpedition (1970 Germany; trans Anthea Bell as The Earth is Near 1974) and Dan SIMMONS's Phases of Gravity (1989) are examples; while J.G. BALLARD has for some time beenwriting nostalgic stories which regard the space programme as a glorious folly of the 1960s (8 are collected in the ironically titled Memories of the Space Age [coll 1988]). Sf novels which bitterly assume that a second break-out into space may well be necessary if the actual space programme is allowed to fade away include The Man who Corrupted Earth (1980) by G.C. EDMONDSON and Privateers (1985) by Ben BOVA. However, the myth oftranscending the closed world of the known and familiar is now more often tied specifically to interstellar travel, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Poul ANDERSON's Tau Zero (1967; exp 1970), Vonda MCINTYRE's Superluminal(1984) and some of the stories in Faster than Light (anth 1976) ed Jack DANN and George ZEBROWSKI. Star-drives which free mankind from the prison of the Solar System take on an iconic significance in such novels as TAKE BACK PLENTY (1990) by Colin GREENLAND and Carve the Sky (1991) byAlexander JABLOKOV.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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