Was Voltaire the first author of science fiction?
Ada Palmer is professor of European history at the University of Chicago. His four-volume science fiction series, Terra Ignota, was inspired by 18th century philosophers such as Voltaire and Diderot.
“I wanted to write a story that Voltaire could have written if Voltaire had been able to read the last 70 years of science fiction and have all these tools at his disposal”, says Palmer in episode 495 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast.
Palmer says Voltaire could actually be considered the first science fiction writer, thanks to an article he wrote in 1752. Earth, and they’re huge, and they’re exploring Earth and struggling to find shapes of life because for them a whale is the size of a flea, ”she said. “They eventually realize that this tiny little piece of wood on the ground is a ship, and it’s full of living things, and they make contact. So it’s a story of first contact.
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is often considered the first science fiction novel. Voltaire wrote well before Shelley, does he rather deserve the title? It depends on your definition of science fiction.
“[‘Micromégas’] does not involve technology, “says Palmer,” so if you define science fiction as dependent on technology – and being by the way, in the Frankenstein meaning: “Does the knowledge of man give us access to powers beyond what we have had before?” What does that mean ?’ – that’s not what I’m asking. But aliens and first contact are a staple of science fiction. “
So there is no clear answer to the question of who should be considered the first science fiction writer. With a sufficiently vague definition of the term, even a 2nd century writer like Lucien of Samosata could be a candidate. Ultimately, Palmer says it’s more important to ask the question than to come up with a particular answer.
“I don’t want to argue: ‘Yes, definitely everyone’s sci-fi story should start with Voltaire,’ she said. “But I want to argue that everyone’s sci-fi stories will be richer by discussing whether Voltaire is the beginning of science fiction, or if it’s earlier or if it’s later. Because it begs the question of what science fiction is.
Listen to the full interview with Ada Palmer in episode 495 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Ada Palmer on Science Fiction Conventions:
The wonderful thing about science fiction and fantasy fandom, unlike so many other literary genres, is that when you attend a lecture, the author is not in the green room and only appears. ‘occasionally for an event then disappears; the writers hang out in the halls, and you can chat with people, and you get to know people through the internet. So I got to know a lot of authors by meeting them at conventions and being a panelist before being an author – because I was talking about music, or I was talking about history, or I was talking about anime and manga. and cosplay, which were all arenas I worked in. So I got to know people, and to be known by people, through this wonderful and often united world.
Ada Palmer on the Terra Ignota series:
There is this global network of flying cars so fast that they can get you from anywhere on Earth to anywhere else on Earth in about two hours. So all of a sudden, everywhere on Earth, there is commuting distance. You can live in the Bahamas and have a meeting lunch in Tokyo and eat at a restaurant in Paris, and your spouse, who also lives in the Bahamas, can host a meeting lunch in Toronto and one in Antarctica, and that’s a reasonable travel day, especially with autonomous vehicles that allow you to work while in the car. So once that’s true for a few generations, people don’t live in a place because they have political ties to it, they live in a place because there is a big house there that their parents really liked it the moment their parents bought a house, and it no longer makes sense for geography to be the determinant of political identity.
Ada Palmer on the Terraforming Mars board game:
The players are each a company, and the UN gives you funding to encourage that, but you also make a profit on your own, and you compete with other companies to better terraform Mars… I noticed while playing in Terraforming Mars that if you play it competitively and then separately you play it collaboratively, where you say, “OK, we’re going to skip the competition for points, and we’re going to work together to try to make sure that all of the resources end up in the hands of the company that uses them most efficiently, ”you terraform Mars much better, much faster. So the board game is meant to be a celebration of this capitalist model of space creation, but also shows that just teaming up and having everyone help everyone move forward makes everything possible. the world to score more and achieve more terraforming Mars.
Ada Palmer on Diderot:
[Jacques the Fatalist] is Diderot’s strange 18th century philosophical novel about the meanders of a man valet in the company of his master. It has that deliciously warm style of prose, in which Diderot speaks directly to the reader with great intimacy and vulnerability… Reading this book is like reading a time capsule, where you meet Diderot and be his friend, of a very unlike any other book I have ever read. You come away feeling that Diderot shared with you his raw, incomplete, uncertain, deeply, deeply human thoughts and feelings, and asked for your thoughts and opinions in return, in a simply exquisite way.
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