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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: January 2012

54 - Unending romance: science fiction and fantasy in the twentieth century


Writers from Britain and Ireland – English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish – have contributed in large measure to the development of science fiction and fantasy in the world. Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, J. R. R. Tolkien and Sir Arthur C. Clarke can all be recognized as major creators of ideas and images that have had a lasting effect on twenty-first century culture. This chapter sketches the history of developments in these genres in the long twentieth century, from H. G. Wells to the present.

In 1824 Sir Walter Scott defined the novel as “a fictitious narrative … accommodated to the ordinary train of human events.”1 “Romance,” in contrast to romantic fiction, is the word that has often been used for the novel's opposite: a fiction that imaginatively creates a world existing outside ordinary human experience. H. G. Wells calls his stories of time travel, space flight, and wondrous invention “scientific romances,” which he firmly distinguishes from his “novels,” such as The History of Mr Polly, and there is still a feeling among some literary critics that works of science fiction and fantasy, the two modern genres that most obviously treat “romance” themes, are not actually “novels.” If the novel is concerned above all with relationships between human beings, the modern “romance” is concerned rather more with the relationship between humans and the universe in which they live. The culmination of a “novel” may be saving someone's marriage; the culmination of a “romance” may be saving someone's world.

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