proto-science fiction n.

literary works, written before the establishment of science fiction as a recognized genre, that prefigure the themes of science fiction, especially ones involving fantastic voyages or technological innovations

Also proto-SF.

SF Encyclopedia


SF Criticism

  • 1962 D. Knight Space in Century of Science Fiction 78 page image Damon Knight

    But Lucian’s narrator got to the moon by magical means; so did Cyrano de Bergerac’s, Defoe’s and Godwin’s; Kepler’s got there in a dream. These are proto-science-fiction narratives, if you like; but the history of space travel in science fiction does not begin until about the turn of the century, when such stories began to be written using means that might actually work.

  • 1974 P. Nicholls Science Fiction & the Mainstream: Part 2: The Great Tradition of Proto Science Fiction in Foundation (vol. 5) Jan. 9 Peter Nicholls

    Briefly, the thesis is that modern science fiction continues a tradition of the artistic imagination which is very ancient…. I give fifteen important examples of ‘proto science fiction’.

  • 1977 G. R. Dickson in R. Fuller Futurelove Introd. p. ix Gordon R. Dickson

    Science fiction itself owes a particular debt of gratitude to the nineteenth-century storytellers—not only to recognized earlier writers of the genre, such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, but to many of the other people then writing in Western literature, who wrote either proto-science fiction or fantasy verging on science fiction, simply as variations of the short-story forms in which they were accustomed to expressing themselves.

  • 1986 G. K. Wolfe Critical Terms for Science Fiction & Fantasy 46 Gary K. Wolfe bibliography

    While such formal characteristics may enable historians of science fiction to include, for example, Dante’s Divine Comedy (1311) as part of the great tradition of Proto Science Fiction, the contextual approach would correct this by pointing out that neither Dante nor his readers were aware of any science fiction tradition and that modern science fiction readers would not expect to find such a work as the Divine Comedy in the pages of their favorite magazines.

  • 1989 A. Panshin & C. Panshin World beyond Hill 71 Alexei Panshin Cory Panshin bibliography

    They might be thought of both as epitomes of Romantic proto-SF and as first examples of the new science fiction literature of the Age of Technology.

  • 1989 A. Panshin & C. Panshin World beyond Hill 76 Alexei Panshin Cory Panshin bibliography

    There is one Romantic document that is sometimes offered as a proto-SF story with a setting in the Future—Edgar Allan Poe’s sketch ‘Mellonta Tauta’ (1849).

  • 1998 T. M. Disch Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of 32 Thomas M. Disch

    Lucian of Samasota described voyages to the moon and sun, and provided inspiration to such other proto-SF writers as Rabelais, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Jonathan Swift, all of whom recounted similar fantastic voyages.

  • 1998 T. M. Disch Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of 39 Thomas M. Disch

    Poe was a hoaxer. His first and most successful hoax (and his first work of proto-SF) was an 1831 newspaper story in the New York Sun purporting to be the journal of a Welsh balloonist who is swept from his intended course to Paris and fortuitously accomplishes the first transatlantic flight.

  • 1999 Forecasts 20 Dec. 72/3

    Conan Doyle’s achievements minus the Great Detective would have been respectable: writing everything from serious historical novels to proto-science fiction, running for Parliament, serving in the Boer War, lobbying for such social reforms as divorce laws, investigating wrongful convictions, observing the front lines in the Great War, etc.

  • 2007 N. Gaiman From the Days of Future Past in View from the Cheap Seats (2016) 329 Neil Gaiman bibliography

    H.G. Wells…was, with Jules Verne, the person who gave us the scientific romance—the forerunner of that branch of literature we now know as science fiction. His short stories, and his proto-science fiction novels, have lasted and are still read today, while many of the mainstream novels he considered more important and significant are gone and, for the most part, forgotten, perhaps because the novels were very much of their time, and swallowed by the change in time, while some of the science fiction and fantasy novels and tales are, for all their late Victorian or Edwardian settings, quite timeless.


Research requirements

antedating 1962

Earliest cite

Damon Knight, 'A Century of Science Fiction'

Research History
Cory Panshin submitted a 1989 cite from Alexei and Cory Panshin's "The World Beyond the Hill".
Enoch Forrester submitted a 1998 cite from Thomas Disch's "The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1977 cite from Gordon R. Dickson in the anthology "Futurelove".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1986 cite from Gary K. Wolfe's "Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 2003 cite from Paul Di Filippo's book review column in Asimov's.
Jeff Prucher submitted a 2003 cite from Gary K. Wolfe's review column in Locus.
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1999 cite from a review in Publishers Weekly.
Enoch Forrester submitted a 1962 cite from Damon Knight in his anthology "A Century of Science Fiction".

We are looking for the forms "proto-science fiction" and "proto-SF".

Last modified 2022-05-07 03:37:13
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.