future history n.

a fictional, self-contained, consistent, chronological framework (esp. realized across a body of work); (also) the subgenre of science fiction that uses such a framework

The OED also has a more general sense, ‘a fictional narrative of imagined future events’, with evidence from the late nineteenth century.

SF Criticism


  • 1937 N. F. Stanley Letter in Thrilling Wonder Stories Aug. 120/2 page image Norman F. Stanley

    In any event, don’t abandon the cartoon strip idea altogether. An extended outline of future ‘history’ somewhat along the line of the first installment of ‘Zarnak’ would provide an excellent subject for one.

  • 1941 J. W. Campbell In Times to Come in Astounding Science-Fiction Feb. 67 page image John W. Campbell, Jr.

    All Heinlein’s science-fiction is laid against a common background of a proposed future history of the world and of the United States.

  • 1961 R. A. Heinlein Letter 17 Mar. in R. A. Heinlein & V. Heinlein Grumbles from Grave (1990) 233 Robert A. Heinlein

    The Sound of His Wings…has an SF tie-in through my ‘Future History’ chart without being tagged as ‘science fiction’.

  • 1975 L. Niven Tales of Known Space p. xi Larry Niven

    Future histories tend to be chaotic. They grow from a common base, from individual stories with common assumptions; but each story must—to be fair to readers—stand by itself. The future history chronicled in the Known Space Series is as chaotic as real history.

  • 1989 V. Heinlein Editor's Notes in R. A. Heinlein & V. Heinlein Grumbles from Grave 175 bibliography

    These stories all follow a consistent pattern of future history.

  • 1991 J. Varley Steel Beach (1993) 567 John Varley bibliography

    This story appears to be part of a future history of mine, often called the Eight Worlds. It does share background, characters, and technology with earlier stories of mine, which is part of the future history tradition. What it doesn’t share is a chronology… Consider this a disclaimer, then. Steel Beach is not really part of the Eight Worlds future history. Or the Eight Worlds is not really a future history, since that implies an orderly progression of events.

  • 1995 Interzone Jan. 56/2

    Although it is set in the same nada -continuum future history as his early short stories, it does not share their headlong nervy rush and the crammed exotica of their cyberpunkish scenarios.

  • 1997 Science-Fiction Studies Mar. 142

    Before Sputnik, First SF had thrived in a native habitat… Afterwards, new versions of sf, new conversations, began to collide with the dying gabfest of Future History, and First SF sporulated into a series of loose, overlapping genres.

  • 2009 W. Yuen What’s So Terrible About Judgment Day? in Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back, Therefore I Am 171 page image

    This idea that we are poor judges of future events is key to moral decision-making. It’s worth pointing out, for example, that while 3 billion people died on Judgment Day, approximately 2.8 billion people survived. Future history records that John Connor will lead them to a possible victory over Skynet.

Research requirements

antedating 1937

Earliest cite

in Thrilling Wonder Stories

Research History
The OED has a citation from the March 1941 Astounding.
Brian Ameringen found a reference to and Mike Christie confirmed a citation from the February 1941 Astounding.
Fred Galvin submitted a cite from a 1937 letter in Thrilling Wonder Stories

Added to the OED in December 2001; updated in March 2002. OED has two early non-SF examples.

Last modified 2022-09-09 15:25:54
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.