The Map Of Science Fiction
March 9, 2011 3:35 AM   Subscribe

The History Of Science Fiction: a submission for the 7th iteration of the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science Exhibit.
posted by ninebelow (26 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
It's going to take me a while to unpack all of this. Great find.
posted by Fizz at 5:06 AM on March 9, 2011

Also, anyone know of a way that this can be printed on a standard home printer? Would it have to be converted into PDF or numbered in some special way?
posted by Fizz at 5:09 AM on March 9, 2011

Nice! Always going to be lacunae in something like this, but I was disappointed not to find Greg Egan or China Mieville listed, although the latter is admittedly hard to classify.

Still, great fun to pore over!
posted by jet_manifesto at 5:51 AM on March 9, 2011

Wow! Amazing graphic. Thanks for this link.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:27 AM on March 9, 2011

Holy cow, Ossian shout-out! This thing is serious business.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:28 AM on March 9, 2011

I downloaded it and pulled it into Photoshop... easier to navigate around it that way.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:32 AM on March 9, 2011

Shorter Text Version

Noted along the top:
1900 - 1935          Adventure Dominant
1935 - 1950          Science Dominant
1950 - 1961(ish)    Sociology Dominant
1961 - 1977          Form Dominant
1977 - *               Star Wars Dominant

* = The heat death of creation, apparently.
posted by Herodios at 6:32 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is Peter F. Hamilton on there or did I miss him in the space-opera sections?
posted by Fizz at 6:57 AM on March 9, 2011

I couldn't find the artist when I posted but this is the work of Ward Shelley.
posted by ninebelow at 7:26 AM on March 9, 2011

Interesting and pretty cool... plenty to argue about, Westerns an off-shoot of Gothic... really? I wonder when he created it because Steampunk has blown up in recent years
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2011

I'd like one of these that focused on literature and skipped all this TV/movie crap. It just confuses me.

I'm an elitist snob that way. Cinema just doesn't cut it when it's held up against literature.

Cool though, and fun to explore.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:59 AM on March 9, 2011

Really, really cool.
posted by me3dia at 8:21 AM on March 9, 2011

If you're wondering why you can't find it in the Browse Maps section of Places & Spaces, it looks like they haven't updated that index to include the 2011 maps. Look for it at the bottom of Winning Entries for the
7th Iteration on “Science Maps as Visual Interfaces to Digital Libraries” (2011)
“History of Science Fiction” is a graphic chronology that maps the literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. The movement of years is from left to right, tracing the figure of a tentacled beast, derived from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds Martians. Science Fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source of not only SciFi, but crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors. Film and television are covered as well.

The original is hand drawn and painted on Mylar. It has been exhibited at Teapot Gallery in Cologne and is part of an ongoing series. Other examples may be seen at: This piece has not been published or reviewed but others in the series have been reviewed (links available on website) and have been placed in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, among others.
posted by zamboni at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just awesome.
posted by gerryblog at 9:37 AM on March 9, 2011

Earl Kemp's Who Killed Science Fiction? - a pretty good article about the death of Science Fiction, in the 60s.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems weird that it shows Science Fiction being birthed from Fantasy but then having no real interaction with Fantasy after Fantasy leaves the picture with Moorcock and Zelazny. There are plenty of current writers (Wolfe, Bujold, LeGuin, Stross, Hamilton, Chiang) whose work stradles Science Fiction and Fantasy (and Horror) and lots of other kinds of cross-fertilization. Science Fiction written with the sensibility of Fantasy and vice versa. Star Wars is arguably closer to Harry Potter than it is to Neil Stephenson or Bruce Sterling or Greg Egan.
posted by straight at 10:15 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems weird that it shows Science Fiction being birthed from Fantasy but then having no real interaction with Fantasy after Fantasy leaves the picture with Moorcock and Zelazny.

I think that's one of the things this map (or maps like it) could do better. Fantasy seems to go down a "swords-and-sorcery" rabbit-hole, while all post-1960s SF is lumped into either Soft/Hard/Space Opera/New Space Opera/Cyberpunk. As you point out, many authors straddle various genres, and I'd appreciate a modern SF (i.e., post-1960s) taxonomy that ignores a strict SF/Fantasy divide, in favor of something more akin to the proto-SF melange of the 19th/early 20th centuries (Utopian/Gothic/Adventure/etc.) that I think this map highlights particularly quite well.

That being said, I have to give this map mad props for designating Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first SF novel. I think Shelly, and Frankenstein, are far too underrated as to both their actual worth and their relevance to SF. I, myself, was guilty of associating Frankenstein with boring, "classic" literature, the kind I was unwillingly forced to read in high school. When I finally got around to reading it, I was blown away.
posted by fryman at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2011

visually stunning, but seems to more or less ignore (or discount) any post-deCamp fantasy that's not sword & sorcery. Where's John Crowley, just as one trivial example -- by which I mean, where on this diagram would all of his output after Beasts be put?

Down that wormhole, that's where.

I'm left feeling like the principle reason to take this seriously as literary scholarship is that someone spent a lot of time drawing it. But I'm not seeing a rationale behind it, and the narrative up-thread doesn't excuse that really, really, really glaring and quite structural omission.
posted by lodurr at 2:32 PM on March 9, 2011

The artist's got the Enlightenment vs. Romanticism thing down pretty well (though Star Wars should be more clearly under Sword & Sorcery).

Also, I just started reading Vance's "The Dying Earth." I couldn't find that in there. I find it interesting that Vance was an engineer/physicist who, rather than writing some good, Clarkean sci-fi (just finished Fountains of Paradise, which is why I say it in those terms) as a respectable man of his era and learning [hamburger], went all Magic the Gathering with it [double hamburger with cheese]. But I'm reading the books with this enlightenment/romanticism dichotomy in mind and am interested to see where it takes me.
posted by Eideteker at 6:03 AM on March 10, 2011

Vance is tricksy. You can read some of his stuff as fantasy, or as SF deploying what are traditionally seen as fantasy tropes, or what I call "Clarke's law SF": It looks like fantasy because the technology looks like magic.

To me he's a great example of why the F:SF dichotomy isn't ultimately very useful.
posted by lodurr at 6:21 AM on March 10, 2011

Thanks for finding that extra information, zamboni.

fryman: That being said, I have to give this map mad props for designating Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first SF novel

You may already know this but author and critic Brian Aldiss is responsible for popularising this idea and, in genre criticism circles at least, it has achieved a fair amount of traction.
posted by ninebelow at 12:14 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Star Wars is arguably closer to Harry Potter than it is to Neil Stephenson or Bruce Sterling or Greg Egan.

Bingo. I used to think Star Wars was science fiction--when I was eight and saw them in the theater. Then I actually started reading science fiction and it later dawned on me that Star Wars is fantasy dressed up as science fiction.

Same goes for James Cameron's Avatar; it only works as a fantasy, because if you consider it SF it is a dismal failure at that.
posted by zardoz at 5:18 PM on March 10, 2011

On the terms under which Avatar is a dismal failure as SF, so is almost all SF -- especially space opera.

SF is just a subset of fantasy with stricter rules. Seriously, how "scientific" of an idea is it that performing calculations will alter the nature of the universe [Egan, Clarke]? Or that a sufficiently verisimilitudinous simulation could literally wipe out the existing reality [Rucker, repeatedly]?

Or anything involving the interstellar trade of goods other than unobtanium* [all space opera, forever]?

*Which, let's be fair, is not merely a maguffin, but also a maguffin carefully designed to have a market-value high enough to justify its acquisition via the outrageously costly means of space travel.
posted by lodurr at 3:43 AM on March 11, 2011

1977 - * Star Wars Dominant

* = The heat death of creation, apparently.

posted by porpoise at 7:38 PM on March 11, 2011

Can I please get a giant print of this?!
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:29 PM on March 24, 2011

The artist, Ward Shelley, has some other interesting paintings, too:

Who invented the Avant Garde?
The Beats
Frank Zappa Chart
Downtown body


Also a bunch of projects that appear to be documentation of multimedia event thingies.
posted by msalt at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

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