Traveling Through Time: Tracing the History of Science Fiction

While looking at a list of movies currently playing in any given cinema might easily lead you to the conclusion that audiences love Science Fiction, our fascination with the genre goes back farther than you might think. 

Dr. Lawrence M. Solomon, a devoted book collector whose impressive assemblage of books is being auctioned at Swann on November 10, caught the Sci-fi bug at a young age. His collection displays a deep love for several genres, including Mystery and Detective Fiction, and does an excellent job of walking both the avid fan and the casual consumer through the history of genres. Below you’ll find a brief tour through the history of Science Fiction demonstrated by The Lawrence M. Solomon Collection

Lot 297: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, third American edition, Boston and Cambridge, 1869. Estimate $600 to $900. 
Like any genre, the exact roots of Science Fiction are difficult to trace, and hints of science have intertwined with fantasy in tales all the way back before the days of print. Several different Science Fiction scholars and researchers identify Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as a progenitor of the genre, helping to create the now recognizable character of the mad scientist, and heavily focusing on technology. 
 
 
Lot 344: Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon; Passage Direct in 97 Hours and 20 Minutes, first edition, Newark, 1869. Estimate $25,000 to $35,000. 
The genre saw a boom in Europe in the late 18th century with serialized work from writers like Jules Verne riveting magazine readers. English writer H.G. Wells would further popularize and transform the genre a little more than 20 years later with books like The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and his classic The War of the Worlds, all of which are included in Dr. Solomon’s collection. 
 
                        
Left, Lot 358: H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, first edition, first issue, London, 1898. Estimate $1,200 to $1,800. 
Right, Lot 355: H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, first English Edition, London, 1895. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000. 
 
Science fiction continued to sky-rocket in the years after WWI. In 1926, just a year after the first novelized publication of his previously serialized Ralph 124C 41+, Hugo Gernsback, a writer, publisher and inventor, founded the first magazine dedicated to the genre, Amazing Stories. The magazine would go one to publish works from Sci-fi greats like Isaac Asimov and Ursula K. Le Guin. The Hugo Awards, which celebrate works in the genre, are named in his honor. 
 
Lot 147: Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+, first edition, Boston, 1925. Estimate $300 to $400. 
 
Science Fiction would enter its Golden Age in the 1940s and 50s, when other media like television and film began their love affair with the genre. During this time, writers like Issac Asimov, first published by Hugo, flourished. 
 
Lot 371: Issac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy, three volumes, first editions in first issue dust jackets, New York, 1951-53. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000. 
 
 
The genre continued to expand and adapt, often borrowing from or expanding into other genres to create new styles and subcategories. One author known for this genre collaging was Phillip K. Dick, whose works like The Man in the High Castle bring together the alternate history and science fiction genres. Dick experimented with simulated reality in his 1959 novel Time Out of Joint. 
 
Lot 84: Phillip K. Dick, Time out of Joint, first edition, New York and Philadelphia, 1959. Estimate $800 to $1,200. 
 
 
Like the universe or a fictional viral epidemic, the genre of Science Fiction continues to expand and change. For more examples of the roots of the genre, have a look at the complete catalogue for our auction of 19th & 20th Century Literature featuring The Lawrence M. Solomon Collection.