When it changed

Studies of fiction yield an interesting take on when attitudes to the range of possible futures changed. Adam Roberts’ admirable history of science fiction locates the crucial period in the seventeenth century, and identifies the scientific revolution as the key stimulus.

“It is because of the opening up of a secular idiom for cosmological speculation in the seventeenth century that a new sub-genre of specifically secular futurology can come into being… Just as the seventeenth century was the time that provided some writers with a newly materialist physical universe to explore, so the same period enabled the imagining of futures not determined by the Revelation of St John.”

It took a while for this to sink in, evidently. Roberts, following a study by Paul Alkon of the Origins of Futuristic Fiction, notes just two harbingers of the new sub-genre actually produced in the seventeenth century. The most substantial was evidently Jacques Guttin’s Epigone, histoire du siecle futur of 1659. The next tale “set in a consistently imagined future”, he reckons, didn’t appear for another three quarters of a century, in 1733. Did he miss anything, I wonder?

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