As a long time fan of science fiction writing and books, I was thrilled to find this article in Science Daily, Research To Investigate Links Between Ancient Greeks And Modern Science Fiction. According to the article:
There is a long tradition of fantasy in Greek literature that begins with Odysseus’ fantastic travels in Homer’s Odyssey. Dr Karen Ni-Mheallaigh, at the University of Liverpool’s School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, is exploring fantasy in ancient literature, examining theories of modern science fiction writing and how these can be applied to texts from the ancient world.
Dr Ni-Mheallaigh is looking at the work of 2nd century AD writer, Lucian of Samosata, who wrote True Histories, a travel narrative that includes an account of a trip to the moon and interstellar warfare. Antihanes of Berge – who wrote about his travels in the far north of Europe, where it was so cold that conversations ‘froze in the air,’ – will also be examined, as well as the writer Herodotus who wrote about ‘flying snakes; and ‘giant gold-digging ants’ in India.
Dr Ni-Mheallaigh explains: “Fantasy writing in the ancient world is still relatively unexplored from a literary perspective. What is so interesting about these fantastical journeys is that many of them are written in the form of truthful travel logs and historical texts. The Greeks had a fascination with the exotic and other worlds and some writers travelled to the north and Far East to satisfy their intrigue. The cultures they found there were so different from their own that they were inspired to fantasize and speculate about even more remote and exotic worlds.
“The Greeks seemed to have had an anxiety about writing pure fiction, and so writers who were notorious for their ‘tall’ tales — such as Ctesias, Antiphanes and Megathenes – would write about their adventures in the form of travel logs, or back up their findings with pseudo-documentary evidence, such as ‘rediscovered’ texts or invented inscriptions.”
This is so exciting to me. For ages I, and obviously many others, thought that science fiction was a new concept. That people didn’t appreciate stories about other worlds. Well, guess what? They did.
The idea that science fiction is a long held tradition and has such a legacy in history gives science fiction more credibility. I can’t tell you how many times people scoff when I tell them I read science fiction. I scoffed for ages before being led by the nose into science fiction and became infatuated with it. The idea of the “impossible” being possible excites me. I want to know what it is like to travel the stars, explore strange new worlds, and discover that we’re not the only things floating around the universe with two brain cells to rub together.
The Legacy of Science Fiction and Alan Dean Foster
I’m a huge fan of Alan Dean Foster, the first science fiction author I became acquainted with. I’ve read just about everything he’s every published, including his writings on his website.
I love this quote from the introduction on his website:
Hello – my name is Alan Dean Foster. I’ve been trying to see as much of this planet as possible, and using my imagination to examine worlds beyond it. Worlds both possible (science-fiction) and impossible (fantasy).
Right in keeping with the article above. His books are indeed a journey into new worlds, and new ways of thinking. In his book, Spellsinger, Foster drags a pre-law student and horrible guitar player through time and space to a world where the animals walk, talk, wear clothing, and have an opinion and attitude. In The I Inside, a love story turned confusing nightmare with aliens and genetic manipulation will hold you riveted to every page.
Early on with his Flinx series, he introduces us to a world where aliens are just “different” from us, like bipedal humanoid species shown on Star Trek, but REALLY different. In a prequel to his Flinx series, Phylogenesis : Book One of The Founding of the Commonwealth, Foster slams our prejudices and entomophobia (fear of bugs) in our faces with the human species meeting up with one of the more powerful and interesting races in space known as the Thranx. The Thranx are insectoids, like giant ants, and through his careful and caring descriptions, we not only come to appreciate these aliens, we actually suffer for them.
To the Vanishing Point is fabulous for the traveler, like Brent and I. On a road trip with the family to Las Vegas through the desert, picking up a hitchhiker takes on new meaning when the road you are traveling leaves the planet.
In Glory Lane, Foster introduces us to a very real future of the US/Mexican border becoming one long town where you can get anything you want, for a price, and murder and mystery are commonplace. Aliens are absent in this futuristic police detective series, combining technology and Native American tradition, which continues in Cyber Way.
I have a lot of favorites when it comes to Alan Dean Foster’s work, but one book and one series of books stands out over all of his other work as my absolute favorite books of all time.
The Journeys of the Catechist series is an amazing journey of an African style man through foreign lands on his quest to do “what is right”. It speaks to the moral issues of choice and decision and keeping promises, but the amazing landscapes and creatures he experiences in his travels will not only astound you with their imagery, but remind you of a few people you know. His ability to anthropomorphize animals is incredible. The series begins with the start of the quest and the gathering of traveling friends in Carnivores of Light and Darkness, and continues in Into the Thinking Kingdoms, and the quest is settled, to a point, in A Triumph of Souls.
The other favorite book, and I wish he’d do a sequel on this one, too, is Quozl. Think about this plot. You are an alien species who have been sent out, in a generational ship, to find a new world because yours is overpopulated and out of control. You land on the perfect planet and start to breed and expand your population slowly, in preparation for moving out of the ship and onto the planet’s surface, and while studying and preparing, you find out that the planet supports not only intelligent life forms, but ones who will probably not like you. So what do you do? You’re stuck there? Well, with the help of a young human child who stumbles on you, you develop a marketing strategy to convince humans that you are “nice”. Of course, nothing is as simple as that, but I love the satirical poke at the marketing and advertising gimmicks on earth.
As one of the most prolific writers of our time, Alan Dean Foster may be well remembered hundreds of years from now as the man who prepared us for those future meetings with aliens, maybe shifting the human paranoia away from the fear of bugs when these bug-like creatures arrive.
Thank you, Alan Dean Foster, for changing the world and the way many people think of science fiction. You brought the humanity back into science fiction writing.