Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prehistory of Geekdom--the Final Chapter

You can argue that the title "Father of Science Fiction" can be awarded to a number of different people for perfectly valid reasons, but good ol' Jules Verne is the man most commonly referred to as such. And, by golly, he deserves it.

It was Verne who really took the idea of reasonably extrapolating what technological advances might some day be possible, then building wonderful works of fiction around that idea. It was Verne who gave us great characters like Captain Nemo and Phileas Fogg. It was Verne who really did invent science fiction.

Not that his extrapolations were always accurate. If you ever decide to travel to the moon, do not do so by shooting yourself out of a giant cannon. It's just not a good idea.

A century and a half later, Verne's novels are still wonderful experiences. His enthusiasm and imagination literally drips from each page, making the reader yearn to join Nemo on his submarine or Fogg in his lightning fast trip around the world.

H.G. Wells, the other 19th Century "Father of Science Fiction," was less concerned with scientific accuracy (something Verne was critical of) and more concerned with hiding a little bit of social commentary in his works. The trouble was that his ideas were so cool that almost no one every notices the commentary. War of the Worlds, for instance, was meant in part to be a criticism of Western colonialism. But those really cool Martian tripods ended up being so much fun in their own right that the deeper meaning pretty much sailed over everyone's head.

But, heck, those tripods are worth the price of admission by themselves. The heck with all that deeper meaning.

Anyway, these two men pretty much guaranteed the continued existence of science fiction. Without them, we probably wouldn't have had Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury or John Campbell. We wouldn't have X-Wing fighters, Federation starships, or Colonial Space Marines getting caught by face huggers. We wouldn't have AT-AT walkers or Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Welles and Verne provided the final and perhaps most important ingredient for creating the modern geek. Their work, combined with those writing detective fiction, horror, Westerns and adventure stories during the 19th Century--all of whom were building on themes and characters from myth and legend--created those of us who can rattle off the secret identities of the X-Men without even pausing or tell you exactly what episode Spock first used the Vulcan nerve pinch.

As I said when I originally started this series--all of history has culminated in the creation of the comic book/science fiction geek. We are the pinnacle of civilization. Bow before us. We will soon rule over you all.

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