The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

James Gunn Reveals Truth about International Science Fiction!

To consider science fiction in countries other than the United States, one must start from these shores. American science fiction is the base line against which all the other fantastic literatures in languages other than English must be measured. That is because science fiction, as informed readers recognize it today, began in New York City in 1926.

– James Gunn, Science Fiction Around the World, World Literature Today, 2010.

October 18, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

21 Comments

  1. That’s right! Americans invented science fiction, as well as 1. pizza, 2. democracy, 3. food courts, and 4. chocolate!

    I don’t know who these “informed readers” are, but of the knowledgable SF writers and academics I’ve talked to, the first science fiction novel is widely regarded as Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley (a Brit) in 1817.

    (1. Italy 2. Greece 3. Singapore 4. Mesoamerica)

    Comment by Jason Erik Lundberg | October 18, 2010

    • You fool! Isaac Asimov invented pizza!

      Comment by lavietidhar | October 18, 2010

    • So Americans invented Italy, Greece, Singapore and Mesoamerica? Dude… I wouldn’t be so sure about Singapore.

      But, yeah, otherwise, they did all that. Because, heh, they do have the bigger Gunn…

      Comment by rreugen | October 18, 2010

  2. Actually, pizza was technically invented in the US, but it was Italian Americans that did it.🙂

    Regarding SF as an American invention? H.G. Wells anyone? Jules Verne? There’s no doubt, however, that the US dominates the genre now and drives the definition of what it is. Which is why it’s very difficult for ‘outsiders’ to get a look in. Which is also why the work of this site, and publishers like Apex, and writers/editors like Lavie Tidhar is all the more valuable.

    Comment by John Kenny | October 18, 2010

  3. What? Shelley? British and a WOMAN?
    You are obviously not an informed reader. Good day sir!
    I SAID, GOOD DAY SIR.
    (Drops monocle in lobster bisque)

    Comment by Grant Stone | October 18, 2010

    • Lobster bisque is delicious.

      Just sayin’.

      Comment by Jha | October 21, 2010

  4. dude, i’m not even going to type what i think of that. the computer would catch fire.

    Comment by Debbie Moorhouse | October 18, 2010

  5. When I brought this up on FB, I was attacked for questioning someone SFWA honored. I kid you not.

    Also, they said I was taking what he said out of context, that Mary Shelley and Jules Verne don’t matter because he’s talking about how Americans made SF into a genre.

    I then brought up that he’s talking in the present tense. We’ll see how that goes over.

    American Exceptionalism: Alienating sane Americans and everyone else alike since at least 1941, if not earlier.

    Comment by V | October 18, 2010

  6. SF as a genre was around long before the US got its hands on it. Sorry Mr Gunn, but you are out-gunned on this one. (It was initially called the scientific romance, if I am correct. But just because they didn’t call it SF until later does not negate the fact that SF has been around as a genre before.)

    As far as pizza goes, it was technically made in Europe, and then re-invented and re-imagined by Italian Americans. But the first things that could be called pizzas were made in Italy. As an Italian, I can tell you the truth. After all, we invented the Senate, Representatives, a leader of the Houses, voting, self-centered egotistical nationalism, nmilitary tactics, pasta, honour killings, vendettas, and using minorities as scapegoats for catastrophes.

    WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE, SALUTE YOU!

    Comment by Carmelo Rafala | October 18, 2010

    • I’m delighted we cleared that one up about pizza.🙂

      And as an Irishman, I can tell you that there must be some genetic link between the Irish and the Italians, because self-centered egotistical nationalism, military tactics (specifically guerilla warfare), vendettas, and using minorities as scapegoats for catastrophes are also very Irish characteristics.🙂

      Comment by John Kenny | October 19, 2010

      • some genetic link between the Irish and the Italians

        You may want to Google Brennus of the Senones.

        Comment by James Davis Nicoll | October 20, 2010

  7. Not that the Senones were Irish but the Celts in olden days had a pretty wide range. Then everyone else learned such dark magics as cooperation and not running naked while screaming and waving a weapon around towards a phalanx of heavily armed soldiers and it’s been downhill ever since.

    Comment by James Davis Nicoll | October 20, 2010

    • What is this cooperation you speak of? Here in Ireland we still run around naked while screaming. Usually on a Friday night after the pubs close.

      Comment by John Kenny | October 21, 2010

      • I mean all those rascally not-Celts learned etc. My ancestors, on the other, stuck to the Old Ways and not only got pushed out of Europe but later out of Ireland [1]. And since apparently their base of operations was the Outer Hebrides, they probably didn’t go over well in Scotland.

        1: Half of them, anyway. The other half were the ones who did the pushing out of Ireland thing.

        Comment by James Davis Nicoll | October 22, 2010

  8. Science fiction as a self-sustaining community was created with the publication of the first issue of Amaziong Stories in 1926. So yes, it can be argued that sf is a US invention. But there were other earlier writers, such as Shelley, Wells, Verne, Poe, who wrote fiction which shared many characteristics with what become known as sf. Some commentators, such as Brian Aldiss in Trillion Year Spree, claim the first sf novel was Helley’s Frankenstein in 1818. Others go as far back as More’s Utopia, or even Lucian of Samosata. Which gets very silly very quickly. What we can all agree on is that the first publication which referred to sf as a self-identifying genre was Amazing Stories. In 1926. In the US.

    Having said that, Gunn’s claim that about “all the other fantastic literatures” is just plain bollocks.

    Comment by iansales | October 21, 2010

    • But you make it sound like US invented SF Fandom, while Gunn claims US invented SF literature!

      The type of literature that was published in the magazine mentioned by Gunn was also published in other countries over the world. In 1925, for example, Alexander Belyayev published his first science-fiction novel. I grew up with his books, titled The Last Man From Atlantis, The Man who lost his face, Air Trader, The Battle in the Ether. Books written in twenties and the thirties. And he was not the only European writer of this kind.

      Comment by rreugen | October 21, 2010

      • “The US invented science fiction” <– arguable

        "The US invented all forms of fantastic literature" <– bollocks

        Where Gunn claims the latter, and I claim in the former that "science fiction" refers to the community of self-identifying fans, readers, commentators and writers… the whole concept of a genre of books which are distinguished by two letters on the spine of every book…

        Comment by iansales | October 21, 2010

    • I know where you’re coming from, Ian, but I’d have to second what Rreugen says. There’s a strange US centric malady that afflicts many Americans when it comes to a whole host of things (and I say many, not all!). Why was Worldcon called Worldcon, when for decades it never left the shores of the States? And in baseball, why is the World Series called the World Series?

      Comment by John Kenny | October 21, 2010

      • The US-centrism of Americans is another argument all together. I think it was Orson Scott Card who said that any invented future of note in a science fiction novel had to be an American future. But then Card is full of crap.

        Anyway, so what if the US invented sf? It’s not like they write the best sf anyway.

        Comment by iansales | October 21, 2010

      • I think it was Orson Scott Card who said that any invented future of note in a science fiction novel had to be an American future.

        That’s interesting because I collect futures in which the US survives past AD 2100 and I can tell you they are thin on the ground and often not written by Americans. If they are not being conquered by Francophone UN troops or bombed back into the 19th century by Reds, they are turning on each other in civil war or collapsing in the face of global warming and financial set-backs. Maybe he meant of note in the “vanishingly rare” sense?

        Comment by James Davis Nicoll | October 22, 2010

  9. Ian:
    “Where Gunn claims the latter, and I claim in the former that “science fiction” refers to the community of self-identifying fans, readers, commentators and writers… the whole concept of a genre of books which are distinguished by two letters on the spine of every book…”

    I think Gunn confuses literature with fandom. SF and Fantasy stories were written all over since whatever, and even pulp literature was published in the twenties independently from the US. I can believe that US invented a “community of self-identifying fans…,” as you said. I’m not sure about it, because I have only read about the history of US fandom briefly, but fandoms never caught in the part of Europe where I live; people don’t seem to be interested in being fans, no matter if it’s about a band, or a tv show, or a literature.

    Comment by rreugen | October 21, 2010


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