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An Overview of British Science Fiction & Fantasy

British science fiction and fantasy literature has its very old tradition rooted in the middle of the 19th century when the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Bram Stocker, H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson  were writing their novels based on folklore, mystery and  technological inventions. This rich tradition was followed in the 20th century by C.S. Lewis’  fables, social-oriented works by George Orwell and, of course, by the great heritage of J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact Tolkien’s stories were built on his fascination with traditional epic tales, romance, customs and language. With the series of his ‘Lord of the Rings’ Tolkien created a new genre in the literary world – fantasy. Thanks to the film adaptations of these stories his popularity is still enormous all over the world.

 

A harder form of science fiction literature became popular in the 50’s and 60’s as illustrated by the novels of John Wyndham and science-based stories by Fred Hoyle. However, the most renowned name of that time is still writing today – Arthur C. Clarke.  He writes classic science- fiction stories, his most famous being – ‘2001 A Space Oddysey’ which was made into a film by Stanley Kubrick.

 

Following this period British authors, among them: J.G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock, left technological problems behind to write about inner space, people’s dreams, secrets and the psychological side of human nature. At the same time they successfully linked SF with psychoanalysis, the avant-garde and  surrealism.

 

A new era of British SF started in the 80’s together with cyberpunk. Science fiction writers like Ballard, Brian Aldiss, William Golding or Doris Lessing began to concentrate on what was happening on the Earth, modern problems and finished with speculations about the conquest of the cosmos. They began writing about alternative histories, potential developments in our social and political lives, also focused their writing on gender, colonial and imperial issues.

 

At the moment in Britain, apart from the classics of science fiction and fantasy including Clarke, Ballard or Aldiss, a new group of authors has emerged, like Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett, writing mainly fantasy fiction and gaining worldwide popularity. J.K. Rowling with a series of books about Harry Potter created a whole new world for children and adults to think about setting a story somewhere between the two camps of fairy tale and fantasy. It’s interesting that she had to send out her manuscript of the first book, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone’, to numerous publishers before one decided to take a chance. Today she is an international phenomenon and her books are published in many languages selling millions of copies.

Terry Pratchett, is a great modern storyteller and one of the best-selling fantasy authors in the world. Writing for all ages he has created his own world, called the Discworld – full of mad magic, wild adventures, hilarious characters and situations, and enchanting prose. In actual fact, his writing started out as a parody of all the fantasy that was around in the big boom of the early '80s and later turned into a satire on just about everything. Pratchett's humour is based on solid observation, the ability to view the commonplace through the distorting microscope of fantastic comedy, to make the grotesque seem familiar and the familiar grotesque.

 

From the early days of his now-legendary Sandman comic books, Neil Gaiman's writing has crossed the divide between fantasy and reality, dreamtime and the waking hours. Neil Gaiman is one of the top writers in modern comics and a best-selling novelist. Now he is a cult writer for many of his fans. As with J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett he sells more copies of books than many other famous authors writing fiction and non-fiction.

 

Today in Britain and world-wide this kind of sarcastic, humorous writing is far more popular than traditional science fiction stories although there is still a place for various subcategories in this genre and for authors such as: Stephen Baxter (hard SF), Alastair Reynolds (space opera), Clive Barker (horror), Michael Marshall Smith (science & horror) or China Mieville (urban fantasy).


Click here for further information about Science Fiction Writing, the Imagine This Project and T@lking Books who have organised the interviews with Stephen Baxter and other well-known British science fiction writers. T@lking Books organise Readers Groups and are currently reviewing a different science fiction book every month starting with Michael Moorcock - see What to Read.


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