The Evolution of Science Fiction (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It’s Lit!

The History of Science Fiction! Vote on your favorite book here:
Correction: At 1:49, we accidentally said that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published in 1918, when it was published in 1818. We regret the error — thanks to Stephen Pershing for catching this!

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favorite novel.
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Stories, tales, and myths from all around the world posing speculative questions around technologies have existed long before Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert, from the time-traveling Japanese fairy tale “Urashima Tarō” to some of the speculative elements of 1001 Arabian Nights. But there are a few eras that begin to shape what we’ve come to know as science fiction today.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis

Written by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan
Directed & animated by Andrew Matthews
Produced by Amanda Fox
Executive Producer: Adam Dylewski
Music and Sound Design: Eric Friend
Hand Model: Katie Graham
Imaged by Shutterstock

Produced by PBS Digital Studios


BrythingRoom says:

Thank you for including the voices of several women and people of color; we are to often omitted from the genre itself and discussions about it.

I am curious, is the term science fiction still in fashion? Or is “speculative fiction” the new black?

Peter XYZ says:

Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy

spacehamsterZH says:

What, William Gibson doesn’t even get a nod? C’mon now.

TheWizoid says:

ray bradbury was not a cool dude what the fuck

Heba Assad says:

Where is Douglas Adams

Conservative News says:

How could you leave Arthur C Clarke, with Hal, out of your list of most influential SciFi writers?

ajzeg01 says:

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther? Don’t you mean Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Black Panther? Ryan Coogler didn’t create Black Panther, he just adapted the comics to the screen. Don’t spread misinformation.

Lily Hults says:

When I was in my teens I enjoyed workd of brothers strugatsky, I read all their books (didn’t touch their articles tho), some read a few times, Hard to Be a God even 4 times I think? But in general, I love their sci-fi stuff a lot! Some of those books have movies, but I didn’t enjoy them :c

Matthew Bryan says:

NK Jemisin is such an amazing author. Her Broken Earth trilogy had her become the first person to ever win a Hugo two years in a row. Then she became the first person to win three years in a row. Her story is fucking amazing and everyone needs to read it. It’s SciFantasy btw. Please pick it up

macsnafu says:

Yeah, science fiction is too big to cover in less than 10 minutes. As for my favorites, space opera can be fun and entertaining, but I like sf that stretches my mind with new and exciting ideas the best. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy (it was only a trilogy when I first read it!) was such for me at 13. Robert Silverberg also had some interesting ideas in his late 60s/early 70s fiction. Gordon Dickson had some good stuff, and Samuel Delaney at his best was impressive, as is James P. Hogan. Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker was truly mind-blowing, though, and few, if any, have managed to capture the breadth and scope of his ideas.

There are many other sf writers who kept the flame burning, even if they weren’t writing the most grandiose, mind-blowing stories, and may well be forgotten, if videos like this are any indication. Ted Sturgeon, Frederick Pohl, Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, Stanley Weinbaum, Ben Bova, Murray Leinster, Alfred Bester, Bertram Chandler, Gordon Randall Garrett, Lester Del Rey, Harry Harrison, EC Tubb, EE Smith, Norman Spinrad, etc., etc.

Frank Muehle says:

Are you aware of Doris Lessing?

Sir Jaojao says:

1818 not 1918

Jasper Shepherd Smith says:

No one talks about Gene Wolfe and it makes me sad

A Cold Hand says:

Thanks for asking what everybody’s favourite sci-fi novel is and thereby turning the comment section into a paradise of book recommendations 😀
I love science fiction. This genre is all about humanity and its biggest strenghts and weaknesses, on small and big scales. It’s about asking “what if?”. The science, despite it being part of the name, isn’t actually that important for most of the stories imo.

Dave Lanciani says:

FAV Sci-fi book ever? DUNE. George Lucas practically stole the whole plot for Star Wars (desert planet, nearly orphaned boy with innate mystical powers destined to be the “new hope”, futuristic vehicle battles, evil bad guys in black, etc. … oh! a sister who also has mystical powers … and so on).

Carolyn Chen says:

Hi, PBS. I enjoyed your videos a lot. How did you make these really interesting videos?

Lewis Irwin says:

*A Fall of Moondust* by the one and only Arthur C. Clarke, yo! Not for nothing did it become the first *Reader’s Digest* condensed novel!

Maxime Le Donge says:

I too wish I had never checked Orson Scott Card’s political views, and stuck to reading his amazing books. [sigh]

Gerald Grenier says:

Anne McCaffery’s Crystal Singer books. Hell Her Ship who sang is one of the foundation works of the trans-humanism subgerene

Gabriel P says:

That intro is VEEERY outdated, tho… Flying cars and hoverboards. All things we have open to the public at least since 2016 (you need to have at least half a million dollars, to start to think about buying one of those…) Also… You can´t deny how most of american science fiction WAS A COPY OF SOMETHING THAT WAS MADE IN EUROPE YEARS EARLIER.. xDxD

manabouttongue says:

The truth is, the science fiction book that really predicted the impact the internet would have on modern day societ was Emerald Eyes by Daniel Keys Moran. He spoke about controlling technology by the the use of brain waves with the ubiquitous assistance of a type of bluetooth technology!

Bastian Schwerer says:

Anyone any opinions about cixin liu?

heavenhellanda711 says:

My favorite sci-fi author is Ray Bradbury. I read Fahrenheit 451 in college in between overlong and terribly written text books and fell in love. My current favorite series is James S. A. Corey’s The Expande novels.
As far as what I want sci-fi to cover more: I would really like to see more diversity among the stars, specifically those of Hispanic and Latino origins. There’s not enough in current fiction in my opinion, both in text and in our films/tv shows.

Allan Stokes says:

1:00 I like Lindsay, but that’s a certified clanger. SF is not just speculative ideas about technology, it’s speculative ideas about technology, biology, culture *and* society. A long-standing problem is that escaping the confines of dull-old planet earth tends to come along with either a metallic boy toy booster or a wiggly woo fixation (usually both; faster-than-light travel, and instantaneous psychic connections, constrained only by momentary narrative convenience and all too often not even it’s own in-world past).

Francis Barraclough says:

How about Douglas Adams

ArmyPogoStick says:

Sci fit without mention of Arther C. Clarke, well I’ll be

Venus Gillespie says:

By the way, if any of y’all are interested in Horrible Phobias Lovecraft, please not he’s not an easy read bc he was honestly just…so racist and mean…

Bill Keck says:

You said you wanted a robot, but your forgot about your Roomba! A household cleaning robot that exists today! I would love a Roomba that scooped kitty litter!
And you forget that the Japanese are set on developing sexbots that will make love and courtship – – – obsolete!
What would happen if I had a house maid, sexbot that cooked & cleaned & “serviced” my fantasies AND scooped the kitty litter too! UTOPIA!

S Ghoreishi says:

I’m a bit surprised you didn’t mention Arthur C Clarke here? I’d say he’s far more influential than Heinlein ever was.

O. S. B. says:

So happy to see a shoutout to N.K. Jemisin! Her Broken Earth series radically expanded the kinds of stories I thought secondary worlds could tell. By far the best that “fictional people as stand-ins for real marginalized people” has ever been done.

Snorpenbass says:

Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote quite a lot of science fiction – Michael Crichton stole half his ideas from the Challenger novels (Lost World, Andromeda Strain, etcetera). As for “first science fiction novel”, some have argued that the very first was actually Lucian’s “A True Story”, which while a satire of contemporary travelogues also brought in space travel and the likes.

Steve Lombardi says:

No William Gibson?

Trish Page says:

Your words hurts my head. Tell me more

Warren Swaine says:

A mention of John Wyndham is probably warranted. American watchers probably only know him because of The Day of the Triffids and The Village of the Damned (The Midwich Cuckoos) but he had a lot more in his locker.

A favourite of mine is is Trouble with Lichen which would make a great “based on” idea for a movie. A male and female chemist simultaneously discover an extract that will allow people to live to 200-300 years. The male chemist uses it sparingly on himself and his family. The female chemist uses it to prolong the life of notable female subjects because if men knew about it they would use it to “perpetuate the patriarchy”. It really is a great piece of speculative sci-fi.

He has more, from complete schlock to Philip K Dick levels of great ideas waiting to be farmed. If you want two more recommendations, The Chrysalids and Chocky are also really good.

PrincessJohn says:

My personal favourite is ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep”. Philip K Dick introduces many interesting and philosophical questions throughout the story.
He only elaborates on some of them within the story but they get the stone rolling.

Mark Brandon says:


Allan Stokes says:

5:00 Very cool to see the names of several black SF authors (all women), none of which I have read—I’ve read very little since the 1980s, which probably contributes—but I sure wouldn’t have skipped Clarke or Lem in arriving here (nor probably Niven, Vonnegut, Roddenberry, and the legendary wokeopath Cordwainer Bird—imagine a hipster Wookiee trapped in an evil Fonzie universe visually distinguished by its male-pattern chin baldness). Omitting Clarke—good grief. (In her reluctant tour of auteur theory on another channel, Lindsay managed to pass over Kurosawa and Kubrick, but who’s counting?) Lem, who was fairly important on his own terms _(Solaris),_ but also represents one of the few truly competent genre critics from inside the house (Le Guin also demonstrated some chops in this area). Arguments can also be made—more on the fantasy side—for mentioning Poe, Hawthorne (“Rappaccini’s Daughter”), Gibson, and Terry Gilliam. Arguments can *not* be made for John Norman _(Gor)_ or George R. R. Martin.

Ultimately, I found this segment to be more of a teaser episode than the real thing.

John Bender says:

does pbs not allow. you. to. inhale?

Grim The Ghastly says:

Dreampunk. That’s all I’m gonna say.

ForeverMasterless says:

Favorite scifi novel is Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus. I was gonna say Book of the New Sun, but while it’s technically scifi, it heavily masquerades as fantasy (it very much plays with the whole “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” thing) and it feels like cheating, especially when Wolfe wrote a straight scifi novel that’s just as good.

For anyone interested, Fifth Head of Cerberus deals with themes of colonialism and identity by way of two sister planets orbiting each other that have been colonized by humans, but records of human-like shapeshifting natives that mysteriously vanished soon after humans arrived has let to all sorts of quandaries, like did they really die out, or did they kill and then replace all the original human colonists and subsequently forget what and who they are?

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