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Is it a Sea Monster? No - It’s a Map of Science Fiction
And not just a map: also a timeline, a literary checklist and a historiography
Is this the picture of a whale, as the empty eye-sockets on the right suggest, or of a giant squid, its tentacles waving over on the left? It is neither, but the image of a sea-borne behemoth is perhaps appropriate, as mysterious creatures of the deep - Moby Dick, Nessie, the Nautilus - have a more than tangential bearing on this diagram. Which is what this picture, on closer inspection, appears to be. And much more: it is also a piece of art, and a timeline; a literary checklist, and a historiography of a particular genre. It is probably a few other things too, but first and foremost it is a map, of places known and unknown, and the connections between them.
Entitled A History of Science Fiction, this map is the work of Ward Shelley, a Brooklyn-based sculptor, performance artist and painter (1). One of his specialties in the latter discipline are huge, chronological diagrams, including an Extra Large Fluxus Diagram, and a very illuminating Autobiography (2). This one maps out, left to right, the origins and evolution of an entire genre of popular fiction - science fiction.
A short, crisp definition of a genre as broad as SF is not easy, although the litmus test to distinguish it from its conjoined twin, fantasy, quoted on Shelley’s diagram, is helpful: Science fiction deals with improbable possibilities, fantasy with plausible impossibilities. In layman’s terms: if it has elves, it’s fantasy. If it has aliens, it’s SF.
One thing to bear in mind: no matter how far into the future (3) it is set, SF is always a critique of the time in which it was produced. Once this sinks in, you’re less likely to be annoyed by the flared-trousered spacesuits in Seventies SF. Then as now, some of the genre’s main themes revolve around deep space exploration, alien species contact, advances in robotics and computing, and human engineering of the space-time continuum.
But we are - perhaps true to the genre - getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s examine this map from its the curly-tentacled beginnings: the fear and wonder that have been humankind’s night-time companions ever since the invention of the campfire story.
Some ancient channels for pre-SF literature include philosophy (Plato’s Republic), mythology (the Anglo-Saxons’ Beowulf), pre-scientific imagination (the Golem of medieval Jewish lore), New World exploration (Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe) and art (Thomas More’s Utopia). The latter two works could just as easily have been classified in each other’s category, which reveals the flipside of Mr Shelley’s obsessively detailed work: its classifications are extremely debatable. That is, of course, part of the fun of this map.
SF remains a twinkle in the eye of the speculative fiction writer until two great literary traditions collide, or fuse: the Enlightenment (providing the science bit) and Romanticism (proffering the fiction part). This would ultimately lead to SF, meanwhile also cradling the Gothic novel, modern versions of folk and fairy tales, and other genres, some (4) flowing into sinkholes towards, one suspects, elaborate diagrams of their own.
The years leading up to 1900 produced some classic works of early science fiction such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or L.S. Mercier’s L’An 2440. It also saw three prolific and iconic writers, each contributing to the fast-growing field of SF: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and E.A. Poe. After 1900, the genre explodes into an unwieldy clutter of subgenres, dominated by a plethora of influential magazines with titles like Weird Tales and Astounding.
A generalised chronology distinguishes between periods dominated by adventure (the ‘rockets and rayguns’ era after 1920), science (SF’s ‘Golden Age’, after 1940), sociology (the ‘Classic Period’, after 1950), form (a ‘New Wave’, after 1960), and Star Wars (SF morphs into Mainstream Styles, after 1980). Some influential genres are mentioned, like the Space Opera, ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ SF, and Cyberpunk. The rest of the diagram is replete with hundreds of books - and films - representing the widest imaginable variety of stories, thus providing, for even the semi-interested reader of SF, a handy map of vast areas yet to be explored...
Many thanks to Nick Andert, J.B. Post, Jeff Cupp, Stannous Flouride, Sue Somers and Toon Wassenberg for sending in this map, a winning entry in annual competition for best science maps, organised by Places & Spaces. More about this competition, and a look at other maps, here.
Strange Maps #506
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) See it larger (and larger still) on Mr Shelley's own website.
(3) Typically either a future in which science has made huge strides forward (towards utopia) or, more frequent in recent years, society has collapsed (into dystopia). Strictly speaking, these evolutions need not take place in the future, but can also happen in alternate realities, be they past or present.
(4) horror, westerns, crime/mystery, fantasy.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.