I saw Robert J. Sawyer give a lecture on TV Ontario a couple weeks ago. In it, he called Mary Shelley the progenitor of science fiction. No arguments there. He also said the spur of this entire article; he called H. G. Wells the father of science fiction.
Now I’ve always held that H. G. Wells and Jules Verne both made a big impact on science fiction. Their footprints are different, but are about the same import. These two were the first science fiction writers to make a career out of it – even if their works went under the heading of scientific romances, back then. I mostly value them equally. But when it comes to being called the father of science fiction, Verne is easy to discern as the first career science fiction writer, by decades, and thus deserves the title.
Sawyer credited Brian Aldiss as being important in helping define the history part of his lecture. Indeed, I knew of Aldiss as a historian of SF because the library I used to work at, had at least one work in stock (Billion Year Spree?) which I glanced at. Unsure how to take this history I glanced at the Verne and Wells section and took away the distinct feeling Aldiss was minimizing Verne and promoting Wells. I felt it was too biased for my liking. That’s my long way of saying that this work of Aldiss was too long and I didn’t read it. I would have taken it out and read it, had I felt it was going to deal with SF fairly.
I blame Sawyer for his own father comment of Wells, even if Aldiss is his inspiration. Instead of following this lead I will always say that Verne is the true father of science fiction. But Wells is important also, so let’s give him the billing of being the teenage sidekick of the father of science fiction.
And, as I sought more backing on the web, I found that as well as these two, Hugo Gernsback is also sometimes called the father of science fiction. Which adds to my suspicion that the naming of a father of science fiction might differ by national identity. I’m sure in France many agree that Verne is the father. In Britain they of course see Wells as the father. In America they probably see Gernsback as the father of SF.
I think Sawyer is squandering the opportunity of being Canadian and bringing a new voice to the table. Instead, I see him as blindly following the British line maybe because of our close ties (spelling and the monarchy being two examples). So I will do it trying to be as neutral as possible. And again I say Verne is the father of SF. Wells can be the teenage sidekick of the father and Gernsback can be the tween sidekick of the teenage sidekick of the father. Or , to sound more respectful, Wells can be the ward of the father of SF and Gernsback can be ward of the ward of the father of SF.
And all this might be moot anyway. In many other cases where there is someone called the father of something, they are often also the progenitor of that field. So maybe the field of SF has only Mary Shelley as the mother of science fiction, and there could be said to be no real father.