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© Marg Gilks

Think you've got a new idea, one that's never been done before? Chances are, it has been done—over and over again. Witness the timelines of the science fiction (SF) benchmarks below—the growth of an idea from past to present. If nothing else, this should illustrate the importance of researching the market in which you plan to write!


Space ships and space travel go back even further than the 1950s, when most of us think stories containing those elements first appeared.

2nd century BC Lucian of Samasota describes voyages to the sun and moon while spoofing Greek romances.

1657/62 Cyrano de Bergerac describes the first space rocket in his Histoire comique des etats et empires de la lune and Histoire des états et empires du soleil.

1835 Edgar Allen Poe sends a man to the moon in a hot air balloon in his hoax, The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfall.

1865 Jules Verne sends them by cannon in From the Earth to the Moon.

1901 H.G. Wells' characters travel in a steel and glass sphere powered by "Cavorite" in The First Men in the Moon.

1926 Hugo Gernsback launches Amazing Stories magazine and the era of pulp fiction rocket ships.

1966 the TV show Star Trek offers "warp drive" to explain faster-than-light travel (FTL)

1969 SF becomes reality—Neil Armstrong walks on the moon

1977 The movie Star Wars calls its faster-than-light travel "jumping to hyperspace." Meanwhile, the movie Capricorn One (1978) postulates that contemporary space exploration is a hoax.

1995 Real space exploration has been around long enough to get historical in the movie Apollo 13.

2012 Manned-flight to Mars is scheduled to launch.


Mars, for years the only planet in the solar system that could be viewed clearly from earth, has always held a special fascination for writers.

1758 Emanuel Swedenborg, heavily influenced by reports of the New World here on earth, offers a fanciful description of Mars and its inhabitants (along with Venus and Jupiter) in De telluribus (Concerning Other Worlds).

1877 Scientist Giovanni Schiaparelli detects "canali"—channels, or canals on the surface of Mars, which led to the speculation of life on Mars.

1898 H.G. Wells writes the science fiction classic The War of the Worlds, describing the invasion of earth by Martians.

1906/08 Amateur astronomer Percival Lowell seizes on Schiaparelli's reports and theorizes about life on Mars in Mars and its Canals and Mars As the Abode of Life. Pulp fiction magazines and newspapers elaborate his ideas into wondrous stories.

1917 Edgar Rice Burroughs writes a series of science fiction novels set on Mars, beginning with A Princess of Mars.

1938 C. S. Lewis writes the first in his trilogy of Mars novels, Out of the Silent Planet; Orson Welles' radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds sends American listeners into a panic

1950 Ray Bradbury writes The Martian Chronicles, perhaps the best known of an explosion of stories about Mars.

1960 to present Space probes and orbiters are regularly sent to Mars, no doubt by those who cut their teeth on SF novels as kids.

1993 Kim Stanley Robinson writes a trilogy of Mars novels beginning with Red Mars

1996 NASA announces possible evidence of fossil life on Mars

1998 Perhaps in a case of coming full-circle, Robert Charles Wilson puts the canals back on Mars in his novel, Darwinia.

2005 Steven Spielberg resurrects Wells' War of the Worlds yet again for the big screen, although Mars isn't stressed as the invaders' planet of origin.


Our desire to create life by unconventional means goes back a long way.

Greek mythology Cyprian king Pygmalion falls in love with the statue of an ideal woman, asks Aphrodite to bring the statue to life, and marries the woman.

1883 Carlo Collodi writes The Adventures of Pinocchio, about a wooden boy who comes to life.

1982 Isaac Asimov's short story, "The Bicentennial Man," is published in The Complete Robot. The story concerns a robot that so wants to be human, it does what sets humans apart from robots—it dies.

1984 In the movie The Terminator, robots disguise themselves as human beings to hunt their prey—humans.

1987 A mortally wounded policeman cheats death by becoming a cyborg—half man, half robot— in the movie RoboCop

1989 Star Trek The Next Generation borrows on Asimov's theme with the episode "Measure of a Man," in which the android Data is put on trial to determine if he's property, or a free agent.

1999 In another case of coming full-circle, Asimov's The Bicentennial Man is made into a movie, and in

2004, Hollywood very loosely borrows from Asimov's robot stories for the movie I, Robot, and robots "come to life" thanks to modern special effects.

Marg Gilks is a writer and professional editor specializing in fiction. She's been working one-on-one with authors to help them prepare their work for publication for over ten years. Visit to learn more about her editing services, manuscript evaluations, and FUNDAMENTALS OF FICTION, her 8-week e-mail course covering fiction-writing basics including point of view, showing instead of telling...all the way through to putting the final polish on your manuscript.

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