Little Bits of History

Science Fiction

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 11, 2012

Karel Čapek

February 11, 1938: Science fiction comes to television. Science fiction is difficult to define. It differs from fantasy in that it is based on science – at least as known at the time. Who wrote the first bit of science fiction has been hotly debated. Many current sci-fi authors give the title to Lucien who wrote the 2nd century book, True History, a satire about interplanetary travel. Modern science fiction began with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was written by Karel Čapek. The play premiered in 1921 in Prague and is famous for introducing the word robot. Originally written in Czech, it was translated into English by Paul Selver. It was adapted for the British stage by Nigel Playfair in 1923 and seen at St. Martin’s Theatre in London that same year. “Artificial people” or robots rebelled against the human race. The robots think and are so realistic they were confused with humans. They are more android than robot in today’s lexicon.

R.U.R. is a modern version of the old Golem legend. The play was popular in both  Britain and America. A 35-minute program showing a section of the play was broadcast by BBC Television – the first piece of televised science fiction. BBC One began broadcasting on November 2, 1936 as BBC Television Services. BBC Radio predated the service. BBC TV was off the air from September 1, 1939 and returned on June 7, 1946 because of security concerns during World War II.

Science fiction and television allowed for the merging of fantastic stories and awesome special effects. There are two iconic sci-fi programs. Star Trek in the US spawned an entire industry. The original series lasted for 79 episodes over three seasons. From that sprang five other television series and six feature films. Doctor Who in the UK is the longest running science fiction television show in the world. On the air since 1963, there have been over 784 episodes and it continues to be a perennial hit with British viewers. There have been spin offs and movies made for the show that is now seen in 42 countries around the world.

A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. – Robert A. Heinlein

Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible. – Rod Serling

Even the devoted aficionado – or fan – has a hard time trying to explain what science fiction is. – Lester Del Rey

Science fiction is what we point to when we say it. – Damon Knight

Also on this day:

Pennsylvania Hospital – In 1752, the first hospital in the colonies opened.
Coal – In 1808, anthracite coal was first used to heat a home.
Jack Paar; Tonight Show – In 1960, Jack Paar walked off a live telecast of the Tonight Show.

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