Science Fiction as Gothic Literature

I love classic Science Fiction works, and I really love Gothic literature. For some time I have thought of the two genres as being wildly dissimilar: Whereas Gothic lit. is characterized by creepy, old dark things and death, Sci-Fi is concerned with uncharted new things. But are they really so different?

Gothic Leaves by Developing Focus Photography and Design

After giving it some thought, I realized the supernatural ghosts and demons of Gothic literature often correspond to the uncanny abilities of Sci-Fi aliens. The creepy castles and foreboding forests of Gothic lit. are similar to the unknown worlds of Sci-Fi, and there is a theme of exploration of unknown worlds or beings that pervade both genres.

The highly revered Sci-Fi author, Ray Bradbury, tapped into this understanding of the similarities between Gothic and Science Fiction in many of his works. One of his biggest inspirations was none other than the famous Gothic poet and author, Edgar Allen Poe. Poe, and allusions to him and his work, often show up in Bradbury’s writings. One of the most overt examples is a short story by Bradbury called Usher II, which borrowed the name, setting, and plot of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, but with a definite Sci-Fi twist including robots, Mars, and a futuristic government.

So keep this in mind next time you find yourself reading either genre (which better be soon): While Gothic literature may be focused on the past, and Science Fiction undoubtedly is fixed on the future, both genres tap into our very human fears of the unknown and unexplainable.

6 comments

  1. handselkoan

    It’s more than that. The earliest science fiction was really influenced by Gothic perceptions when sentience and autonomy came into play with artificial life or aliens, who were often treated like monsters in earlier story styles. A sense of judgment and karma was at work in early sci-fi, too. It bordered the occult (“Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Monster-Maker”) and what is now called pulp fiction (including characters like Tarzan and Quartermain, like in the novel “King Solomon’s Mines”). Science fiction really linked the eras of Romanticism to Post-Modernism, often ahead of the curve and in combinations other genres can’t. Sci-fi still carries that inclusive nature.

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    • L. Lawrence

      Very true! Your comment reminded me that Edgar Allen Poe, a Gothic writer, also wrote some early sci-fi (“The Balloon Hoax”) as well as early detective fiction (“Murders in the Rue Morgue”). Thank you for sharing your insights!

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          • handselkoan

            Besides Jose Farmer, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury, one source is an old paperback book called “Science Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time,” edited by Robert Silverberg. It only has one story of nineteen I’ve read so far I didn’t really like, for one reason or another (there are 26 stories in the book). If you can find it, get it.

            The other material I have now is a new author on Amazon. He wrote the only story I’ve found to date who wrote the Bode’s Law (of astronomy) into the plot. It may lack polish but the story arc is big. It’s under the title “Lone Soldier,” the author being Relic Kimah.

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