Wondrous, detailed map of the history of science fiction

Artist Ward Shelley's brilliant map of the history of science fiction from 2009 is a kind of interestingness black hole whose event horizon captured me for several hours this morning as I pored over the diagram and the arguments it makes about the history and origins of science fiction. I don't agree with every conclusion illustrated here, but thinking about them made me reconsider a lot of cherished beliefs.

History of Science Fiction (JPEG)



  1. I can’t make much sense of it as a diagram but he’s certainly touched most of the stuff I think important

    Except that the hard SF is a bit lacking. Wait, Tehanu in with the hard SF? WTF? It’s a fantasy novel! (And IMO not really a good one.)

  2. He’s trolling us. He’s got to be.
    He listed “the forever war” as “the forever peace”

  3. It is just my lack of observation or are there no mentions of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

    Anyone capable of pointing out the books, movies, television show or radio series to me?

    1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is listed as a book and it’s between “Space Opera” and “New Space Opera”, beneath “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead”, just above the break into movies.

  4. It’s fantastic. I love that there is so much in there that I haven’t read yet – I’m always looking for book recommendations, especially among the classics of SF and fantasy. Why, I only read ‘More than human’ last month!

  5. It’s Amazing, Astounding and full of Wonder. I’d love to know how he sketched the outline.

  6. I’m not so sure that “Blood Music” is hard SF. Where are Hal Clement’s books?

    And Tau Zero is closer to hard SF than Space Opera.

  7. (Slightly off-topic…)

    I find it hard to believe he didn’t actually connect Poe’s Dupin and Sherlock Holmes. Doyle might have made his hay on the low brow periodical, but Holmes is a direct rip of Dupin, and all the rest are an offshoot of Holmes. Also the Holmes pipe into the wormhole should be HUGE in comparison… Poe may have invented the archetype, but Doyle created the genre.

  8. Wonderful piece, it makes me think and review.

    I also see books that I probably should have read, but missed, and others that I read long ago (50 years?) and need to read again as old friends.


  9. @jerwin: “Mission of Gravity” is right after the F&SF bulb, between Bester and Dick.

    An impressive work, for all its essential incompleteness.

  10. The order of the last two “Planet of the Apes” films is reversed. No, I’m not counting Tim Burton’s remake.

  11. Wow. Sturgeon squeezed in. The template for Kilgore Trout just squeezed in with More Than Human? The man is a monster of 20th century literature… ask most of the writers on the map. anyway, rant done.

  12. A magnificent graphic, but Arthur Clarke’s ‘Space Odyssey’ series is the only science-fiction produced yet that may be as good as the ‘Metroid’ series (especially ‘Prime’), and ‘Metroid’ aint here.

  13. Did i miss Leguin’s “The Dispossessed” in there?
    Was Voyager really listed and not Enterprise?
    Were Varley’s horror tour de force “Press Enter” and KSR’s mountaineering novella Green Mars skipped?

  14. Nice.. Fell well within the Schwarzschild radius… Must have suffered some kind of time-dilation effect… seem to have flashed forward… it can’t be that time already… shit.
    ps. Amongst other notable absences, where’s Cory..?;)

  15. At the Little Read Book Store in Ames, Iowa, I once met a woman who’d just gotten the world’s first-ever Ph.D. awarded for a dissertation about “Women In Science Fiction.” She’s never heard of Judith Merrill, nor (by admittedly cursory once-over) has this guy.

  16. Maybe I’m just not seeing it amidst the hubbub, but I couldn’t find Stanislaw Lem or his masterpiece “Solaris.”

  17. One of my favorite Sci-Fi critics published a great book which contained tiny reviews of just about every sci-fi novel/anthologies written “The Ultimate Guide To Science Fiction” by David Pringle is a fantastic guide for anyone wanting to get further into the genre. Its out of print but there are still used copies available on Amazon. A second printing which has updates came out but you’ll pay through the nose for even a dog-eared copy.

  18. Yarp: “Solaris” is there, top, with a line linking it to New Age.

    I am trying to think of what book he is thinking of by Zelazny when he puts ‘This Immortal’ on the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ limb. Amber, no argument, but “This Immortal”/”…And Call Me Conrad” is easily as much Science Fiction as “Dune” (which is just below ‘Dangerous Visions’ on the top branch).

    Interesting, but with the occasional odd lapse.

  19. As this is, to the best of my awareness, a unique document, whether Mr. Shelley erred in positioning, including, or excluding a certain work is, I feel, somewhat dilatory: Critiquing the first non-religious mapmaker because he put your home village on the wrong side of a creek is beside the point. The question ought to be: Is this graphical display of science fiction history *useful,*? I claim it is, both for demonstrating the proximity of science-fiction fandom to literary criticism, and for highlighting the criticality of historical context in understanding contemporary works. Abrams’ Trek reboot cannot be understood without reference to TOS; TOS cannot be understood without reference to all that Shelley’s diagram demonstrates as its antecedants.

  20. It’s missing Cowboy Bebop. Should have it’s own color and widget, too, since it’s “a genre onto itself”.

    And the Irwin Allen TV shows should be grouped together, not flailing around Star Trek.

    On the other hand, now that I put it that way…

  21. Bujold’s Vorkosigan series is definitely not cyberpunk, and Paladin of Souls is most assuredly fantasy, not sci-fi at all. Sadly I’m a young whippersnapper and can’t speak for the older stuff, just ohh and aah. I would object to calling Crichton “hard” science fiction though, as I’ve always gotten a good chuckle over how bad his “science” is.

  22. An interesting map, but where is Algernon Henry Blackwood, CBE (14 March 1869 – 10 December 1951)? And just to be knit-picking (cos that’s just like a Virgoan), Ward has left out the (d) in Alexan(d)er Dumas…I point these out in a light hearted manner you understand. Lol.

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