Science fiction means a lot of things to a lot of different people, thus a variety of definitions have arisen to allow for this. Perhaps the most simple of these can be found in the The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which states that science fiction is "fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals" (652). Most of academia, however, prefers an extended version from Darko Suvin, who says SF is:
A literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are
the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and
whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative
to the author's empirical environment (Online 4).
While either of these is a solid idea of what SF is, there are many who, frustrated with society's inability to properly label the genre, have come up with more sarcastic connotations. A good example is this: "Science fiction is a label applied to a publishing category and it's application is subject to the whims of editors and publishers" (Clute and Nichols, Online 4). Even this holds some amount of truth. But, while all of these quotes are sufficient, none are satisfactory. Throughout the centuries, scholars and fans alike have attempted to accurately define science fiction, however no single definition could ever truly exist because the genre has been forced to adapt to keep pace with a swiftly evolving world.
This is more of a problem than it might seem at first because without an agreed-upon definition how can one recognize when the genre of SF began? The answer is, you can't. This date had been argued by scholars for quite some time, but there is one thing that most agree on, science fiction, whenever it began, was preceded by a genre termed Proto SF. John Clute says in his book, Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, that "a text is Proto SF when its fantastic and realistic elements are described as though they are part of the same overall reality" (34). He also says that "Proto SF has to embody a sense [. . .] that the marvels it depicts can be argued for, if necessary by example and analogy from the existing world" (35).
One of the first examples of this can be seen in The True History of Lucian of Samosata which was written c. 175 C.E. Lucian was aware of the beginnings of true astronomy, which had, with reasonable accuracy, determined the Moon's diameter and its distance from the Earth. He used all known science of the time to write his book, but did not know that air wasn't present for most of the way between the two heavenly bodies, therefore "his device of having a ship lifted by a waterspout and carried to the Moon on a whirlwind seemed quite possible to him" (Del Rey 13). Proto SF is a vast genre containing many well-known and not so well-known texts. Among these can be found Shakespeare's Othello and Swift's Gulliver's Travels as well as Baron Ludvig ...