The Atlantic explores how the imaginative spirit behind some of the earliest science fiction had eventual effects on real-world developments in science and technology, and not the other way around.
An explorer builds a space ship and meets aliens on another world. They are a “people most strange,” these extraterrestrials. They’re twice as tall as humans; they wear clothes spun of a mysterious material, dyed in a color unseen by human eyes; they speak only in haunting musical tones. Then the explorer returns to Earth.
This has been the plot of seemingly countless examples of pulp magazines and canonical science fiction in the past century. Similar themes have been explored by authors like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke, classic television such as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, and films like this month’s Arrival. But this particular story isn’t from the past century. Its explorer, Domingo Gonsales, is the fictional narrator of The Man in the Moone, a novel by Francis Godwin, a bishop in the Church of England. It was published in 1638.
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