Humankind's making it out to the stars
October 13, 2012 12:40 PM   Subscribe

What are early references to interstellar travel or starships in literature?

I am seeking essential references to starships and/or interstellar travel.

Implicit suggestions of humankind's moving or growing are also welcomed.
posted by Mike Mongo to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of specific dates and works of literature on Wikipedia: History of spaceflight, Timeline of space exploration
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:02 PM on October 13, 2012

The OED SF citations project might be helpful.
posted by zamboni at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2012

Project Gutenberg's science fiction bookshelf is a good place to start. Some of the earliest would be Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (published in 1865!!!) and H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds (1898 -- not so optimistic for humanity, though). (Actually I see this is basically what the Wikipedia link has listed as the first.)
posted by anaelith at 1:52 PM on October 13, 2012

In Byron's closet drama Cain, published in 1821, Lucifer takes Cain far away into interstellar space to emphasize the smallness of his being. He also kind of takes him back in time to show him the previous versions of creation*. I don't vouch for it being the earliest instance of interstellar travel in literature, and to be fair they travel by devil magic and not by starship, but it seems like it's got to be in the running.

* After his interpretation of Cuvier's theory as to the origin of fossils.
posted by invitapriore at 2:01 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The idea that stars were like the Sun didn't really become commonly accepted in Europe until the 17th century. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in part because he proposed the idea in the late 16th century. (Also because he was a heliocentrist.)

The idea that the stars might be like the Sun was entertained by the Greeks, but it wasn't really treated as anything other than an interesting concept.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:09 PM on October 13, 2012

I've heard The Man in the Moone by Domingo Gonsales (a pseudonym for an English cleric), published in 1638, cited as one of the first works of science fiction. The book tells the story a man who voyages to the moon by tying a bunch of geese to a chair and being borne aloft by them.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:44 PM on October 13, 2012

Not literature, but iirc there's a passage in one of Galileo's texts where he speculates about the possibility of space travel/travel to the moon.
posted by scribbler at 2:51 PM on October 13, 2012

Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon"
posted by easily confused at 3:11 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Earth is compared to a galleon sailing through space in a number of nineteenth century texts, including Moby Dick.
posted by gerryblog at 3:31 PM on October 13, 2012

The poster was asking about interstellar travel not travel within the solar system, so Verne's and Welles' stories or any story about travel from the Earth to the Moon or Mars wouldn't count.
posted by octothorpe at 3:57 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

E. E. Smith, especially the Skylark books (1928 and onwards) is very modern interstellar sci-fi written quite early.
posted by anonymisc at 4:29 PM on October 13, 2012

There is also the contentious claim that ancient lore describing gods travelling from the heavens by a golden chariot are descriptions of aliens and spaceships.
posted by anonymisc at 4:34 PM on October 13, 2012

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