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The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1910s

Although some have argued the case that science fiction began with stray stories about nutty inventions from ancient Greece to the time of Louis Quatorze, the truth is that real SF really got off the ground beginning with Jules Verne, who took decidedly fact-based premises upon which to build his novels of inner space, round-the-world travel, and subsea exploration. But despite the popularity of Verne's stories, they served primarily as the buildup to the arrival of H.G. Wells, an author who was more reader friendly and who had the advantage of writing in the same language as that spoken by the huge American market.

Wells' first foray into science fiction was with The Time Machine (1895) that was soon followed by The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes, and First Men in the Moon among others. With each novel, he staked out new territory in the landscape of science fiction, inventing sub-categories within the genre that generations of SF writers would spend decades exploring.

But Wells wasn't the only person writing SF at the turn of the century; so were the likes of Robert Hugh Benson, M.P. Shiel, Edwin Lester Arnold, and E. M. Forster. These authors, following the earlier impetus supplied by Jules Verne, placed science fiction firmly in the mainstream of reader interest (although to be sure, the genre wasn't recognized as “science fiction,” in fact, it wasn't differentiated much at all from the regular run of novels).

But then something happened on the way to public acceptance. Even as various authors continued to treat the genre seriously, the rise of the pulp magazines in the United States offered the opportunity for anyone with an active imagination and a hankering to write to enter the field. Although such magazines as Argosy and All-Story offered a venue for the occasional SF story, it wasn't until 1926 when publisher Hugo Gernsback gave imagineers their first all science fiction outlet with Amazing Stories. By then, the field of literary SF had divided into high- and low-brow fare with authors such as Wells and later Olaf Stapledon working the more prestigious book markets and upstarts like E.E. Doc Smith, Jack Williamson, and Edmond Hamilton cranking out spacefaring fodder for a penny a word.

However, after such critically acclaimed writers as Wells and Stapledon ended their association with the genre, science fiction was left to the pulps, leading to an infantilization of the field. With the lurid covers of scantily clad females and threatening BEMs, the SF pulps did little to improve their reputation as nothing more than entertainment for young boys. But those boys would eventually grow into men even as their favorite authors improved their skills as well as their perspicacity. Thus when the day of the pulps ended and the day of the paperback dawned, science fiction writers would be poised to make the transition into a format more acceptable to mainstream adult readers.

But that would happen in the 1960s. In the second decade of the century, modern science fiction was still in its infancy, and still divided between book and magazine publishers who were just beginning to realize the saleability of science-based tales of the fantastic. And because of that, every entry in this period, it seemed, broke new ground or further popularized the genre in a way that made it more accessible to the average reader. Entries such as those collected here, in a list of the ten most influential science fiction stories of the 1910s.


10) The Runaway Skyscraper

Well ahead of the modern science fiction movement, Murray Leinster was in at the beginning launching his SF career in 1919 with a short story called “The Runaway Skyscraper” about a Manhattan building caught in an earth tremor that somehow drives it back in time by thousands of years. Before the hero finds a way to reverse the process, the building's office workers must cooperate in a struggle with day-to-day survival thus finding themselves in a truly fantastic and exciting SF tale first published in Argosy magazine.