Man in the Moone
The first science fiction short story in English.
Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonzales, is a short tale written around the turn of the 17th century by Francis Godwin, Bishop of Llandaff and Hereford, and published after his death in 1638. An exploration of utopian and astronomical ideas, it confidently lays claim to the title of first English science fiction.
In the tale, Spanish explorer Domingo escapes a desert island by taming large swan-like birds called gansas. When the birds set off on their annual migration to the moon, he harnesses a contraption to them and goes along.
After being menaced by demons during the journey, he arrives to discover the moon is mostly ocean, with a few large islands. He meets the inhabitants, the Lunars, whose skin is of an indescribable colour, and whose society is utopian and peaceful. They maintain this state of affairs by sending any evil Lunars to live on Earth. After some time, Domingo and his gansas set off again, ending up in China.
As well as being an enjoyable and imaginative yarn, Man in the Moone also contains astronomical ideas which were advanced for the time. Godwin firmly backs the then controversial Copernican model of the solar system, at one point referring to the Earth's rotation as seen from the moon. His theories on gravitation are ahead of their time - Godwin correctly depicts the pull of the Earth lessening the further away Domingo gets from it, and has his hero weightless in space. Although he explains this by describing the Earth as a "tyrannous lodestone" - i.e. a big magnet - his account of escaping its gravitational pull is remarkably prescient.
Widely popular in the 17th century, the story influenced many later writers, including Cyrano de Bergerac and Jonathan Swift.
Work nominated by NeilHook.