Infographic of the Day: A Mind-Blowing History of Sci-Fi



Artist Ward Shelley has produced another fine, fine, fine hand-drawn flowchart that will blow your mind: This time, it’s dedicated to the 2,500 years of intellectual history that have produced the modern sci-fi genre.

Which sounds totally ridiculous, but just look at the chart and you’ll understand its beauty:


[Click to view full-size]

Now, in lesser hands, the chart might have simply been a record of all the various strains of sci-fi as we know it. But Shelley is as much a historian as he is an artist, and he tracks the very first flowering of sci-fi to the Enlightenment’s fascination with science, which begat Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which begat Jules Verne:


Shelley manages to encapsulate dozens of ph.D’s in just that little bit of real-estate — just witness all the counter movements that attend the Enlightenment. But the chart continues with the same fanatical attention to detail and surpassing wit. Here, for example, is a detail show the subgenres that were birthed by sci-fi, but turned off to become their own. Fittingly, they disappear down wormholes:


And here is the most decisive moment in creating sci-fi as we know it: The hothouse moment between the 1930’s and 1950’s, which saw H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds and popular pulp fiction dedicated to ray-gun toting Martians:



Eventually we come to modern sci-fi. And that’s is where things get really crowded. Here, for example, is cyberpunk and all of its great works:


You’ll note that the closer an author is to the actual label, the more important a figure they are in founding that sub-genre — so here, you get Neal Stephenson and William Gibson right at the heart.

And here is the history of sci-fi in film, dominated, of course, by Star Wars:


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.