The Library of Virginia’s most celebrated holdings include a seemingly innumerable quantity of family histories, government records, genealogical information, priceless historical documents, scores of scholarly monographs, and the like. We also have novels about flying saucers and lasers.
Even some of Virginia’s most august and beloved writers tried their hand at science fiction. Edgar Allan Poe, for instance, penned a short story about a man, Hans Pfaall, who ascended to the moon—in a hot air balloon, no less. While Poe’s tale of helium-fueled space travel doesn’t quite rank among his most well-known stories, it does illustrate why the Library of Virginia has been diligently filling our stacks with genre fiction over the years. Improbable content aside, Poe wrote the piece as a hoax in a realistic style and followed this story up with another balloon hoax published in a New York newspaper. Poe’s hoaxes and other science fiction reveal some of the hopes and anxieties surrounding technology and politics, making them useful cultural artifacts.
In the century and a half since Poe first inspired wonder in readers, Virginians have continued to use speculative fiction to comment on society. William Gibson—a well-known Virginian who is not always well-known as a Virginian—became a pioneer of the cyberpunk subgenre, predicting the rise and dominance of the Internet with novels like Neuromancer while presenting a grim picture of a society decaying amid its technological wonders. Perhaps this desire to probe these anxieties began in Wytheville, Virginia–a place, by Gibson’s estimation, “where modernity had arrived to some extent but was deeply distrusted.”
Some of Virginia’s sci-fi writers carried these feelings into the craft itself. Though Tidewater native Murray Leinster pioneered such literary devices as parallel universes, he informed an interviewer “he stayed away from writing about the occult and the supernatural. He thought such things carried into a writer’s subconscious and could definitely be destructive.”
Are you a Sci-Fi writer from Virginia or currently living in Virginia? We would love to preserve your work for posterity by adding it our collection. To donate your book or recommend that we purchase it, please contact Mike Bingham at Michael.Bingham@lva.virginia.gov
–Mike Bingham, Collections Management Coordinator