Sailing to the Moon: Francis Bacon, Francis Godwin and the First Science Fiction

  • Catherine Gimelli Martin
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


At least superficially, Francis Godwin’s 1638 tale of a Spanish adventurer flying to the Moon and back with a kite-like, bird-driven craft seems to belong to the realm of myth or fantasy, not science fiction.3 Yet the historical context of The Man in the Moone indicates precisely the opposite: that long before the appearance of the work now usually considered the first science fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Godwin (1562–1633) composed a tale fully deserving that title, not least because it meets all five “scientific givens” featured in the strictest definitions of the genre.4 Godwin’s adventure also reveals startling deviations from myth and fantastic flying lore both in detail and general outlook. Legendary inventors like Daedalus were typically punished for their hubris in attempting to fly like birds or gods, and when Greco-Roman heroes like Bellepheron and Perseus flew on the winged horse Pegasus, they too met evil ends. After succumbing to a fatal temptation to fly to Mt. Olympus, the ancient equivalent of the “Other” world above the Earth, Bellepheron was lamed and blinded by Zeus. His alter-ego, Perseus, escaped that fate, but he either accidentally killed his grandfather or was himself killed by an avenger—or perhaps both. The logic of all these tales seems to be that whenever men use divine instruments like winged horses or flying sandals to conquer the skies, they prove as literally “fallible” as Daedalus’s son Icarus.5


Outer Space Science Fiction Universal Language Utopian Imagination Copernican Theory 
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© Catherine Gimelli Martin 2016

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  • Catherine Gimelli Martin

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