5 WTF Old-Timey Sci-Fi Genres That Were Hugely Popular

#2. Robinsonades

Robinson Crusoe is a fairly well known novel about a castaway who spends years living on a desert island. Using the powers that all white men have, he civilizes the island entirely by himself, building a nice little compound with functioning raisin farm, and then in his spare time convinces a nice dark-skinned fellow to believe in God. In short, the book is extremely politically correct, so long as the politics in question are 300 years old.

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"Also, womynfolk should not own lands or printed works."

Despite this (or not), the book caught the public imagination and became popular enough to spawn many imitators, becoming the namesake for a brand new genre, the Robinsonade. The typical Robinsonade involved a white protagonist getting shipwrecked on a desert island, bringing some version of civilization to this savage and untamed land, and commenting on the relative benefits and weaknesses (mostly the benefits) of civilization in general.

Somewhat surprisingly, the protagonists, although always from the Western world, weren't always men. Two Years' Vacation has shipwrecked children building their own wonderful little society and also incidentally foiling some slave traders. And the delightfully titled Baby Island features two teenage girls raising four babies on a desert island after a slightly implausible-sounding mishap. And of course there's the varied selection of castaways on Gilligan's Island.

A show well known for its high-minded insights on society and civilization.

In most cases, the civilization the protagonists install is presented as working well, often even a borderline utopia. In The Swiss Family Robinson, for example, I think by the end of it they build a functioning hydroelectric dam out of loose bits of rope. On the other hand, the trope was sometimes inverted, the society the protagonists founded quickly collapsing due to some inherent flaw of the civilization itself. This is best seen in The Lord of the Flies, which features a group of shipwrecked boys who resort to cannibalism within about seven minutes of washing up on shore.

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Although if you've ever seen boys playing unsupervised, seven minutes to cannibalism might actually be considered a naive assumption.

#1. Edisonades

And finally we come to the Edisonade, possibly the craziest and certainly the raddest genre lost to the winds of time. In the same way that the Robinsonade genre was named after Robinson Crusoe, the Edisonade was named after Thomas Edison, whom the more astute of you will recognize is not a fictional character. In this case it refers to Thomas Edison's many, many inventions, with the typical Edisonade featuring a similar brilliant young inventor who solves problems with his brilliant young inventions. The inventor would take his invention (not explicitly a weapon, but certainly bristling with them) into "the frontier," in the process claiming it or civilizing it or just shooting a bunch of its residents a whole bunch.

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Somewhere out there a proud and noble people is waiting to be civilized by a man atop a giant mechanical spider.

Edisonades were found mainly in pulp magazines and novels around the turn of the century and featured fantastic rambling titles like "The Steam Man of the Prairies" and "Jack Wright and His New Electric Horse" and "Frank Reade, Jr's Electric Air Canoe; or, The Search for the Valley of the Diamonds" and "Tom Swift and his Wizard Camera; or, Thrilling Adventures When Taking Moving Pictures." Also, my personal favorite, "Electric Bob's Big Black Ostrich."

Which thankfully isn't a lame-ass metaphor or anything.

It's this central belief of the Edisonade, the certainty of the all-civilizing, all-conquering power of technology, that looks so dated now. Although fascination with new technology still exists and can be regularly seen in science fiction, that genre is just as likely to focus on the negative aspects of new technology as well. And for good reason. After a century of witnessing the sometimes negative impacts new technology can bring, from pollution, to societal upheaval, to nuclear winter, we've rightfully adopted a slightly more skeptical view of it.

Too many lives have been cut short by mechanical ostriches for us to stay so naive.

Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and writes regular dispatches from his home atop a massive mechanical ostrich. Join him on Facebook or Twitter to beg for your lives.

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