This list of major highlights in the history of space opera — the sub-genre most people identify as “science fiction” — collects familiar and unfamiliar “classics”:
1901: George Griffith’s A Honeymoon in Space:
Considered by some commentators to be the first-ever foray into the genre, the story concerns newlyweds Lord Redgrave and Zaidie travelling to the moon, only to learn its inhabitants have devolved into fish-people. Dismayed, the couple journey to each of the other planets in the solar system, meeting the angels of Venus and giants of Mars along the way. (Interestingly, the couple skip Pluto, which hadn’t been discovered by 1900, but has since been dismissed as a planet.) Although forgotten today, Griffith was a best-selling author whose stories outsold even H.G. Wells.
1917: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs:
This groundbreaking novel contains no spaceships but did help to popularize interplanetary travel.
1925: Terrano the Conqueror by Ray Cummings:
Cummings was a personal assistant and technical writer for Thomas Edison (who had previously starred in the proto-space opera Edison’s Conquest of Space in 1898).