There are works from early in the history of science fiction (HG Wells War of the Worlds comes to mind), where alien races come to the Earth and subjugate or attempt to rule mankind, but which is the earliest work of science fiction/fantasy where humans are subject to another earthly species?

I'm not looking for stories like the The Time Machine where the (mutated but human) Morlock rule the Eloi. I'm looking for stories where the human race is ruled by another species.

From memory I know that there were the Spider World series from the 1980's, but what is the earliest work?

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    Not an answer because I'm sure there are earlier books, just taking us back a couple more decades to the sixties. Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn 1968
    – Danny Mc G
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:01
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    Are you looking for the entire world being ruled by other species? Because if not, Gulliver's Travels comes to mind. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:12
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    Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel La Planète des Singes, translated into the Planet of the Apes movie franchise.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:19
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    @Gnudiff Sounds like the Houyhnhnms from Gulliver's Travels, as proposed by TenthJustice.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 22:39
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    If you consider gods to be another species, maybe the Illiad, or even the Epic of Gligamesh.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 3:27

7 Answers 7


Your title asks about "a world" where humans are subject to another earthly species. If it's defined rather loosely, I think Gulliver's Travels might be a good example.

In the 1726 Jonathon Swift satire, Gulliver travels to the island of the Houyhnhnms, there's a race of talking horses who have subjugated the local feral humans, called Yahoos.

From the Cliff Notes:

Gulliver, accompanied by the grey steed, walks to the grey's house where Gulliver meets several other Houyhnhnms. The grey (the master of the house) then takes Gulliver into a "court" where he observes several Yahoos eating roots and the flesh of "dogs and asses." Gulliver is placed near one of the Yahoos for comparison by the grey and his servant (a sorrel nag). Gulliver, at the same time, inspects the Yahoo standing next to him more carefully, and he realizes very quickly that the Yahoo has "a perfect human figure." As for the Houyhnhnms' reaction, the grey and his servant note that, with the exception of Gulliver's body covering (and his shorter hair and fingernails), he and the Yahoos are identical.

Interpretations of the purpose of the satire vary. Some believe Swift was commenting on animal rights, while others believe it was a deeper satire about the British Empire's practice of subjugating "savage" races.

  • While Gulliver's Tales is a interesting read and would match the "humans dominated by something non-human", is it science fiction?
    – T. Sar
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 16:54
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    @T.Sar The science of the 18th century is so different from today that distinguishing between science fiction and fantasy may be difficult from a modern perspective.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 18:59
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    @TBear - Its can actually be difficult with modern fiction. For example, one of the later books in Anne MacCaffery's Pern series retroactively converted the entire series from Fantasy to Sci Fi without touching a word of the previous books. That's probably why we have one site for both.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 21:16
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    @T.E.D. Although I agree the tone def changed to a harder sci-fi, the Pern books were always explicit about the origin of the Pernese being space faring-colonists; those final books were just them rediscovering technologies and knowledge lost when they were fighting the first Threadfalls. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 7:59
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    However you want to pigeon-hole it, Gulliver's Travels certainly contains elements of science fiction. Laputa is a magnetically-levitating island with such advanced technology as a mechanical computer which generates books by combining words and an apparatus for somehow reversing photsynthesis to extract sunlight from plants. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 12:14

1928: "The Master Ants", a novelette by Francis Flagg (pseudonym of George Henry Weiss); first published in Amazing Stories, May 1928, available at the Internet Archive; reprinted in Avon Science Fiction Reader #3, 1952, also available at the Internet Archive.

From Everett F. Bleiler's review in Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years:

Professor Reubens, who has constructed a time machine frankly in the mode of H. G. Wells, invites his friend Bent to make a small journey into the future. Off, and crash! The two men awaken naked, bearded, and bald amid a pile of scrap metal that was once a time machine and discover that they have aged perhaps twenty to twenty-five years. Unforeseen friction caused by passing through time, explains the professor.

As the men explore, they are almost immediately captured by foot-long intelligent ants who ride naked, devolved humans as steeds. The two men are taken to the ant city, where they are placed in a corral with other devolved humans. It now becomes obvious that the humans are domestic animals, ridden as mounts and (the females) milked for ant food. Bent suffers the horrible, humiliating experience of being broken in by an ant, who, using antennas as a bit, rides him until he is exhausted and broken in spirit.

Fortunately, after this, the two men spy an aircraft in the sky, and a normal human woman, peering out, rescues them and takes them to Science Castle, the last stronghold, as far as is known, of humans. There, the time travelers learn from the English-speaking humans what has happened to the Earth.

It is now A.D. 2450, and the ants have just about conquered the world, with the exception of this one refuge. Back around 1935 rumors and news reports first mentioned a plague of giant, intelligent ants in South America. But the world paid no heed. The stories were confirmed and the ants continued to advance, but the nations were indifferent, being concerned more with local matters and wars. By the time the ant peril was recognized as such, it was too late. The ants, who can chew through anything except a certain alloy, were too numerous, and human armies were simply taken over as beasts of burden by the ants.

A few farsighted scientists, however, began to build an impregnable fortress against the ants (Science Castle), which was finished around A.D. 2000. By this time humanity (except as beasts of burden) was extinct in the Western Hemisphere.

  • 6
    Now I want to ask a question about why time travelers end up naked all the time.
    – n_b
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 7:37
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    @n_b Good question. I was only wondering why they ended up 25 years older and not 522 years.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 7:42
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    @MrLister I was wondering, if the time travelers have aged, their beards have grown, etc., how come they haven't starved to death.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 7:49
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    @n_b I forget where I read that the reason time travelers don't wear clothes is so they won't attract attention with anachronistic clothing—a naked human looks about the same in any era.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 7:56
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    @n_b Depending on the author, Time machines (and teleport machines) only work on living flesh, or alternately only work on not-living things (see LeGuin's ainsible). You can pseudo-justify either approach with pseudo-physics that supports the existence of a time machine in the first place. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 13:43

One notable early example is Karel Čapek’s 1936 novel War with the Newts.

The book starts from the (actual) early 20th century, with the discovery the “Newts”, an intelligent species of salamander limited to a small population in an isolated lagoon in Sumatra. They are brought out, studied, bred initially as exploitable labour, and the rest is… a rather grim alternative history. By the end of the main narrative, the Newts have gained the upper hand; the author then discusses the future, which goes down the lines asked for in this question. Quoting the Wikipedia summary:

[The] Newts will all but destroy the Earth's landmass, leaving only a tiny clump of humanity to work for them in their factories. Eventually they will form separate countries and destroy themselves by committing the same follies as humanity; humans will then inherit what remains of the earth; new continents will arise, and “America” will be dimly remembered as an Atlantis-like mythical land.

Karel Čapek is better-known for inventing the word robot, but War with the Newts is a classic that still stands up well today.

  • 2
    War with the Newts was one of the first things I thought of. I wasn't sure it counted—at the end of the main narrative, the newts seem to be exterminating rather than subjugating humanity, and I wasn't sure how "canonical" the epilogue was. It became moot when I found earlier examples.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 23:55
  • Why are we fighting a magizoologist?! :P
    – Obsidia
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 17:34
  • @PLL - a good answer too
    – Alith
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 15:01

I'm sure someone will find something earlier but Day Of The Triffids (1953) I think fills the brief and is earlier than the works mentioned in the comments. I think there are different interpretations in the films, but IIRC in the books Triffids were a Terrestrial plant which due to an unexplained 'green meteor shower' took over the world...

with the exception of some plucky Brits who managed to hold up on the Isle of Wight and build a cozy society.

  • 3
    Jeremy it's the Isle of Wight, not isle of white. Still ASDA made the same mistake.
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 12:04
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    IIRC the triffids weren't so much subjugating/ruling humanity as they were just hunting them, but it's been a while since I've read the books myself. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:42
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    It is true, they did just take over and start eating us, rather than enslaving. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:48

West of Eden (Eden Trilogy) by Harry Harrison.

An alternate history where reptiles evolved into an intelligent, technological species, the Yilanè, millions of years before the evolution of intelligent hominids. They are the dominant species across the planet, except still frozen North America which is too cold for the cold blooded Yilanè.

As the North American ice age retreats and the continent warms, the reptiles start to colonize it, much as the Spaniards did in our history, setting a stage for a clash between two intelligent species: one very advanced, one still in the stone age, each with radically different approaches to manipulating the world (technology).

Marketing copy quoted below. The Wikipedia entry linked above has more accurate details, but you may want to skip it to avoid the spoilers.

Sixty-five million years ago, a disastrous cataclysm eliminated three-quarters of all life on Earth. Overnight, the age of dinosaurs ended. The age of mammals had begun.

But what if history had happened differently? What if the reptiles had survived to evolve intelligent life?

In West of Eden, bestselling author Harry Harrison has created a rich, dramatic saga of a world where the descendents of the dinosaurs struggled with a clan of humans in a battle for survival.

Here is the story of Kerrick, a young hunter who grows to manhood among the dinosaurs, escaping at last to rejoin his own kind. His knowledge of their strange customs makes him the humans' leader...and the dinosaurs' greatest enemy.

  • 1
    This isn’t even close to predating any of the top existing answers. It misses out by a few decades for most and a few centuries for the accepted answer.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 13:16
  • 1
    ah, sorry, I missed the "earliest" part :P Maybe it will be useful anyhow?
    – Inigo
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 13:27

I still think the earliest example which is pretty much recognizable as "Science Fiction" is Kurd Lasswitz's "Auf zwei Planeten", which is from 1897. I have no idea if there is an adequate translation available nowadays.

A group of Arctic explorers seeking the North Pole find a Martian base there. The Martians can only operate in a polar region not because of climatic requirements, but because their spacecraft cannot withstand the rotation of the Earth at other latitudes. The aliens resemble Earth people in every respect except that they have much larger eyes, with which they can express more emotions. Their name for the inhabitants of Earth is "the small-eyed ones". Lasswitz's Martians are highly advanced, and initially peaceable; they take some of the explorers back with them to visit Mars dominated by canals. The story concludes the contemporary battleship armaments race between Germany and Britain by having the Martians defeat the Royal Navy.

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    Which species is subjugating the humans?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 13:38
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    The Martians, they basically take over the governance of Earth because they think the humans are not able to govern themselves.
    – Mauli
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 8:31
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    {nods} I suspect you've attracted the downvotes because people don't see Martians as "another Earthly species". :)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 11:34

The oldest I can remember from my childhood was Invasion of the Body Snatchers which came out on the silver screen in 1956.

From imdb:

A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.

  • 1
    Any links you can provide to the film? Or a description of what it contained, how it fits the question.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 17:02
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    Aliens tend not to be earthly species.
    – jwodder
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 20:25
  • 3
    There were dozens of B-movie alien invasions in the '50s. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 13:44
  • 1
    Replacing isn't subjugating. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 15:23

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