Today we know that a lot of the ideas about evolution presented in early science fiction novels and short stories were based on wrong assumptions. Which is not surprising, considering that even scientists did not fully understand the concept. For a time there was a mutationism movement, that believed it was mutations alone, not natural selection, that was responsible for evolution. Gradually more knowledge was accumulated, and in 1953 the first description of the DNA molecule was published. But of course, you don't have to know all about molecular genetics and similar disciplines to understand the basic principles of evolution if you're an author of science fiction. And yet, even with the present day knowledge, we often see a lot of scientific nonsense regarding evolution in science fiction related topics even today. For instance the X-Men, Star Trek (which otherwise often deal with interesting scientific ideas), Jurassic Park and Mohinder's voice over monologues in the beginning of each episode of the TV-show heroes. Obviously not something we are not meant to take seriously, but it does give an incorrect image of what evolution is.

So when did the first examples of evolution done right in a way that even PZ Myers would approve it start to appear in the world of science fiction?

(Some science fiction authors discuss biology, but doesn't answer the question: https://media.nature.com/full/nature-assets/nature/journal/v448/n7149/extref/448018a-s1.pdf )

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    Can you define what you mean by "correct" with regards to evolution? Do you mean based on the general principles of natural selection, or in detail about the actual processes (e.g. DNA) that traits are inherited. Also, Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was first published in 1859, well before DNA, so knowledge of the particular mechanism of information transfer was not necessarily relevant to understanding of the principle natural selection. Stuff like X-Men are never meant to be scientific and mutation is just a convenient explanation.
    – Jack
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 6:51
  • Just the general principles of natural selection and evolution in general unless further details are required. And I wasn't talking about the superpowers and mutations in X-Men, but how evolution and extinction is portrayed: "To Homo Neanderthalensus, his mutant cousin Homo Sapiens, which is us, was an aberration. The arrival of the mutation human species, Homo Sapiens, was followed by the immediate extinction of their less evolved kin." Well, now WE are the Neanderthal." (The same with Sense8, who should at least get the concept of species right even if the rest if fiction.)
    – Tim Hansen
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 7:00
  • Ok cool, because it seemed like a lot of what you were mention in your question related specifically to mutation mechanisms.
    – Jack
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 7:07
  • That is definitely some bad science! That "immediate" extinction took at least two millenia and involved lots of interbreeding. Also, homo sapiens wasn't a mutant neanderthal, evolution isn't a directional quantity, and so forth. Do keep in mind, though, that that statement is coming from essentially a racist person, and scientific justifications for racism aren't known for being scientifically accurate.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:20
  • Yeah, but the problem is that statements like that shows up again and again in movies and TV-shows, and for some reason there are never any characters there that can correct them or enlighten the audience. And Trask seemed to actually believe his own claims himself.
    – Tim Hansen
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:39

2 Answers 2



It could very well be H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895).

In it, the unnamed Time Traveller travels to A.D. 802,701. There, humanity has been split into two distinct species, the frail, beautiful, child-like Eloi and the misshapen, underground Morlocks.

The Time Traveller discovers that the Morlocks produce the food and clothes the helpless Eloi need to survive and theorizes that the two species have evolved from the land-owner elite and the factory workers of his own time. The workers were forced to live and work in underground factory cities, while the elite could enjoy the fruits of their labor aboveground without having to work. (Ironically, the Eloi live on a fruit-based diet.) Eventually, these two groups of humanity evolve into separate species.

Upon this realization, the Time Traveller wonders if he should cast his sympathies with the Morlocks rather than the Eloi, but he is attracted to the beautiful Eloi and repulsed by the ugly Morlocks and sticks to the Eloi. This might be a reflection of how the middle class in Wells' time admired the suave and well-groomed elite and were disgusted by the dirty workers in their worn clothes.

  • 1
    Based on the knowledge back then, he was pretty accurate. But in those days they believed evolution was all about competition and survival of the fittest, and how the industrial revolution took away natural selection, which in the absence of eugenics would lead to human degeneration. The Eloi don't even care if some of their own is drowning right in front of them. The idea that evolution is all about either progress (from a human point of view) or degeneration depending on selection mechanisms, has proven to be too simple (and Lynn Margulis showed that cooperation is just as important).
    – Tim Hansen
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:32
  • Also Olaf Stapledon assumed that humans had to commit genocide on the natives of Venus because that's "how nature works" (the weak will die) Found an article where it is explained how Theodosius Dobzhansky helped to give a better understanding of evolution: tor.com/2018/06/14/… "His 1937 book Genetics and the Origin of Species bridged the experiments in the labs of Morgan and Muller and Mendel with what was observed in the field by Darwin and Wallace nearly a century before."
    – Tim Hansen
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:49
  • Frustrating that you only have 600 characters available, but either way, even if Wells didn't fully understand evolution as it is today, it is true that he was one of the first to describe it more realistically in The Time Machine. In Man of the Year Million, he describes a future where humans has wiped out all other life (including prokaryotes) to avoid competition, has tiny bodies and large heads, and absorb nutrients directly through their body. While both competition and cooperation is important, it makes no sense to kill everything if given the chance, as if it is the law of nature.
    – Tim Hansen
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 23:59

I would also consider The War of the Worlds, another H. G. Wells book published in 1898.

From Wikipedia:

The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears, and prejudices. Wells said that the plot arose from a discussion with his brother Frank about the catastrophic impact of the British on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians?


The novel also presents ideas related to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, both in specific ideas discussed by the narrator, and themes explored by the story. Wells also wrote an essay titled 'Intelligence on Mars', published in 1896 in the Saturday Review, which sets out many of the ideas for the Martians and their planet that are used almost unchanged in The War of the Worlds. In the essay he speculates about the nature of the Martian inhabitants and how their evolutionary progress might compare to humans.


H. G. Wells was a student of Thomas Henry Huxley, a proponent of the theory of natural selection. In the novel, the conflict between mankind and the Martians is portrayed as a survival of the fittest, with the Martians whose longer period of successful evolution on the older Mars has led to them developing a superior intelligence, able to create weapons far in advance of humans on the younger planet Earth, who have not had the opportunity to develop sufficient intelligence to construct similar weapons.


The novel also suggests a potential future for human evolution and perhaps a warning against overvaluing intelligence against more human qualities. The Narrator describes the Martians as having evolved an overdeveloped brain, which has left them with cumbersome bodies, with increased intelligence, but a diminished ability to use their emotions, something Wells attributes to bodily function. The Narrator refers to an 1893 publication suggesting that the evolution of the human brain might outstrip the development of the body, and organs such as the stomach, nose, teeth, and hair would wither, leaving humans as thinking machines, needing mechanical devices much like the Tripod fighting machines, to be able to interact with their environment.


The novel also dramatises the ideas of race presented in Social Darwinism, in that the Martians exercise over humans their 'rights' as a superior race, more advanced in evolution

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