21

Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall has a team of science fiction writers helping deal with alien contact (1985).

David Brin’s The River of Time (aka "Coexistence") has SF writers brought in to help with a weirder crisis (1981).

But I suspect there are earlier examples.

What’s the earliest example of science fiction in which science fiction writers are consulted as a part of the plot?

I suspect the earliest example is in a printed work, but if, for example, there’s a movie in which the British government calls in H. G. Wells, I’d love to know about that.


EDIT: To clarify my question’s intent.

While in the real world Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp and Robert A. Heinlein actually worked for the government during World War II I don’t think they were selected to serve during World War II because of their status as science fiction writers. At least I recall nothing from Asimov’s autobiography to suggest that being an author was involved in his selection for service in government roles.

These days, there is an organization of science fiction authors who consult with the government as authors (SIGMA Forum), but that was organized in the 1990s.

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  • 3
    Do you mean “a work of fiction”? Because this actually happened during WWII and is documented in non-fiction works (including by Isaac Asimov who was one of them). Apr 7 at 16:57
  • I read 'because of' not In and thought it was a very interesting question. Still is, just now I wonder if they have ever been consulted in reality. Apr 7 at 18:04
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    @DavidSiegel Well they were all hired for their scientific and engineering qualifications, Heinlein, who was hired at the Philadelphia Naval Air Experimental Station, in part for his writing, recommended his SF writing friends Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. The exact reasoning is never explained though. Apr 8 at 12:46
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    @Giacomo Exactly. The question, as I understand it, is asking for examples, fictional or real, where a government consulted SF writers as such. The wartime service of Asimov, de Camp, and Heinlein at the NAES does not fit that, which is what I have been trying to say. Do you think I have mi9sunderestood the question? Did I express myself poorly? Apr 9 at 15:38
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    @DavidSiegel Whoops! Sorry, but I mixed your comment up with RBarryYoung’s comment you were responding to. Never mind! Apr 9 at 17:00

4 Answers 4

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Possibly Pâté de Foie Gras, a short story by Isaac Asimov (written in 1956)

We have a narrator from the Department of Agriculture (Government) and a 'crisis' of golden goose eggs circumventing heavy radiation.

So the narrator consults a science fiction writer — Asimov himself!

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    And, through Asimov, the entire science-fiction reading community...
    – DJohnM
    Apr 7 at 7:00
  • 1
    I should have thought of that one. Thanks!
    – Andrew
    Apr 7 at 10:20
23

1964: "Waterspider", a novelette by Philip K. Dick, first published in If, January 1964, available at the Internet Archive. Plot summary from NESFA's Recursive Science Fiction site:

In the 21st century the Bureau of Emigration sends agents back to the 1954 World SF Convention to abduct Poul Anderson. They believe that the 20th century SF writers were precogs (even if they didn't know it themselves). They need Anderson to tell them how to solve their speed-of-light drive problem.

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  • 1
    Excellent. Thanks.
    – Andrew
    Apr 7 at 1:45
  • 3
    Wow - I'm gonna have to read that one. Apr 7 at 1:50
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Note: Answered before the question edit made it clear that real-world authors were implied.

One Thousand and One Nights. (8th - 10th century, common era.)

Shahryār (Persian: شهريار, from Middle Persian: šahr-dār, 'holder of realm'), whom the narrator calls a "Sasanian king" - i.e. the head of the de-facto government of the type Monarchy calls to himself after a to-do (crisis) with an unfaithful wife and several unsatisfactory nights with the local virgins (resulting in their executions), Scheherazade.

Scheherazade (the author in question) tells stories, one per night with requisite cliff-hangers, being sure to leave the King wanting more - ensuring her continued survival. This continues for 1000 nights.

I posit that although the stories may have derived from the surrounding kingdoms, Scheherezade must have placed her own interpretation on them, making them fit the particular purpose - and ensuring that they had something approximating a cliff-hanger.

Is it Sci-Fi?

It is regarded as a very early example of Sci-Fi. The various stories include elements such as:

  • Travel across the cosmos to different worlds.
  • Lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them.
  • Lifelike humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings, and a brass robot horseman.
  • A flying mechanical horse controlled using keys, that could fly into outer space.
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    Two questions. Is it clear that Scheherazade is the author of the stories, is not merely repeating stories she has heard? Did the king select her for her storytelling talent?
    – user14111
    Apr 8 at 0:59
  • The storytelling was part of the introduction of Scherazad to the king by her sister: "O my sister, relate to us a story to beguile the waking hour of our night. Most willingly, answered Shahrazád, if this virtuous King permit me. And the King, hearing these words, and being restless, was pleased with the idea of listening to the story; and thus, on the first night of the thousand and one, Shahrazád commenced her recitations." - Recitations implies non-authorship, but not explicitly. - Marginal case then @user14111 Apr 8 at 1:17
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    In any event, upvoted for barefaced inventiveness :-) Apr 8 at 14:51
  • The only question is, was it a "moment of crisis" (i.e. for the king, not just Shahrazad)?
    – Spencer
    Apr 8 at 16:09
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    A Sassanian monarch would have the title of "King of Kings of Iran and of non Iran". The Sassanian dynasty ruled from AD 224 to 651. But many of the stories Scheherazade tells include people who lived centuries later, like Caliph Harun Al-Raschid (r. 786-809) and his vizir Jafar the Barmakid, and in "The City of Brass" Caliph Abd Al-Malik (r. 685-705) and Emir Musa ibn Nusayr (c. 640-c. 716). So maybe the 1001 Arabian Nights can be considered an early time travel story considering her knowledge of future events! Apr 8 at 16:18
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It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but one of the earliest extant works where the heroes consult real-world authors of fiction in a fantastic setting on behalf of the state is Aristophnes’ comedy The Frogs, written in 405 BCE. In it, Dionysius and his servant take a trip to Hades to speak to the recently-deceased playwrights Euripides and Sophocles. The problem they wish to solve is not, however, scientific.

His play Peace, written a few years later, comes closer. In this fantasy, the hero ends the Peloponnesian War, which Aristophanes’ city of Athens was then losing, by flying to the realm of the gods on a giant dung beetle. He tells his daughter that he got the idea from Aesop’s fables.

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  • I approve of this answer. I'm now hoping someone can drag-up an answer written 7000 BC. I've a suspicion it might have been going on for a while. Apr 10 at 5:09

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