The First Science Fiction Novel Ever?

What do you think of when you hear the words Sci-Fi? Chances are, the words inspire images such as the one above, of nightmarish landscapes featuring clogged streets, flying cars, neon lights and massive skyscrapers. Or possibly you’re partial to the more utopian visions, with space travel, beautiful arcologies and happy shiny people who want for nothing and treat each other with peace and civility.

All good, but chances are, no one thinks of medieval literature from the Islamic world when they hear that term. Chances are no one thinks of anything other than the industrial age, of men like H.G Wells and Jules Verne. For most of us, these are the people who pioneered the field of science fiction, no doubt about it. But amongst scholarswho specialize in tracing literary genres to their roots, one book stands out as the possible progenitor of them all; a little known novel by the name of Theologus Autodidactus.

Outside of antiquarians and theologists, not many people have heard of this story, and up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t either. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned about it. To me, science fiction was not something that could have predated the scientific revolution, or the age of industry when steam locomotives, steam ships, and a revolutionary understanding of the world and man’s place in it inspired flights of fancy which went well beyond our world. And yet, as it turns out, a manuscript which was written sometime in the 13th century by an Islamic scholar living in Egypt.

His pen name was Ibn al-Nafis (nee Ala-al-din abu Al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi), and he was what westerners would later refer to as a “Renaissance Man”. Not only was he an expert physician he also studied jurisprudence, literature and theology and became an expert on the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence before he died. In addition to writing many treatises on medicine, one of which was made famous for being the first in which pulmonary circulation of the blood was mentioned, he also wrote extensively on law and the world’s first coming of age tale/science fiction novel Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah, which translated into Latin is known as Theologus Autodidactus.

Plot Summary:
Broken down succinctly, the story revolves around a protagonist named Kamil, an adolescent feral child who at the beginning of the story finds himself spontaneously transported to a cave on a deserted island. Almost immediately, it is clear that the boy is an autodidactic, a self-directed learner who has mastered several fields through independent learning.

Over time, he is met by several castaway who get shipwrecked on the island, learning and sharing from them. In time, the castaways band together to make a ship and agree to take Kamil with them back to civilization. As they return to the world of man, Kamil begins to see all the works of man, learns of philosophy, law and medicine remaining a self-directed learner all the while) and comes to several conclusions.

As he grows, he is taught the value of jurisprudence, religion, the necessity of the existence of God, and the value of the sciences, arts, and all other things that make man civilized. His own coming of age is reflected in explorations of the origin of man, the current state of the world, and predictions of the future. Towards the end, the plot develops from this coming-of-age scenario and begins to incorporate several new elements, such as the the end of the world, doomsday, resurrection and afterlife are predicted and scientifically explained using his own empirical knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology.

Ultimately, Ibn al-Nafis described his own work as a defense of “the system of Islam and the Muslims’ doctrines on the missions of Prophets, the religious laws, the resurrection of the body, and the transitoriness of the world”. Essentially, this meant presenting rational arguments for religious ideas, such as bodily resurrection and the immortality of the human soul, using both demonstrative reasoning and literary examples to prove his case. In this respect, he was not unlike Thomas Aquinas and a host of other western scholars from the High Middle Ages, men who would similarly try to defend reason based on faith and use empirical knowledge to defend the existence of a spiritual, universal order.

However, what set Ibn al-Nafis’ work apart was the way in which he expressed his religious, scientific and philosophical views through a fictitious narrator who went on to experience what the world had to offer. Rather than writing things in treatise form, which was the style for most philosophers of the day, he chose to do what only a select few of his contemporaries did and tell the story through a narrator who’s own journey illustrated one’s own journey of discovery. In that respect, he was like Voltaire, who’s fictional Candide had to venture out into the world in order to realize the truth about life and the order of things, though their conclusions were vastly different.

And finally, fact that he chose to speculate about what the future held, up to and including the apocalypse itself, is what makes this work classifiable as science fiction. Here, he was most comparable to men like H.G. Wells and Verne, men who looked to the future in the hopes of illustrating the current state of humanity and where it was likely to take them. And though these, and later generations of individuals, often had a negative appraisal of such things, Iban al-Nafis’ was arguably positive. His exploration was designed to affirm belief in the existence of something greater than material nature, but provable using the same basic laws.

I can’t imagine being able to find a copy of this book any time soon. It’s not like Amazon has copies on hold for anyone looking to a little cross-cultural antiquities reading. I checked, they really don’t! Still, I’d consider it a boon to find a translation and read the whole story for myself. What I little I learned can’t possibly capture the historic and cultural importance of the novel. Something to add to the reading list, right next to The Peach Blossom Spring and Beowulf!

Worlds of the Legacies Universe

The chief colony world of the Altair system, located 16.73 light years away from Sol. Colonized in 2205, this colony was named in honor of its founders greatest hero, Saint Thomas Aquinas. After a century of growth, this colony grew to become a major trading hub and tourist draw, due in large part to its vast oceanfront vistas and fertile stretches of land.

Because of its location relative to Sol, Aquinas is also a gateway to many inner colony worlds and trade routes. As a result, its capital of Roccasecca and its moons of Lucca and New Venice are major hubs, with large spaceports, extensive shipping facilities and a large service industry. However, this does not alter the overall feel of the colony, which observers describe as “kindly”, “tolerant” and “reverential”.

However, its main attraction is known as the Council of Altair, an interstellar organization dedicated to the exchange of spiritual and religious ideas. Established in 2267, this establishment became a meeting place for representatives of every faith to commune with each other and send their messages into deep space.  In time, the institute even drafted a declaration of principles, known as “Transcendental Philosophy”, which it hoped would form the basis of a universal religion.

The colony world of Alpha/Beta Centauri, and one of the largest population centers outside of Sol. Beginning in 2165, almost thirty years after the development of FTL, the colony was the first to be settled using advanced terraforming technology. In keeping with its classical theme, most major cities are named in honor of Greek mythology and history – such as the capital city of Piraeus and the colony moons of Mycenae and Ilium.

This is further demonstrated in the cities’ architecture, all major buildings having been designed in a neo-classical, contemporary motif. Though there are numerous underdeveloped regions that are considered eyesores by comparison, the inner regions of every major city are renowned for their appealing sense of aesthetics.

Attica has been the center of some controversy over the years. Within a generation of the first settlers arriving, stories began to circulate about the formation of a new religious sect. These believers claimed that artifacts which proved that Jesus had arrived and died on Attica were found in the mountain chain just outside of Piraeus. Investigations were mounted by the Vatican and other religious authorities, but the results were declared fraudulent and the matter dropped.

Nevertheless, this new breed of worship began to spread amongst the original colonists and gave rise to the Colonial Mennonite culture. Their impenetrable belief structure often proved to be a cultural barrier as new waves of colonists arrived and attempts at achieving consensus and conformity faltered. In time, this gave rise to the first of several conflicts which would later be known as the “Sectarian Wars”. On Attica, this involved the militarization of Mennonite settlements after a series of incidents were perpetrated against them by neighboring factions.

After years of conflict and escalation between rival militias and government forces, the TDF was eventually called in to put and end to the dispute. This and the nature of the conflict left deep scars on Attican society, especially between the major cities and the outlying settlements where the population remains largely Mennonite. Regardless, Attica remains the spiritual home of the Mennonite population and its beliefs attained recognition under interstellar law.

In addition, this world was also the sight of what would appropriately be named the “Attican Incident” by historians. This took place on the night of April 23rd, 2278, standard calendar, when a paramilitary group attacked the gubernatorial palace in Piraeus, killing dozens of civil service workers, guards and even Governor Kirin himself who was working late into the night. In response, TDF forces were dispatched to the system to dispatch this paramilitary group and restore order.

But of course, the local population did not respond well to the occupation, largely because many suspected the incident had been perpetrated by Earth itself to crush the independence movement which had been mobilizing in recent years. Due to ongoing tensions between TDF forces and the local, martial law was never rescinded and the occupying forces were not withdrawn.

These  events touched off many more “incidents’ that eventually culminated in the Terran Civil War. It would take roughly twenty years for the occupation to end, by which time forces loyal to the Alliance entered the system and dispatched the TDF forces. Governor Namguhng, an Earth appointee, was quick to welcome the Alliance as liberators. Thereafter, he made several positive moves which would see Attica integrated into the new interstellar government as a fully-represented member.

As one of two colony worlds in the Arcturus system, Haphaestus is renowned for being the industrial capital of the inner colonies and a haven for tourists looking to spend their hard earned credits. At least that’s the official story. Unofficially, Hephaestus is notorious for its high level of organized crime, its lucrative drug trade, and for being the murder capital of the quadrant, rivaled only by Rostov.

But of course, much of these seedier aspects of the planet are confined to the inner regions of New Detroit. And in all fairness, the capitol itself is a major center for technological innovation, trade, culture and the arts. In addition to its many public theaters, festivals and performing arts centers, it is also home to the Interstellar Museum of Colonization, an institution dedicated to the preservation of historical artifacts and from three centuries of space travel and settlement.

The planet’s industrial capacities also extend into orbit. The Chimaeras Installation, one of the few major space installations in the quadrant, resides here. Not far from Chimaeras is the Aberdeen Shipyards, a major ship-building facility that sits in a wider orbit and its defended by  many remote platforms. Between these TDF assets and the planet, there is a veritable cloud of service platforms and stations as well as countless  communications and navigation satellites.

Hephaestus is also home to the Akuma, one of the most brutal and ruthless crime syndicates in the known universe. Garnering its power from the sale and transport of illegal narcotics, particularly Shine and various psychotropic substances, the Akuma has insinuated itself into just about every aspect of Hephaestus’ society. This reach extends beyond this system, reaching even into worlds nominally controlled by other syndicates.

Hephaestus is orbited by two moon colonies, New Luzon and Gloucester, both of which are major shipping hubs, a stopover for travelers, and even high-end real estate for Hephaestus’ elite. Gloucester is a particularly popular destination for those with money who are seeking an off-world place to relax. Literally all members of Hephaestus upper crust have property on this moon, including many of its mayors and council members. While New Luzon also remains a popular destination, its terrestrial domes are dedicated more towards family-friendly tourism, which stands in distinction to the kinds of entertainment people can get planetside!

The sixth planet of the Sirius binary star system, located approximately 8.6 light years away from Sol. Settled in 2182, the planet was quickly terraformed due to the presence of rich nitrogen soils and a relatively breathable atmosphere. In time, it became the known universe’s largest agricultural colony and even expanded to become the largest population center outside of Sol.

Settled predominantly by West and Central Asian families, the planet was named Khalafa in honor of the majority Sunni population. Though it has become an incredibly diverse colony in terms of its demographics, nationalities and faiths, the overall character of the planet has remained largely consistent. In terms of its art, architecture, and culture, Khalafa is a beacon of Islamic culture combined with modern technology.

In orbit around Khalafa rest the two colonies of Akheton and Memphis, which in turn are home to much of the planet’s heavy industry and mining operations. Regularly, drone ships coming to and from the system’s asteroid belt travel to these moons to dump ore for processing.

The system is also home to the Trinity Installation, one of the largest and most important installations in all of known space. It was here that representatives from every colonized system met after the end of the Civil War to draft the Interstellar Terran Alliance into existence. It is neighbored by the Riga Shipyards, one of the largest ship-building assets in Terran space.

The fifth planet of the 61 Cygni binary system, this jungle world was colonized in 2191, and quickly gave rise to one of the most successful social experiments in human history. Settled in large part by a select group of artists, scientists and intelligentsia, the world quickly earned the name Logos because of its commitment to learning and the empirical tradition.

This commitment only grew as time went on and the colony attracted more and more settlers, eventually achieving its truest expression with the creation of the Academician Institute of Higher Thought (aka. The Academy) in 2201. Initially an institute for higher education, it soon expanded to include elementary and early childhood development too. These programs were augmented thanks to the advent of cybernetic technology and virtual interfacing.

A further indication of the Logosian commitment to learning is reflected in the name of the planet’s capital, Alma Mater. Other major cities include New Oxford, Takshashila, Nalanda, al-Azar, Alexandria, and Niẓāmiyyah, all named in honor of centers of higher learning from various respective cultures, which also reflects the planets demographic diversity. And while each city has its own educational facilities, each maintains a chapter associated with the Academy in Alma Mater.

Through its extensive education programs and research facilities, The Academy went on to produce some of the greatest minds the universe ever knew, not to mention many technologies. Academy officials were also wise enough to ensure that every technology, process, or innovation to come out of their facilities was patented and licensed to ensure them a steady stream of profits. It is widely rumored that the Logos is able to sustain itself on this source of revenue alone.

Chief colony of the Vega system, located on the eight planet, roughly 25 light years from Sol. Settled in 2183 by a largely Shia population from Central Asia, the planet was named in honor of the ancient Persian capital. Though much of the planet is dry and inhospitable, the planets exposure to solar radiation and vast supplies of aquifers made it a prime location for large scale hydroponics operations. In time, this drew a significant number of settlers to the planet, who were also able to turn their talents to small-scale terraforming.

Within a few generations, Pasaragad began to boast natural forests and lakes. Underground sources of water were also liberated to create large-scale bodies of water which further served agricultural operations. As a result, Pasaragad became a major producer of off-world delicacies such as dates, citrus fruits,palm oil, palm sugar, saffron, and other assorted fruits and spices. It’s strategic location close to Sol also made it a major trading hub once colonization efforts expanded beyond the inner worlds.

Pasaragad has also been the source of a great deal of controversy over the years. For example, a short-lived conflict between the settlers and the colonial government took place in 2223. This incident was the first in a series that would later come to be known as the “Sectarian Wars”, and proved to be one of the most bloody. It began after a self-declared prophet named Azan declared that the colonial government was a group of pretenders who were running the colony through graft and corruption. After his arrest by authorities, clashes began between his supporters and security forces, culminating in the intervention of the TDF.

The arrival of Terran Marines led to a short-lived peace, but soon, fighting was underway again as the occupation forces found themselves becoming the new target of Azan’s condemnation and his supporters anger. Not wanting the situation to spiral out of control, the Terran government arrived at a compromise with the settlers. In exchange for the removal of the current administration and several reforms, most of which were in tune with Azan’s religiously-inspired demands, the matter was settled and all TDF forces removed. Azan went on to become a prophet to the people of Pasaragad, the city of Azanabad being built in in his honor shortly after his death. Later generations would also call him the “Fourth Prophet”, claiming he had led a reinterpretation of Islam for the age of colonization.

During the Civil War, Pasaragad would also be a major hotspot for resistance and TDF forces. After the Attican incident led to the imposition of martial law on that planet, the people of Vega began to stage widespread protests against Terran authority. With the escalation of tensions in other systems, the TDF was dispatched here as well to keep the peace, but instead became embroiled in war. For years, resistance forces on Pasaragad and the moon colony of Kurosh were engaged in a series of back and forth with local forces. The situation became extremely bloody and led to widespread death and crimes committed by both sides.

This led to the rise of many popular sayings and quips. For example, after the Civil War period, the word Vegan was often associated with fanaticism or extreme dedication, “crazy like a Vegan” being the popular usage. It was also widely rumored that during the war, officers would threaten to send unruly or insubordinate soldiers to Vega as punishment. The heat, hatred of the locals, and likelihood of being shot at was usually enough to put anybody in line!

It was perhaps for this reason, or just in keeping with the fierce spirit of independence on the Vegan people, that it became the focal point for the independence movement once the war was over. Contrary to the Alliance’s platform of a better arrangement between Earth and its colonies, this movement demanded that all colonies be entitled to independence now and forever. Luckily, Alliance leader Jessica Freidman was able to win over the leader of the independence movement – Lev Parva – by insisting he form the opposition party in the first Alliance cabinet.

The seventh planet and second colony world of the 61 Cygni binary system. Named in honor of its cool climate, thriving industrial base, and predominantly Eastern EU population, the planet was named Rostov. And much like other industrial centers – i.e. Hephaestus – it has a reputation for many things, both positive and negative.

On the plus side, Rostov has been a major manufacturing center for the centuries, the home of the labor movement for the sector, and the source of many key technological innovations, often working in collaboration with Logosian scientists. On the minus side, it has also been the home of ruthless crime syndicates (the foremost being the Sadruzhestva and Lumbre cartels), labor disputes, drugs, and violent crime.

And yet, despite its reputation for hard living, the Rostovian people are amongst the most proud and nostalgic people in the known universe. Apparently, it is this very essence of hard life that makes them feel proud to be where they are from. The logic being that if life were easy on their world, anyone could live there.

And of course there are several features about this planet that deserve mention. It’s rugged landscapes remain some of the most beautiful and inspiring in the galaxy. It’s capital of New Petrograd contains some of the most beautiful architecture in the quadrant. And it’s artistic and literary scene remains one of the most inspired. In short, Rostov may be a cold and ruthless world, but its inhabitants have found ways to turn that to their advantage.

And that’s my universe, in a nutshell. Hope you enj0yed the little tour, because most of it remains relatively undeveloped in terms of putting it into book form. I intend to remedy that, in time, which seems to be the one thing I don’t have enough of! But there’s only so many hours in the day right, and right now I got multiple projects vying for my attention. More to follow from this and other universe. See you soon!