In An Epic Poem Far, Far Away

Jan 6 2013 @ 4:55pm

Katy Waldman hails John Milton as a progenitor of science fiction, "arguably a forefather to Asimov, Bradbury, Delaney, and the rest," and holds that his Paradise Lost is "saturated in science":

Book I compares Satan’s shield to the moon seen through a telescope. And the poem is studded with scientific details—“luminous inferior orbs” churning through outer space, descriptions of sunspots and seasons, creatures that evolve (according to divine plan, but still). Through it all, Milton, a storyteller, comes off as entranced by the laws governing the universe. (His mouthpiece in this regard is Adam, who cannot get enough of the angel Raphael’s disquisition on celestial motions in Book VIII.) There’s something very sci-fi about anyone who, while taking care to present his era’s astronomical theories as speculative, still likes to spin that speculation out into long descriptions of cosmic phenomena. Arthur C. Clarke would surely be proud.

Also, Milton kinda sorta thought that extraterrestrial life might be possible. In Book III of Paradise Lost, Satan flies down from Heaven to Earth, passing distant stars that, on closer inspection, turn out to be “other Worlds.” Other worlds with aliens on them? Could be! “Who dwelt happy there,” Milton explains, the archangel “stayd not to enquire.”