The idea of a "living" creature made by man but ultimately unable to be controlled by him, goes back at least to the "golem" of Jewish mythology. The best-known of these stories is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein written in 1818. The first use of the word robot for these created men was in Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) written in 1920. Robots were seen as destructive, rising up against their human creators and were oftern a parables about the effects of ever-increasing mechanization of society.

Isaac Asimov saw robots as much more than manufactured monsters and wrote many stories with them as heroes as well as villains. He influenced many future writers with his three laws of robots, first introduced in his 1942 story "Runaround."

As technology improved, mechanical robots have often been replaced by androids, artificially created, yet primarily organic beings that closely resemble humans. Because of androids' human-like properties, stories often deal with the questions of sensience and the what makes one human.

An image of Tik-Tok of Oz.

L. Frank Baum.

Tik-Tok of Oz. Chicago: Reilly & Britton, ca. 1914.

Tik-Tok is a fictional character from Baum's Land of Oz books. He is one of the first robots to appear in literature, although that term was coined two years after Baum's death in 1919. Tik-Tok is not alive and feels no emotions. He therefore can no more love or be loved than a sewing machine, but as a servant he is utterly truthful and loyal.

Karel Čapek.

R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). London; New York: Penguin Books, 2004.

This work was first produced as a play in Prague in 1921. The human-like mechanical creatures produced in Rossum's factory are docile slaves. Since they are just machines, the robots are badly treated by humans. When a scientist gives them emotions, the robots revolt, kill nearly all humans and take over the world.

An image of I, Robot.

Isaac Asimov.

I, Robot. New York: Gnome Press, 1950.

Originally published in Astounding magazine in the early 1940s, these are among the first stories that break away from the cliché of robot as monster.


Clifford D. Simak.

City. New York: Gnome Press, 1952.

A deteriorating human society retreats from urban blight and escapes to remote family outposts, relying almost entirely on robots for supplying the labor and on the wired world for communication and supplies. In City, Simak describes a communication system remarkably like the internet.

An image of The Last Planet.

Andre Norton.

The Last Planet. New York: Ace, 1953.

A space adventure story of the stellar patrol ship Starfire on a mission to remap and rediscover forgotten worlds.

W. J. Stuart.

Forbidden Planet. New York: Bantam Books, 1956.

This is the novelization of the classic 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet. The traditional space adventure story is best known for Robbie the Robot, a rare creature with a personality and humor.

Robert A. Heinlein.

The Door into Summer. New York: Signet - New American Library, 1959.

In 1970, America has survived a nuclear war which destroyed Washington and New York. The hero is an engineer who designs wildly successful domestic robots, which he then markets through his company, Hired Girl.

Jack Williamson.

The Humanoids. New York: Lancer, 1963.

The robots interpret their mandate "To serve and obey, and guard men from harm" so strictly that the humans are virtual captives and not allowed to do anything at all.

Martin Caidin.

Cyborg. New York: Paperback Library, 1972.

Cyborg is best known for the television series based on the novel, The Six Million Dollar Man. After his body is destroyed in a plane crash, a man is given a bionic body and a career as a government secret service agent.


Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars. New York: Grosset &Dunlap, 1920.

Thuvia was first published as a serial in All-Story Weekly in 1916. The plot combines romance with adventure and features airship battles, lost cities and savage creatures. Special Collections holds a large collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as well as a small collection of related ephemera.

Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Chessmen of Mars. New York: Grosset &Dunlap, 1922.

The hero is forced to play a living version of chess using people as the gamepieces on a life-sized board, with each taking of a piece being a duel to the death.

An image of The Red Planet.

Robert A. Heinlein.

Red Planet. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1949.

In this adventure story for young adult readers, boys at a boarding school on Mars confront evil plotters and become involved in a colonial rebellion. Heinlein introduces some of the characteristics of the Martian inhabitants that he develops more fully in Stranger in a Strange Land.

Cyril Judd.

Outpost Mars. New York: Abelard Press, 1952.

Cyril Judd was a pseudonym for the well-known science fiction writers Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril. The story follows a group of colonists in a newly-established Martian town.

Lester Del Rey.

Marooned on Mars. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1952.

A young man stows away on a rocket ship to Mars in this adventure story. In the 1950s, Del Rey was one of the leading science fiction authors writing for adolescents.

An image of Sands of Mars.

Arthur C. Clarke.

Sands of Mars. New York: Gnome Press, 1952.

The story is set in the twenty-first century, principally on Mars which has been settled by humans and is used as a research base.

Leigh Brackett.

The Sword of Rhiannon. New York: Ace, 1953.

Leigh Brackett wrote many science adventure stories but is best know as a Hollywood screenwriter. She contributed to the script for George Lucas' The Empire Strikes Back. Brackett's Mars is a world of complex cultures and commercial enterprises.

The Martian Chronicles.

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. teleplay by Richard Matheson. Shooting script; A Charles Fries/Stonehenge Production for the NBC Television Network, 1978.

The Martian Chronicles features human-like Martians with copper-colored skin, human emotions, and telepathic abilities. They are a dying race with an advanced culture. Bradbury wrote many short stories set on Mars.

Kim Stanley Robinson.

Green Mars. New York: TOR - Tom Doherty Associates, 1985.

This is one volume of a trilogy that follows the first earth colonists on Mars. The books are known for their detailed presentation of the science of creating a livable world on a barren planet and analyzing the socio-economic forces that could influence real interplanetary colonization.

First Contact

The first contact between humans and aliens has been a popular theme for science fiction since its early days. The encounter can be hostile or friendly but the ensuing interactions are often filled with miscommunications and misunderstandings. Events in the writer's political and social environment may shape the way he sees the encounter. During the Cold War era of the 1950s, many of the encounters were hostile with alien creatures invading the earth. In the more peaceful years of the 1980s, non-threatening visitors such as ET and the crew of the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind filled the movie screens. Often, however, the intentions are not clear and the story follows the subleties of the interactions and the unintended consequenses of the encounter.

An image of Voyage of the Space Beagle.

A. E. van Vogt.

The Voyage of the Space Beagle. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950.

The first third of this novel, "Black Destroyer", appeared in the July 1939 issue of Astounding magazine as Van Vogt's first science fiction story. It was the basis of the film, Alien.

An image of Childhood's End.

Arthur C. Clarke.

Childhood's End. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953.

Alien Overlords arrive and bring order to a troubled world. After hundreds of years the remaining humans begin to grasp the aliens' motives and to understand their own purpose in the universe. The aliens bring an end to the childhood of the human race and help them understand their next stage of development.

Walter Tevis.

The Man who Fell to Earth. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1963.

A being from another planet comes to earth to seek help for his world but is met with fear and prejudice.

Damon Knight.

First Contact. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1971.

A collection of short stories about first encounters.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

The Mote in God's Eye. NY: Pocket Books, 1974.

The novel meticulously examines every aspect of first contact, from the alien's biology, society, and art, to the effects of the meeting on humanity's economics, politics, and religions.

An image of Gateway.

Frederik Pohl.

Gateway. New York: Ballantine Books, 1977.

An earthman wins a lottery and uses his earnings to travel to Gateway, a portal that was constructed and abandoned by an unknown species.

An image of If the Stars are Gods.

Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund.

If the Stars are Gods. New York: Berkley Books, 1978.

A human is chosen by aliens to travel to the stars and discovers the true center of the universe.

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