I probably don’t need to tell the readers here that science-fiction is probably one of the most badass genres of fiction to ever explode out of someone’s brain. I mean, any genre in which genetically modified cyborgs, hyperdrive-capable spaceships, chest-bursting aliens, disintegration death rays, handheld nuclear bombs, mutant apocalypses, and skimpy gold bikinis are the norm is OK in my book, and anybody who doesn’t think that stuff kicks more ass than an alcoholic donkey-herder really needs to get their priorities straight.
But how to reconcile my love of science-fiction with the seemingly-incongruous fact that my forthcoming book Badass is a non-fiction work about some of the toughest warriors and villains from history? The answer is simple – compile a timeline of the most awesome and badass moments in the history of the genre we all know and love. So that is what I’ve attempted to accomplish here.
Now, before I begin I would like to say that I am well aware that there are hundreds of utterly spleen-rupturingly awesome events from science-fiction that I neglected to include in this overview, but just by looking at my outline I can tell that this work has already spiraled out of my control enough. So please don’t email me complaining about how I forgot to include your favorite book/author/robot/food construct/sports team/whatever. Instead, just feel free to use the comments section as a groupthink hive-mind experiment and leave your own important dates in the history of badass sci-fi on there. (Of course, you can also just go with the time-honored Internet practice of using the comments section to call the author a total incompetent moron as well, so don’t let me dissuade you from exercising your constitutional right to be a total dickwad.)
1835: The New York Sun perpetrates The Great Moon Hoax – a bizarre account of lunar life that makes this whole Falcon Heene flying weather balloon thing look like a skid mark on the underpants of mass hysteria. The gist of the newspaper series was that some astronomer looked through a mega-powerful telescope and discovered a bizarre species of flying demonic humanoid bat-men flying around on the surface of the moon, having keg parties with unicorns and building monolithic temples housing some weirdo lunar bison of some sort. This caused quite the uproar among the populace, as you can probably imagine, because populaces are generally prone to things like “panicking” and “not appreciating how cool it would be if there actually were gargoyle men living on the Moon”. Eventually everybody figured out that some disgruntled employee at the Sun was just Jayson Blair-ing it up and jerking them around, and that was the end of that.
1864: Jules Verne, known throughout history as the “Original Gangsta of Science Fiction”, puts geology on the badass literature map by writing a little book called A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Verne pretty much blows everyone’s hair to the back of the auditorium with this shizknuckle about modern men running around with giant mushrooms and watching dinosaurs bit the crap out of each other, and goes on to be ridiculously prolific, busting out a 54-part series of novels containing some of the great staples of sci-fi literature – badass adventures like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, and the significantly-less numerated From the Earth to the Moon.
1898: H.G. Wells invents the “aliens invade the present-day and frag all of our asses into oblivion with futuristic death rays” genre with his classic work The War of the Worlds. This story about low-tech humans harnessing their inner cavemen and clubbing aliens to death with their badass atmospheric Earth gasses was later adapted for radio by another dude named Welles and turned into a 1938 broadcast that made the entire United States collectively crap its pants in unison.
1917: Edgar Rice Burroughs writes A Princess of Mars. This book introduces us to a crazy alien-face-smashing hardass named John Carter, who (in my humble opinion at least) is one of the single biggest sack-kickers in the history of Science Fiction. A mega-tough, no-bullcrap war hero who finds himself suddenly teleported onto the surface of Mars, Carter immediately goes to work throat-punching aliens’ esophagi out the backs of their necks and turning the surface of the Red Planet into one giant cataclysm of gore and fiery explosions. He also fulfills every male sci-fi nerd’s ultimate fantasy by getting it on with a hot alien babe, losing her to the clutches of a diabolical evil mastermind, and then single-handedly saving her with nothing more than a tireless sword-arm, a heavy-duty laser gun, and a complete lack of respect for anything capable of locomotion. This really isn’t something that should be overlooked. Burroughs, who also wrote Tarzan, was actually a pretty hardcore guy himself – this dude was a sixty-nine year-old resident of Hawaii when the Pearl Harbor bombing went down, and got so pumped up about fighting the Japanese that he volunteered for the Army and served as one of the oldest U.S. war correspondents of World War II.
1920: Ray Harryhausen is born. This pioneer of stop-motion awesomeness would be the principal animator on a bunch of totally bitchin’ sci-fi/adventure/monster movies ranging from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers to Clash of the Titans.
1927: Germany releases Metropolis, a movie that takes the beloved mad science of Frankenstein, morphs the reanimated undead monster into a giant robot, throws it all into a blender and dumps the resulting Promethian meat smoothie into a futuristic dystopian hellhole. Everybody digs it.
1928: Readers first experience The Call of Cthulu, a giant, horrible squid-headed winged alien the size of a mountain that incites a cult of murderous seamen to choke people out in dark alleys and to leave crazy statues laying all over the place for no reason at all. Cthulu is temporarily defeated when a Norwegian guy crashes a boat into its head, but comes back more times than Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger morphed into a giant unkillable behemoth of multi-mantibled destruction. This year also marks the first appearance of asskicking future-man Buck Rogers, a mega-space-stud who bones Wilma Deering in space and detonates alien douchebags into vapor with a wide assortment of hand-held laser guns.
1934: Flash Gordon is created, finally answering the age-old question, “what if the guy I hated in high school went into space and was a total dick to everyone?” Many alien face-punches follow shortly thereafter.
1942: The Battle of Los Angeles. U.S. anti-aircraft guns open fire on UFOs zooming through the night sky above California. The Army eventually claims that it was inadvertently shooting at weather balloons, thus beginning a long and fruitful career of blaming pretty much every flying anomaly in history on those damned meteorologists and their stupid balloons.
1947: Roswell. Alien UFOs crash-land in New Mexico, of all places, and the surviving aliens are immediately transported to Area 51 in Nevada, where they provide evil American scientists with the secrets of stealth technology and supersonic flight before time traveling back and giving the secret of fire to cavemen and teaching the Egyptians how to stack stones in such a way as to form pyramids. The sci-fi community rejoices forever.
1949: George Orwell falls ill with Tuberculosis and, in a wild delirium, writes the definitive work on dystopian ultra-autocratic societies – Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell, a badass veteran of World War II and the Spanish Civil War who once bayoneted a fascist to death with a bolt-action rifle, gives us one of the greatest science-fiction lines ever written, saying, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face… forever.” Two years later, Ray Bradbury follows up with an equally-bleak look at the future (as seen through the gun sights of a gigantic blowtorch) in Fahrenheit 451.
1950: Literary mastermind / super-genius Isaac Asimov introduces us to the timeless Three Laws of Robotics with a collection of stories titled I, Robot. People quickly realize that robots are useful, but trying to reason with them is a real pain in the balls.
1954: Richard Matheson kicks off the apparently-still-relevant post-apocalyptic zombie/vampire craze with his book I Am Legend. This tale about a dude running around in a world where a super-infectious virus has turned everyone on Earth into a crazy man-eating monster is adapted into the excellent film The Omega Man, and manages to get everyone totally pumped up about turning their homes into a death-fortress from which to fend off nightly attacks by disgusting flesh-eating zombies.
1956: Invasion of the Body Snatchers released in theaters. Nobody ever looks at vegetables the same way again.
1959: Ed Wood subjects the world to his magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is badass only in the sense that it features Bella Lugosi and is pretty much universally-recognized as the worst movie ever made. It has spawned some pretty sweet drinking games, though, so that’s something.
1960: The creation of Space Marines. Robert A. Heinlein brings us the story of Filipino interstellar warrior Juan Rico kicking alien bugs’ thoraxes into gooey explosions in a civilization so neck-snappingly hardcore it would have made King Leonidas jizz. Starship Troopers repeatedly beats into the reader’s head that communism sucks goat balls and “violence has settled more issues in history than has any other factor”, and is so controversial that it’s pissed off more people throughout the years than healthcare and rude telemarketers combined. It also brings us the concept of asskicking space warriors who fight in self-contained suits of armor sporting night-vision gear, radar, and augmented strength and agility, forming the precursor to everything from the DOOM video games and Imperial Stormtroopers to BattleMechs and Warhammer 40k. The story is later stripped of ninety percent of its content, dragged through a thick puddle of cheese, and finely sculpted into one of the best/worst trashy sci-fi films I’ve ever seen.
1963: The first season of The Outer Limits. Kids everywhere beg their parents to let them stay up late to watch it, only to immediately regret it the second the bedroom lights are turned off.
1965: After six years of writing and dozens of rejection letters, World War II veteran Frank Herbert accepts a $7,500 advance to publish what will become the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. Dune is now considered one of the seminal works of the genre, and describes the crazy, face-exploding adventures of asskicker/messiah Paul Atreides as he stomps crotches across the desert landscapes of the planet Arrakkis, blowing heads off with his weirdness, riding around on totally bitchin’ sand worms, and making pretty much all of House Harkonnen his bitch all over the place. Dune spawns a few billion sequels, as well as a mind-flayingly convoluted film adaptation by David Lynch. Paul eventually becomes Emperor of the Universe and then wanders off into the desert to morphs into a deity of some sort, which is pretty cool I guess.
1966: Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise makes his way into space, where he shoves the Prime Directive up everyone’s ass by cracking aliens in their space-nuts with open-hand judo chops and then making out with their hot space widows. Star Trek grows faster than an infestation of Tribbles, exploding into so many different series and movies that nobody knows what the hell is going on anymore. Shatner and Nimoy spend the next forty years doing enough awesome stuff to tear a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum.
1968: Jackass Artificial Intelligence HAL 9000 nearly wipes out the entire crew of the spacecraft Discovery in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic book 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick develops the story of this lovable, hate-filled robotic construct with no remorse and less emotion into a movie that is now much beloved by stoners and acid-heads everywhere because of its trippy colors and general weirdness. Clarke, who spent his early years serving as a radar man helping the RAF fight off Nazi Messerschmitts during the Battle of Britain, went on to host a series of TV shows about bizarre and mysterious crap. He also wrote Rendezvous with Rama, a novel describing the inside of a giant space cylinder, was knighted by the Queen, and won the highest civilian award offered by the government of Sri Lanka. Later this year Charlton Heston yells at some damned dirty apes in Planet of the Apes, and Jane Fonda introduces teenage boys everywhere to the glory of space boobs with Barbarella.
1969: Ursula Le Guin writes The Left Hand of Darkness, kicking off a cycle of books that will win her three Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, and Kurt Vonnegut publishes Slaughterhouse-Five, the definitive work on time-traveling U.S. soldiers living in Nazi meat lockers during World War II.
1974: Tom Baker takes over as the Fourth (and best) Doctor Who. The Daleks never knew what hit ’em.
1976: Logan’s Run released in theaters. Two-thirds of the population of Earth develops a massive crush on Jenny Agutter.
1977: Star Wars. George Lucas constructs one of the finest and most badass space operas of all-time, where Jedi masters cut down their foes with lightsabers so ridiculously cool they make people want to barf (in a good way) and Darth Vader kills fools just by looking at them menacingly and concentrating really hard. A large portion of the world becomes instantly obsessed with the galaxy far, far away, and boys everywhere dream of detonating the Death Star from the cockpit of an X-Wing fighter or face-punching stormtroopers like ultra-bitchin’ space-scoundrel Han Solo. Things start to go downhill a few years later with the introduction of the Ewoks, but nobody really seems to notice. Timothy Zahn later builds on the badassitude of Star Wars with his Heir to the Empire trilogy in the early nineties, but then the prequel films of the 2000s sadly send the entire franchise down in a fiery death-spiral from which it has little hope of recovery.
1978: The original Battlestar Galactica gets people psyched up about macking on babes and shooting alien cyborgs with starfighters, as the crew of the Galactica desperately attempt to save humanity from destruction at the hands of the Cylons. This series, while awesome, was not quite as cool as the remade version that came out in the 2000s (or “The Aughts”, as I like to call them), and I refuse to hear any dissenting opinions on the subject. This same year, Douglas Adams performs the first radio broadcast of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is almost universally-recognized as the most totally hilarious sci-fi comedy series ever written.
1980: In addition to providing one of the most completely balls-out pump-up theme songs ever written, The Final Countdown teaches us not only about the serious responsibilities associated with time travel, but that it totally kicks ass when a F-14s blow up World War II-era Japanese Zeroes.
1982: Harrison Ford appears again in our list as the lead character in the hardcore futuristic dystopian crime drama Blade Runner. Based on the legendary Philip K. Dick’s interestingly-titled story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner combines the most badass elements of 1940s detective pulp fiction noir with homicidal androids to make a film widely believed by people named Ben Thompson to be one of the most awesome things ever committed to the silver screen.
1984: ’84 didn’t exactly see the dystopian future that Orwell predicted, but it was the year in which an even MORE messed-up dystopian future presented itself – this time in the form of William Gibson’s badass novel Neuromancer. Featuring “street samurai”, “console cowboys”, cybernetic augmentations, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and a crazy mercenary babe with daggers implanted in her fingers and sunglasses grafted onto her face, this book basically created the concept of cyberpunk, and opened the doors for all sorts of badass, gritty, futuristic crap ranging from Angelina Jolie’s hair in Hackers to a bunch of totally weirdo anime stuff like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. I’m also told that that this novel invented the Internet, but I think we all know that was Al Gore so stop pretending that it wasn’t.
1985-1989: An excellent and under-appreciated four-year span in the history of science-fiction brings us Back to the Future, The Handmaid’s Tale, Ender’s Game, Aliens, Predator, Spaceballs, The Abyss, The Terminator, Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Transformers Movie, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Robocop. The sheer gravitational force of badassery exuded from this stretch of time causes many peoples’ heads to explode like that dude from Scanners.
1992: The Sci-Fi Channel launches. It is soon followed by an endless onslaught of Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies, all of which are so utterly ridiculous and terrible as to border on awesomeness.
1993: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully start getting abducted by aliens with frightening regularity on behalf of the FBI on The X-Files. Meanwhile, David Weber’s ass-kicking heroine Honor Harrington re-enacts the naval careers of Horatio Nelson and Thomas Cochrane by crashing her ships into planets and choking people to death with their own disemboweled intestines in On Basilisk Station.
1994: Babylon 5 starts. I never really got into this show, but some people are really freaky obsessive about this stuff so I guess it bears mentioning on this list.
1999: Matt Groening offers his unique take on science-fiction with Futurama – the story of a team of space slackers doing generally-mundane tasks that somehow wind up requiring them to save the galaxy from their own stupid mistakes.
2001: Halo: Combat Evolved comes out on the Xbox, and the fine art of “space teabagging” somehow galvanizes frat boys across the country to suddenly become fanatically interested in futuristic warfare. Traditional sci-fi fans have mixed feelings on the subject, and decide it’s probably best never to speak of it.
2005: River Tam cleaves a horde of space-zombies brand new assholes with a couple of antiquated Viking-style axes in Serenity, the film version of sci-fi geek hero Joss Whedon’s insanely popular TV series Firefly. Scary-obsessive Whedon fanatics across the world commemorate the event with a giant collective nerd-gasm.
Ben Thompson graduated from Florida State University in 2002 with degrees in History and Political Science. He has run the popular website badassoftheweek.com since 2004, and has written humorous history-related columns for outlets such as Cracked, Fangoria, Penthouse, and the American Mustache Institute. His first book, BADASS: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live was published worldwide by HarperCollins in October 2009. A second book, titled BADASS: Birth of a Legend: Spine-Crushing Tales of the Most Merciless Gods, Heroes, Villains, and Mythical Beings Ever Envisioned, was released by the same publisher in March 2011.