On This Day: Hermann Oberth & George Orwell

Born on this day, nine years apart, were two men whose work makes them of immense importance to the world of science fiction, even if we can’t quite claim them as ‘one of us’.

Born 25th June, 1894, Hermann Julius Oberth, was one of the four founders of modern rocketry (with Wernher von Braun, Robert Goddard and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky) rocketry. Inspired by the scientific romances of Jules Verne – especially the space-based stories – Oberth served as scientific consultant on Fritz Lang‘s Frau im Mond (‘The Woman in the Moon), the first motion picture to have scenes set in space.

In 1929, he published Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (‘Ways to Spaceflight’), for which he won an award from the French Astronomical Society for the encouragement of astronautics. It was later that year, though, that he would make his greatest mark on the world, when he conducted a successful firing of his first liquid-fuelled rocket.  Assisting him in this experiment was a young student by the name of Wernher von Braun, who would go on to head the Nazi rocket programme and, after the War, become a central figure in the development of the Saturn V rocket, which would deliver the first human beings to the Moon.

June 25th, 1903 saw the arrival in the world of Eric Arthur Blair, better known to the world as George Orwell, author of perhaps the greatest dystopian novel ever written. Nineteen Eighty-Four should really be enough for us to claim Orwell as, if not an SF writer, then certainly a writer of SF. The self-appointed literati of the world, of course, will stamp their feet and refuse to admit that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a work of SF (because a book can’t be both ‘good’ and ‘science fiction’ – as any fule kno) but we try not to pay too much attention to the chronically irrelevant, so there’s no reason to give credence to such nonsense.

In fact, upon mature reflection, we’ve decided that not only can we claim Oberth and Orwell as ‘one of us’, but we should. And we do.

Happy Birthday, Hermann Oberth and George Orwell: key figures in the history of science fiction.