Edgar Allan Poe is most often associated with the horror genre. His gothic tales and dark poetry often overshadow the other significant contributions he has made to American literature, most notable the mystery and science fiction genres. In his work, a fascination with the science of the day is obvious. A few of his tales can be seen as the first examples of science fiction, creating plausibility in the fantastic or surreal. His work has influenced some well known sci-fi authors, including HG Welles and Jules Verne.
The most obvious example of Poe’s science fiction is “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall,” one of Poe’s hoaxes. In 1835, the Southern Literary Messenger printed this tale as a true article, but few were fooled. The article claimed that a man in a balloon dropped a note down to people on the ground, and then flew back up. The note was an account of Hans Pfaall who had flown to the moon in a hot-air balloon. "Mellonta Tauta" tells of another balloon trip, this time to the future. Unlike most stories of the future at the time, Poe’s society was not a paradise. These balloon tales most likely influenced Verne’s writing of Five Weeks in a Balloon and Around the World in 80 Days.
"The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym" is Poe’s longest work and shows many elements of science fiction. This unfinished tale is about a sea voyage into the far-off and unknown realm of the Antarctic. It is a fantastic journey with scientific details of a lost civilization, published as fact. This same idea is also seen in The Land That Time Forgot (1924) by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
Several of Poe’s tales are precursors of the post-apocalyptic theme found in later sci-fi. “The Mask of the Red Death” shows a plague that devastates mankind. “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” shows the destruction of Earth by a passing comet, an idea that is later seen in Wells' In the Days of the Comet and Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's When Worlds Collide. A few of his tales also deal with some of the psuedo-sciences of his time; mesmerism, astrology and alchemy. His thoughts on automatons seems a precursor to robots and cyborgs.
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most influential American authors. While his work may not be our modern idea of science fiction, it’s clear that his groundwork has influenced many notables in the science fiction field. Most of Poe’s work can be found online at Project Gutenberg for free. The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe is available for sale.