Is Thomas the Tank Engine hard science fiction?

Henry the Green EngineToday is the 70th anniversary of the first book in Rev W. Awdry’s Railway series, which spawned the Thomas the Tank Engine multimedia franchise. (Pedantically, today isn’t the 70th anniversary of Thomas himself, as he didn’t appear until the second book.)

The early Railway stories were based on real railway incidents, and the characters were based on real models of locomotive (Thomas is LB&SCR E2 class). The technical details provided a lot of the stories’ appeal, at least to some children. The stories took ideas from the realm of science and engineering and made them entertaining by weaving stories about them.

See where I’m going with this? The Railway stories have a lot in common with hard science fiction. Especially for modern children, for whom the technology described is outside of their lived experience and therefore as imaginary as an interplanetary rocket.

I doubt I’m the only hard sf reader who started with the Railway stories and then switched from trains to space ships.


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