Subterranean fiction is actually a sub-genre of adventure fiction or science fiction, focusing on underground settings, sometimes at the center of the Earth or otherwise deep below the surface of another planet. The genre is based on the theory of a hollow earth. The earliest works were Enlightenment-era philosophical or allegorical works, where the underground setting was often incidental. In the late 19th century, however, more pseudoscientific or proto-science-fictional motifs gained prevalence.
Common themes include depictions of an underground world that is more primitive than the surface, either culturally, technologically or biologically, or a combination of these. The earlier stories usually saw the setting used as a venue for sword-and-sorcery fiction, while the latter stories featured extinct creatures, such as dinosaurs, hominids or cryptids living free. A less frequent theme has the underground world technologically advanced, typically either as the refugium of a lost civilization, or even a sanctuary for space aliens.
Some of the earliest novels were: Ludvig Holberg’s 1741 novel Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (Niels Klim’s Underground Travels) and Giacomo Casanova’s 1788 Icosameron (a 5-volume, 1800-page story of a brother and sister who fall into the Earth and discover the subterranean utopia of the Mégamicres, a race of multicolored, hermaphroditic dwarfs.
More recent novels have been The City of Ember (2003) by Jeanne DuPrau – a city built underground to survive a nuclear holocaust and Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams – tells of a hollow Earth with an interior sun, in which multiple civilizations exist within and beneath the crust.
As a genre it is not a common theme.
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