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How science fiction taught me to appreciate historical fiction

Crying robot.

A fun fact about me: I have a background in history. Sorta. I feel weird saying that, but it’s true: I do, after all, have a BA in history. So while I don’t now nor do I plan on perusing a career in history, there is a certain level of comfort with the study of history there.

For a long time, I looked down on the genre of historical fiction and those who enjoyed it. I’m not proud of that fact, but there it is. “If you’re interested in this person or event, why don’t you just read a biography instead?” I reasoned. Part of my distain for historical fiction stemmed from the people who were convinced that historical fiction was almost entirely historical fact, save a few minor details. I thought I was smarter because I “knew better.” I knew that within historical fiction, there’s a range. Some is fairly historically accurate, while others is more fiction than anything else.

But then I discovered science fiction. I’m what I like to call “science stupid.” For the most part, science was not my strongest subject in school (though part of that can be attributed to teachers who were convinced that I was stupid and wanted me to fail). Reading straight up non-fiction about a scientific subject still feels like a very scary task. But science fiction manages to make things seem less daunting. The fiction in science fiction made the subject much more palpable for someone like me who doesn’t have a strong scientific foundation. Do I expect all science fiction to be 100% factually accurate? Of course not. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some science fiction is more factually accurate than others. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are scientists out there who spend time nit picking various aspects of science fiction. For me, however, science fiction feels like a less daunting way of experiencing and enjoying science. I may actually learn some actual science along the way.

It got me thinking about the similarities between historical fiction and science fiction. Not everyone has the same background in history that I have. I know from experience that the way history is taught as the college level is very different form the way history is taught at the high school level. I know that college in general is out of reach for many people for a variety of reasons. I know that the quality of the history curriculum in some high schools can be very shitty. People in those sorts of situations might not feel comfortable just picking up a biography or any of the sorts of historical sources that feel comfortable to me. Historical fiction might be for some folks what science fiction is for me: a way to experience the subject in a more palpable way.

A number of authors have written about the importance of fiction. Their sentiment can basically be boiled down to this: fiction is how we learn about ourselves and the world around us. What I’ve learned through my experience with science fiction is this: who am I to judge someone for liking historical fiction (or any other genre, for that matter)? That was absolutely wrong of me and I regret it.

What draws you to the genres you enjoy? Has your love for one genre ever helped you appreciate another genre?

This post originally appeared on She Treks.

To understand a field, you look at its arts. Arts can be cautionary as well as inspiring.

— Wil Wheaton
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