How science fiction taught me to appreciate historical fiction

Let’s talk about genre fiction and how it can be an important part of our lives. First, 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 – even now. 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 that has nothing to do with how smart driven they are. 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 comfortable, safe way.

It’s in literature that true life can be found. It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.

— Gao Xingjian

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?

Meet the Author

She goes by either Sue or Taylor and doesn't care which you choose to call her. She's 30-something living in Pennsylvania, USA. For years, she didn't think she would like Star Trek, but time and experience proved to her that she probably would. Because she didn't come to Star Trek until adulthood, she is perhaps way behind her Trekkie peers. She Treks is her attempt to slowly "catch up" and hopefully connect with other Star Trek fans along the way. When she's not watching Star Trek, she can be found enjoying one of her random other interests.

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