A fun fact about me: I have a background in history. Sorta. I feel weird saying that, but I guess it’s true: I do, after all, have a BA in history. So while I don’t now, nor do I ever, plan on pursuing a career directly related to history, I do have a certain level of comfort when it comes to the study of history. And for a long time, I looked down on the genre of historical fiction and those who enjoyed it. It’s not something I’m proud to admit, but I think it’s important for me to be honest here. “If you’re interested in this person or event, why don’t you just read a biography instead?” I reasoned. Part of my disdain for the genre came from people who were convinced that historical fiction was almost entirely historical fact, with the exception of a few minor details. I thought I was smarter because I “new better,” I knew that within historical fiction there’s a range. Some are fairly historically accurate while others are 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 wasn’t my strongest subject in school (it’s possible that part of that can be attributed to teachers who thought I was stupid and wanted me to fail, but isn’t relevant here). Reading straight up non-fiction about a scientific subject still feels like a very daunting task. The fiction in science fiction made the subject much more palpable for someone like me who doesn’t have a strong scientific background. Do I expect science fiction to be 100% scientifically accurate all the time? Hell no. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are scientists out there who have trouble enjoying science fiction without being overly critical of the content. For me, however, science fiction feels like a much less daunting way of experiencing and enjoying science. I may even learn some actual science along the way.
But then I started thinking: can’t you also say a lot of the same things about historical fiction? Not everyone has had the same background with the subject of history that I had. I know from experience that college level history is very different from high school level history. 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 at the high school level can be very shitty. For some people, historical fiction might be what science fiction is for me: a way to experience the subject in a more palpable way. And how could I possibly have a problem with that?
A number of people who are smarter than I am 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 who am I to judge someone for enjoying historical fiction? That was absolutely wrong of me and I regret it.
What draws you to the genres you enjoy? Has a love of one genre ever helped you appreciate a different genre?