Why Science Fiction and the pursuit of truth is more important than the study of historical fact.

by 12:54 AM 4 comments
Sometimes when I am bordering on exhaustion my mind finds itself in strange places. Tonight I find myself looking back on the past few novels I have read, and several have been by authors such as Robert Harris and Jeffrey Archer, though I suppose the same principles can be applied to all Historical Fiction.

I couldn't help but be struck by the stodginess of many of the books, and kept picturing this old professor mocking new thinking on the past as incongruous to the historical record, and at the same time jesting at the uselessness of science fiction as little more than a diversion. This fictional creation, likely a caricature fed by exhaustion and irritation, is likely a conceptual mashup of people I come across in my day to day life that do not share my views on Science Fiction.

But as they are entitled to their opinions and I am entitled to mine, I shall exercise that right here on my blog to purge the irritation and hopefully find meaningful sleep. If the narrative wanders, forgive me, it has not been quality checked in my typical sieve-like manner ;-)

Nevertheless, I found myself angry with this fictional creation that only existed in my own mind. Anger, even that which is directed at fictional characters of my own creation, has ever been a motivating force in my life. I also have a tendency to get a little philosophical when seeking to prove a point, and at times even a tad repetitive, so please bear with me. I will try to inject a modicum of witty banter as well to help the oration go down smoothly. ;-)

The casual acceptance that most history professors relay information is in many ways contradictory to the scientific method. The answers (accepted historical fact) are given more credence than the method in which the information is deemed acceptable as fact. The need for study of this information also comes into question, as unless this information can be verified repeatedly, how do we know if what we are accepting as fact is the truth?

The same thought always through my mind when reading fiction that stands on the shoulders of supposed fact and aspires to bend the readers perception away from commonly accepted fact (Historical Fiction)-How much of a pieces transcendence comes from the writer, and how much is supplied by the reader? The writer can capture his thoughts, his vision, even capture the failures and successes of the past to lend the morals of the story credibility, but said failures and successes cannot be projected into the future. While past failures can always remain a source of caution and warning, past successes cannot teach us a way forward when projected upon the futures unforeseen complexities.

Which is of course the reason why it is called "Historical Fiction". The writer is writing what amounts to a period piece, attempting to inject their own narrative between the cracks of the historical record. The have facts, but not all of them, and where the factual record is incomplete the writer is there to seamlessly blend fact with fiction.

Of course, as many facts are recorded through the prism of those in power at the time, much of the past, even that which has been chiseled into stone stelae or recorded on weathered parchment and left hidden in a cave near the dead sea, can be considered "Historical Fiction".

So my point, if my admittedly foggy mind is still capable of making one, is that since the vast majority of the stories about the past are interpreted by those charged with their documentation and possibly altered for canonical, lyrical, or diversionary necessity, we can then infer that most of what we have learned can be considered up for grabs in the same way these writers have.

"How does this relate to me, my writing, or even how did I come across this train of thought?" you may be wondering. I was simply recalling, as stated earlier, the recent run of historical fiction I had been consuming, and sought to draw parallels between it and science fiction, as I am want to do. I likened the historical fiction writer to a history professor, bound to their facts and list of past events to infer meaning from, at a time when the human mind and in fact the thought processes of society have evolved greatly from past events. Yet another reason why we as a society are simply over-matched when reaching past a certain level of inference on the past.

We have little in the way of understanding the way the average person interpreted the information of the day, and without that context we have no way of drawing meaningful conclusions.

So, as the saying goes, "We might as well have a little fun with it".

Which is exactly what Science Fiction authors seek to do with the future. If Historical Fiction, and by extension accepted historical fact can be seen as open to interpretation, the lack of respect that Science Fiction receives (aside from consideration as a novelty) is frustrating.

If you accept that the little we know about the past cannot be stood upon as an infallible step for humanity to reach higher, then we are left to guess at what tomorrow will bring.

Do not confuse what I am trying to say with nihilism. I am not saying that nothing we have learned matters, I am simply saying it may be inaccurate and should be approached with appropriate uncertainty. I am also not saying to disregard all you have been taught. I am simply saying that it is more important for you to seek out the answers to questions that you find interesting or useful, and once you've done that for a bit, try asking questions to which no one has the answers. Ask the next History Professor you run into a question like THAT, they love those ones ;-) I believe it's infinitly more important to ask the right kind of questions than to know all the previously agreed upon answers.

Again, I am returned to Science Fiction. In an uncertain world, with an uncertain past and an equally uncertain future, who are some to question the forward thinking dreams of those that dare to stick their neck out and speculate where advancing technology and it's impact on society may take us?

If the future is to become the "Concentual Hallucination" of cyberspace, as William Gibson put it, then what makes any one persons hypothesis of the future any less valid than the version of the past that we and our children are taught in history books?

Science has been given every opportunity to reinforce and overturn accepted facts throughout our history, and this fact-checker of truth is the same force that will inscribe much of our future. To cast contempt upon it's myriad interpretations is to cast doubt upon that future.

For if we do not learn from our past, we are doomed to repeat it in lieu of enjoying a future. Of course, at that point we will have to rewrite it so that those that find the records once we are gone will see us in a more positive light.

So, in closing, learn the historical information that is available to us, and take from it what you will. But just as important, learn to question properly as well.

For the future is as yet unwritten, and who would you prefer cast the first pen stroke? Those that accept what is told to them without thoughts of there own? In my eyes, that is not progress.

Give me a dreamer to write my future any day.

Give me someone that doesn't already think they know everything.

Give me a Science Fiction reader.





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Chris Godsoe

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