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If You Like Science Fiction, You Might Just Like Historical Fiction

June 7, 2017

Sez who? Sez me. OK, so you’re a science fiction fan, and maybe you’re giving me the stinkeye. Maybe you never gave much thought to reading historical novels. But I think if you enjoy SF, you might get a kick out of historical fiction, too -- because there are more similarities than readers may realize.

 

Whether we're telling a story about characters on a starship in the future, or living on a pioneer homestead in 1858, the writer's job doesn't change: it's all about creating an alternate reality, making it feel authentic, making readers feel as if they're there.

None of us can know exactly what it's like to live in STAR TREK's 24th century or mid-19th century Baltimore. Even re-enactors who revel in the particulars of some bygone era still get to drive home in their modern cars, take a hot shower, microwave dinner, and fall asleep in a comfy bed not stuffed with straw.

 

And even though fans can visit the recreated 1967 sets of the Enterprise by trekking to the Star Trek Set Tour in upstate New York (see photo), it's tough to simulate warp-speed interstellar travel. The best we can do is suspend our disbelief, and get a taste of what it was (or will be) like. (More on the set tours at www.startrektour.com.)

 

Whether it's past or future, the devil is truly in the details. And it's a reader-writer partnership -- if writers weave enough convincing specifics into our stories, we can ignite readers' imaginations and help them transport themselves back to 1865 Texas, or ahead to 2365 Planet Vulcan, where the human brain can fill in the rest.


Writing STAR TREK, of course, I didn’t have to make up the universe from scratch. Decades of TV shows and movies have already created the physical "reality" of life on a starship or other worlds. And most STAR TREK readers are fans already familiar with that shared imagery. Even with other science fiction, most readers have seen enough TV shows and movies to form a general picture in their minds of what the future might be like.

 

But history also offers writers a treasure trove of material from which to build an authentic fictional

foundation: we have paintings and photographs of the actual past; we know how people dressed; we know what their technology, homes, towns, and cities were like; we've seen historical TV shows and movies; and many of the physical places and artifacts of the past have either been preserved or recreated for us to visit in person (like such excellent living history museums as Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Long Island, NY). As a writer, I can wear period clothing and travel to historical settings to get a feel for life in the past. (Of course, even though we can't visit Spock's home planet Vulcan, we can visit the corner of Yellowstone National Park where Vulcan scenes for the first STAR TREK movie were filmed.)


Now, here’s a key question: Whether it’s sci-fi or historical, can a novel ever have too much detail? What do you think? We'll visit that topic soon...

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