At first glance, one might think that science fiction has absolutely nothing to do with history. Nothing could be further from the truth. The study of history is there to document the human condition from way back to present day. The point is to not only bear witness but to contemplate solutions to problems. Nothing is worse than recurring themes of suffering, such as the slaughter of Native Americans in the United States and the Holocaust in Europe, but these events are not alone in history. Mass killings have been taking place since before humans were bipedal. It was a matter of survival in bygone eras. Unfortunately, despite the study of history, this continues to recur.
So what does this have to do with SciFi?
Most science fiction fans have seen the entire canon of Star Trek and other similar film and television. They’ve read the spin-off books and they’ve read similar series or completely different series. Scifi fans are amazing with how much material they digest. They don’t do it out of the love of technology and space alone. The things that tie us into a story are the plots that elicit emotion–stories of the human condition, projected out over a supposed trail of events gleaned from our history here on Earth.
Wherever you go, you can’t escape history. We’re soaking in it daily. To understand where we are headed, we must know where we have been. Studying and familiarizing oneself with history can give insight to the writer that allows them to predict what the future might be like. When we exercise our research and assessment skills the prediction becomes easier. We see connections coming along the pipe well ahead of time. Have you ever sat and watched a film with an author, especially one who has studied literature and history? There are very few surprises for us in movies. Although, I admit, The Sixth Sense (1999) totally floored me. I didn’t see that coming. I’d like to think that, following all my hard work on my MALS (Master of Liberal Studies) degree, that the signs in the film wouldn’t have so easily eluded me. Going back over the film now, I feel pretty silly for not having seen it.
At the time of the film, I had just completed my undergraduate degree and was embarking on my writing career in earnest. I still had a lot to learn. My years writing and further education have really honed my skills around history and the human condition. Liberal studies, along with history and writing, opens up a view of how things interconnect and provides insight that is seriously utilitarian. Calling such a degree a Basket Weaving Degree is simply showing how ignorant of what the work entails. Liberal arts students become problem solvers among many other valuable forms of work.
Do I have a science background? Yes, the first two years of my college career I studied biology (which entailed chemistry and calculus, as well). I wouldn’t ever say that history or literature can completely replace the knowledge of how the physical world works. This, too, is important. However, chemistry doesn’t teach you how to write relateable stories people will want to read. That, is the exact point of liberal studies. It teaches us how to examine the topic/subject from various lenses that pertain to the desired result. In this case, we’re talking about fiction writing. If you’re writing non-fiction, it works virtually the same: familiarity with the appropriate subjects and the practices of them will make a stronger work, as you know what to do with the information you’re arranging.
Learning how to write well is the purview of literature and writing classes. Learning how to write compelling stories is the purview of the relevant subjects of the story. Science fiction is about the future and it takes knowing the past to craft these stories.