Thursday, May 12, 2016

SF as history, history as SF

Ada Palmer, historian  and
D'jever think that writing history has some affinities with writing science fiction? All that effort to construct from scraps the credible image of a society in which they do things differently -- while also maintaining enough narrative (or something) to hold the thing together.

Ada Palmer goes there. Historian and classicist at the University of Chicago, author of things like Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, she is also an SF novelist of whose new book, Too Like the Lightning, a critic writes:
It does something that I think is genuinely new (or at least, if other people have pulled it off, I haven’t read them). Palmer is a historian (here’s an interview I did with her on her book about Lucretius’ reception in the Renaissance) and approaches science fiction in a novel way. Her 25th century draws on the ideas of Enlightenment humanism, but in the same ways that, say, America draws on the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. Which is to say that it takes the bits that seem useful, reinterpret them or misinterpret them as new circumstances dictate, and graft them onto what is already there, throwing away the rest. Palmer does this quite thoroughly and comprehensively – her imagined society is both thrown together in the way that real societies are, and clinker-built (in the sense that she has evidently really thought through how this would be related to that and what it might mean).
I'm not sure it's new to build SF from historical analogies. Almost the norm, in fact.  But if you are intrigued by how a working historian would go about it, you might look for her novel.  Or, maybe you'd prefer the Lucretius book, which also sounds like no small feat of imagination.
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