#AtoZChallenge: Y is for Yesteryear vs. Futurity



For those people like me who are not familiar with historical fiction, Wikipedia offers a pretty good introduction. I find it interesting that sub-genres of historical fiction include “nautical and pirate fiction”, as in Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes, I suppose. Also impressive is the application of historical fiction to other narrative formats such as performing and visual arts.

Somehow it reminds me of Taiwanese author Shi-Kuo Chang, an internationally renowned computer scientist who also writes excellent science fiction. (Check out his The City Trilogy: Five Jade Disks, Defenders of the Dragon City, Tale of a Feather, published by Columbia University Press.) Some of Chang’s sci-fi writing may be described as “alternate history” or “historical fantasy”, but what makes me immensely curious is his proposal of the “whole history” as a concept.

In one of Chang’s essays, whose title may be translated as “Searching the Future for the Roots of History”, he proposes the notion of the “whole history” containing not only the past but also the future. A “whole historian”, according to Chang, seeks to understand the past, present and future of human evolution in order to analyse the spiritual and cultural elements of mankind. He or she does not question the completeness and necessity of history, but understands the importance of reaching conclusion about the human civilisation only after a thorough investigation of its whole history.

This is indeed a concept as exciting as steampunk. It further reaches beyond alternate history (which supplies a possible choice of the past) by suggesting an established, steadfast future that is part of what we seek to understand about the past and the present. Obviously a “whole historian” cannot reveal the future in fear of disturbing or even changing it. However, his or her perception of what consists of “here” and “now” is surely unique. Just imagine — while we ordinary folks have yesterday and today, their tomorrow has already happened and is available for historical study.

Perhaps, to borrow a relatively modern concept, a “whole historian” is rather like a Time Lord. But his or her goal is not to go for adventures. Instead, he or she navigates through time in order to research the interconnecting relationship of certain individuals, locations and events throughout the “whole history” — a bit like going back and forth through a huge set of encyclopaedia in which anything and everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is recorded.

Imagine a version of Audrey Niffenegger’s Henry DeTamble who is more in control of time traveling. Or, in this case, his wife Clare Anne Abshire is more likely to become a “whole historian” who studies Henry’s “whole history” and its impact on other individuals and events. Fan-fiction, anybody?


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