We're right in the middle of a craze for inserting real-life historical figures into science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes they are major characters, and sometimes they wander around in the background, occasionally giving famous speeches. But a little historical referencing goes a long way. Here are ten historical figures we'd be happy to leave dead and buried.
1. Nikola Tesla
Look, we love this crazy death ray-making guy as much as you do, but can we please lay off the steampunk remixes of the guy? We swooned over David Bowie as Tesla in The Prestige, but at the same time we wouldn't have missed him. Especially after all his other getting-pretty-cliched appearances, the one in Jeff Smith's otherwise awesome comic RASL. His name is now synonymous with green luxury cars, and it's all too much. There were other scientists who were doing awesome shit with physics and electricity at the turn of the century — Marie Curie, anyone? — and we could use a little more variety in our balanced mad scientist breakfast.
2. Leonardo Da Vinci
He's got his own television series where he's fighting demons of the Renaissance netherworld; he apparently left some kind of code behind that Dan Brown has been mining for execrable bestsellers; and he's already done the rounds of historical figure scifi television, appearing on Doctor Who, the original Star Trek series, and Futurama. Medical science thanks Da Vinci for those naked pictures he drew, but he wasn't the only scientist who lived during the Renaissance. Next time you're looking for an origin story for your weird-ass contraption, why not say it came from the celebrated journals of Samuel Pepys instead of Da Vinci's notes?
3. Joan of Arc
Like Tesla, Joan of Arc is a fascinating figure and we fully understand why so many scifi and fantasy creators want to put her in their work. She had visions; she dressed as a man and led French troops to war; and she was just generally a total medieval badass. But! After appearing in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure as a "babe," and as one corner of a love triangle in the awesome Clone High, revisionist version of Joan began to wear out her welcome. She was a warrior, not a freakin' historical hottie.
At least she gets to show her fighter side in the many, many games where she's appeared as a major and minor character, including Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, Civilization III, Jeanne D'Arc, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War, and Assassin's Creed II. If her role in all those games didn't make you grow weary, I'm not sure what to say. Hey people, Joan of Arc isn't the only great woman in history — nor is she the only female warrior. Either invent your own fictional medieval badass, or tell the story of someone else.
4. Charles Dickens
Here's my theory: most people have read only one writer published during the nineteenth century, and it was probably Charles Dickens. Worse, the one thing they read by Dickens was probably "A Christmas Carol," which is why Dickens always shows up in Christmas specials or stories about England in winter. His stories (and character) have been in Doctor Who more than once of course, but he's also shown up in short stories by Ray Bradbury and Larry Niven — as well as being referenced a lot on Star Trek. If you're looking for a literary figure to reference in your scifi, maybe reach a little further than the one dude whose work you read in high school?
5. Queen Victoria
So it was fun when Queen Victoria was a giant newt in Paul Di Filipo's novella "Victoria." But then she showed up to fight werewolves in Doctor Who (yes, the inevitable Doctor Who appearance that pretty much every notable historical figure makes). And that was kind of the last straw. Before that, this ultimate steampunk queen graced too many movies and TV series to mention, and even makes a crucial appearance in Alan Moore's comic From Hell. I know it's a lot to ask, but maybe we can find some other queen to obsess about?
6. William Shakespeare
Like Dickens, Shakespeare is one of those writers who represents his era — the Renaissance — because most people have never read any other writers from that time. Plus, there's the ruffly collar! And all the conspiracy theories about who he might really have been! He's a character in The Sandman comics, a friendly father figure to a time-traveling kid in a Susan Cooper novel, the victim of a physicist's experiments in an Isaac Asimov story, and funny reference in a Harry Turtledove story (a pretty clever one, where the time-traveling bard goes to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). But the main problem with the overuse of Shakespeare is the way his plays show up as "examples of great culture" in everything from Star Trek to The Twilight Zone. It's not that Shakespeare can't be cool. He's just way overused.
7. Mark Twain
It was bad enough when he showed up on Star Trek: TNG, hanging out with Guinan. The guy had already been around the scifi block. Sam Clemens (Twain's real name) is a major character in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series, as well as in the work of Robert Heinlein. And of course he teams up with Nikola Tesla in The Five Fists of Science! He's sort of like the American version of Charles Dickens — likely, he's the only nineteenth century author many people have read, and therefore he shows up way too often. The nineteenth century was the heyday of the novel, though, so surely we can find some other American writers to pick on! I am seriously ready for Harriet Beecher Stowe to show up in an episode of Sleepy Hollow, just so Ichabod Crane can school her about what happened to the slaves while she was gone. Or maybe we can get a gay romance time travel story about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville?
8. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Enough said.
9. Richard Nixon
He's done Doctor Who and he's a major talking head on Futurama. We get that he's a mysterious, disturbing figure from recent history, but seriously people. If you want to pick on a scary American president, how about Andrew Jackson for a change?
10. Napoleon Bonaparte
He's in Bill and Ted and Time Bandits. He's a major figure in all of Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels — in fact, if you want to signal that you're writing an alternate history novel, just throw Napoleon in there. Like Joan of Arc, he's a weird French historical figure, an unlikely warrior leading an amazing army. (He even stars in a TV series with Joan — Clone High.) He's been on Robot Chicken and Blackadder. Enough already. Find another creepy dictator who isn't Hitler to strut around in your stories, OK?