Reading fiction isn’t the best way to improve your science, but it’s a darned fun way to spend an evening. Exciting, imaginative, and chronologically driven, reading fiction and specifically fantasy, is a great way to entertain the mind.
Firstly, great fantasy writing generally utilizes fantastic world-building. While I don’t claim that reading fantasy will help you remember every character from the A Song of Ice and Fire, keeping track of many different characters while reading is a mental exercise that doesn’t exhaust your mind. Moreover, worldbuilding by authors like Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss are sure to take your imagination for a spin in the Cosmere collection and Kingkiller chronicles. What I find most intriguing about these writers is that not only are they popular, but that their use of magical elements isn’t overbearing. The world-building seems to be just right, where the protagonists of the novels don’t seem to use contrived magical systems, catered to their success, but rather that the systems in place are endemic to the population as a whole, but requires study and creativity to use. In the same way, science aims to describe systems and models to individuals created from many individual, dynamic parts and like fantasy writing writ small, scientific writing demands that the elements of the system be introduced simply, chronologically, and understandably.
Secondly, fantasy writing done correctly fills in loop-holes. Not all fantasy writing is created equal – just like not all scientific writing is done well. The ability to scrutinize writing, to discern good writing from the poor, starts with identifying good writing in genres that you personally enjoy. Although the genre of fantasy appeals only to a small niche, reading for good writing is something that is universally appealing – the ability to tell a great story is one that any person can appreciate, especially when the content is sometimes dry, like the description of protein pathways. Good science, like good fantasy writing, aims to fill in the loopholes, to conclusively argue a point with multiple experiments, resolving the reader’s questions and prophylactically addressing concerns that the reader might have. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series does a wonderful job of this and I highly recommend the read if you’re interested in fantasy.
Lastly, fantasy is an escape. It doesn’t feel like your brain is working out, metaphorically pumping those irons, but fantasy stimulates the imagination, forcing the mind to imagine different worlds. As a young kid, it always felt mischievous to read the Inheritance trilogy under the bedcovers instead of studying, but little did I know that the degree of captivation I had following Eragon’s story through Alagaesia would power me through my junior year of college, when I plopped back home, exhausted from a long day of classes and work. Fantasy is an escape that you can always turn to and when you do long hours of science, sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than just escaping – independent of wherever you are, fantasy has a place for you to seek solace.
This somewhat consolidates my thoughts on why it’s fun to read fantasy. It doesn’t really perfectly address why reading fantasy does help your science, but I imagine that reading in general, regardless of genre tends to do so. If you’re looking for recommendations, I highly recommend the Kingkiller chronicles and the Mistborn series for engaging reads and look forward to hearing of your adventures in epic fantasy!