Hard SF DOES NOT EXIST

Monday , 27, February 2017 122 Comments

“Hard” Science Fiction DOES NOT EXIST. It’s a delusion. A phantasm. A phantasmagorical obsession of those who understand neither science nor fiction.

It’s a lie Hard SF writers and audiences mutually agreed to, the original “consensual hallucination”.

Let’s start with something easy: fast interstellar travel. It’s physically impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. Period. Physics is very clear on this subject. There is no known scientific principle which would allow one to violate Relativity. Traveling faster than light always involves time travel to the past, which violates causality, which the physical laws of the universe absolutely forbid.

Any SF story which involves faster-than-light starships or communication is absolute drivel, scientifically speaking. You may as well be writing about inch-high fairies summoning ghosts in Narnia—it’s just as scientifically accurate.

Galactic Empires? Hokum. Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before? Bunk. Hyper-jumping into a system to launch a planetary assault on a just-discovered Rebel Alliance base? Utter tosh and rubbish.

Fast interstellar travel is a scientific impossibility. Also impossible: teleportation (violates the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle), time travel (violates causality), and pretty much every other fun and interesting idea that SF writers have celebrated since the dawn of the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre. Science hates fun.

Science also hates scientific accuracy in stories. Science is an ever-evolving field and while certain things are constant—like Newton’s Law of Gravity—new discoveries are upending stuff all the time. Like Newton’s Law of Gravity, which proved inadequate to the task of calculating the orbit of Mercury. It took Einsteinian Relativity to let us do that.

Science changes constantly, and today’s rigidly scientifically accurate Hard SF masterpiece can, in one day, be relegated to the dust bin with all the other stories who got the science wrong. It’s happened.

I’m not saying scientific accuracy is a bad thing, but rather that minute and pedantic adherence to current scientific knowledge isn’t necessary for a good Science Fiction story. Audiences don’t want realism, and they don’t want accuracy. They want a good story, well told, with a veneer of verisimilitude: a story that is believable enough to believe in, whether it’s actually scientifically accurate or not.

This is so much the case, that even Hard SF cultists will gladly accept something that is scientifically impossible—like fast interstellar travel—in the interest of a good story. When it comes to great storytelling, even Hard SF hardcases wink at violations of science. All you have to do is give them a good enough excuse and they’ll happily accept whatever it is you’re peddling, whether it really makes scientific sense or not.

Scientific or technical accuracy should never be allowed to wreck a good tale. Stories which elevate these elements above all others may appeal to a narrow slice of the audience, but they generally repel the mainstream. Such stories should never have become the dominant or sole form of Science Fiction, and the effort to make them such coincided with the collapse in sales of SF, and its relegation to a ghetto genre, fit only for adolescents and nerdy adults.

Hard SF absolutism wrecked SF. Which is a damn shame, because Hard Science Fiction DOES NOT EXIST.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

122 Comments
  • NARoberts says:

    This is one reason I have so much admiration for Cowboy Bebop. It is the only (relatively recent) thing I can think of at the moment that is so willing to completely ignore realism in order to tell its story (every planet being inhabitable a la Barsoom). I am horribly ignorant of science, but I am pretty sure we already knew that was impossible in ’98. So why shouldn’t we today just ignore all this “selective-accuracy” of the “hard” SF and write about the Samurai of Jupiter or whatever we please.

    • Fronzel says:

      There was some somewhat firmer sci-fi in the background that just never came up in the scripts; all those moons are intended to have been terraformed I believe and they get their nice bright sunshine from modified versions of the FTL gates the spaceships use to get around quickly. Those gates themselves and the apparent Earth-scale gravity everywhere are the only glaring handwaves.

      • NARoberts says:

        Hmmm…I was not aware of this at all, but I think my point stands. As far as the audience was concerned, there was no “realistic” explanation. Yet no one seemed to care, as the reception of the show attests. The show is valued for its quality, not for its realism.

  • Andy says:

    “The science is bad” is the most useless criticism I can recall encountering yet I see it all the time in reading reviews of sci-fi. It tells me nothing of how well-written the story is.

  • S1AL says:

    In the 1900’s, nothing could escape a hole. In the 1800’s, man could never fly. In the 1300’s, the moon was a perfect sphere. And so on. The notion that our current scientific understanding is perfect is itself hokum and bunk. It strikes me as likely that mankind could eventually learn to “game” the laws of physics the same way we gamed instantaneous lift.

    Hard SF is not differentiated by strict adherence to known laws of physics. It is characterized by adherence to scientific principles – i.e. the provision of a hypothetical method by which something might be achieved.

  • S1AL says:

    *Correction: Black hole

  • deuce says:

    “Scientific accuracy” in a story, for me, is like an excellent stereo in a car or large breasts on a woman: If everything else is optimal, it’s a bonus, but that one feature will NOT seal the deal.

    I’ve owned several great cars with crappy stereos and I could reread GODS OF MARS tomorrow, no problem.

    The PulpRev is coming.

  • Chris L says:

    Heinlein’s boy scouts on Venus story (A Tenderfoot In Space) loses none of it’s charm just because we know the real place is closer to Hades than the swamp of 50’s science fiction. The Venus of Heinlein is a fictional place you can’t send a billion dollar probe to. Like every other destination in SF, it can only be explored through the imagination.

    • deuce says:

      Totally agree. Some of those who squeal about the “inaccuracy” will at the same time proclaim that the basic concept of Locke’s “Blank Slate” is absolutely valid, despite what the last two decades of research has shown us. “Selective accuracy” , indeed.

    • NARoberts says:

      Exactly. And these settings also lose none of their VALUE just because they are imaginary. Anyone who has ever tried to read the modern Pink Slime (I never have) could tell us if there is any VALUE to be found in putting those “stories” into our brains. What do we GET out of them?

  • Nathan says:

    “Scientific or technical accuracy should never be allowed to wreck a good tale. Stories which elevate these elements above all others may appeal to a narrow slice of the audience, but they generally repel the mainstream. Such stories should never have become the dominant or sole form of Science Fiction, and the effort to make them such coincided with the collapse in sales of SF, and its relegation to a ghetto genre, fit only for adolescents and nerdy adults.”

    If you’re looking to sell only to the descendants of the New York science fiction clubs, stay the course. But just remember how many science fictions fan screaming from the sort of scientific absolutism of Astounding and her kin. Germnay, France, Britian, Japan, California, midwest America…

    This isn’t to say that the rest of the world that isn’t New York doesn’t produce some crunchy hard SF. It just rejects New York’s characteristic blending of science fact with literary realism, complete with a double-helping of that realism’s snobbish “nothing else is true literature”.

  • Frisky says:

    Maybe the definition of HardSF -because it implies scientific accuracy and therefore some kind of intellectual status- has been watered down, but I always assumed this is known as there are authors in that genre who dismiss FTL, teleportation, and instantaneous communication.

    I also suspect you are aiming at a wrong target here. HardSF is NOT the genre that the establishment likes to portray as “true” SF. The literati is made of people who studied humanities and critical theory; they wouldn’t recognize a story with accurate science even if it spat them in the face.

    Still, Hard-SF is probably more a continuous or some kind of “ideal” than a discrete object.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Which establishment?

      • Frisky says:

        I actually spent a lot of time thinking if that word (establishment) was the correct one. Probably wasn’t.

        I assumed, in light of previous and other posts here at CH, that you were arguing that SF has suffered from adherence to scientific realism and those who try to push message fiction (I agree with the second, but not so much with the first,) as I have noted that both are used somewhat interchangeable, and the Campbellian/Golden Age label is also used quite a lot. I may have assumed too much, though.

        Although sometimes message and science overlap, truly HARD SF is kind of a niche, and from their point of view, THEY are the minority nobody listens to. People who want to push an agenda usually ignore those scientific restrictions (or bend them.) I mean, Campbell (who has been criticized here quite a lot) popularized psionics, the space opera genre, and endorsed all sort of unscientific bullshit:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_drive#Early_publicity

        Sometimes there is a bestseller like The Martian, but I have noticed that many writers of hard science fiction are self-published and have a small following. Hence my comment of “wrong target.”

        I agree with your first two paragraphs, though, as I believe a lot of what passes for “scientifically accurate” science fiction isn’t really accurate. It’s more like a pretense, a disguise even. My point, however, is that Hard SF writers do not consider all those things (FTL et al.) Hard SF in the first place.

        • Jasyn Jones says:

          The very EXISTENCE of the Hard->Soft SF spectrum is a mistake. It binds imaginations and wrecks good stories.

          It’s false and artificial, and was imposed for strategic reasons, not because it’s the best way (or even a good way) to analyze F&SF stories, or to judge their relative merits.

          http://www.castaliahouse.com/what-is-greatest-in-storytelling/

        • Nathan says:

          Psionics and most of the rest of the weird came into the picture after Campbell tried putting the brakes on many of the trends that he helped usher in.

          However, the issue of scientific realism is still one plaguing the audience to this day. While you are correct that the acceptance of softer sff is greater than it was in the past, you can still spark a nice flame war on English sites online by calling Star War science fiction instead of science fantasy or space opera. Other countries that have discarded the Futurian-Campbellian-American ideas of science fiction don’t understand what the fight is about.

          • Chris L says:

            The whole star trek versus star wars thing is kind of stupid. I admit to starting out as a Trek partisan who looked down on star wars, but see that as a mistake. Star Wars is as much SF as Trek because both are using magic pretending to be technology. The Enterprise warp drive is exactly the same distance from reality as the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive.

  • JimFear138 says:

    100% agreement from me. The stories about Venus being a jungle full of dinosaurs and lizardmen are WAY more fun than being scientifically accurate about Venus. Holding fast to a chimerical thing like science will ensure that your story will become a bullshit anachronism within two generations, probably less. And scientific realism is the antithesis and killer of fun and wonder in fiction.

  • L Jagi Lamplighter says:

    >Let’s start with something easy: fast interstellar travel. It’s physically impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. Period.

    1) This is not at all true. Faster than light travel is merely impossible–according to Einstein’s theories. Which are theories. There are quite a few workarounds or alternates that could work.

    but that aside…

    2) Which is why John writes all his space stories with no faster than light speed and things have at glacial speeds, literally.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      From what I understand of current physics, as explained to me, all faster than light travel is also time travel. That is, every time you’d travel faster than light speed, you’d also travel back in time.

      Since this violates causality, FTL travel is impossible.

  • deuce says:

    “I tend to characterize fiction by its philosophical basis, and so I think of what is usually called “Hard SF” as “Materialistic Fantasy”. That is to say the acceptable tropes in Hard SF–faster than light travel, self-aware machines, handheld laser weapons, human cloning, and so on–are no more plausible or less fantastic than wizards and dragons. It is a fantasy of a particular metaphysic, the clockwork universe of determinists.”

    — Misha Burnett

  • Rod Walker says:

    What is interesting is that the terms and even the mental models to predict future science do not exist until they have been invented.

    A good example of this is the Star Trek Next Generation episode “Best Of Both Worlds”. In the end, the protagonists defeat the Borg by accessing their group mind and implanting a command to sleep.

    Basically, they hacked the Borg. Except at no point did the show use the word “hacked” because the term was not yet in widespread usage. So the show had to use clunkier phrasing like “neural pathways” and “subcommands” and so forth because the concept of hacking an opponent’s computer network as part of information warfare, instantly recognizable in the 21st century, did not yet fully exist.

    So it is very difficult to have scientifically accurate SF because the technology of the future may very well involve ideas and concepts that simply don’t exist yet.

  • […] A very interesting post at the Castalia House blog about whether or not it is possible for hard science fiction to be accurate. Central quote: […]

  • instasetting says:

    Read a how to write book which did an extrapolation showing how new theory is discovered, and then over the next few decades employed. It showed cycles of discovery and development on a multidecade scale.

    Without any stunning advances, in 400?? years, you’d have 50% magic ….totally new science. Lot of space for brand new science based on currently undiscovered principles.

  • deuce says:

    What does Chuck Tingle have to say about the Buds of Hard SF?

  • Rigel Kent says:

    Time travel is possible though. More than that it is happening. You, me and everyone else in the universe are time traveling right now!

    You’re also similarly wrong about the other things you mentioned. This is easily the weakest (not to mention most absurd) criticism the Pulp Revolution has launched against Hard SF so far.

    You guys have made many excellent points and have done a wonderful job making the case for the greatness of Pulp and the wrongs done against it by the Futurians and others of that lot. This one is just a misfire.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Again, according to the current understanding of physics, you cannot travel backwards in time. Period. Causality only works in one direction.

      Talking about “traveling forwards in time” as if it were the same as traveling backwards in time is silly, and you know it. It’s not the same thing.

      Also, I note that you have ignored my core assertion, which implies you have no answer for it.

      Last, complaining about the scientific accuracy of a post which asserts that pedantic scientific accuracy is impossible is an own goal.

      • Rigel Kent says:

        Your core assertion is silly. Of course Hard SF exists and you know it does. Or else what have you and the Pulp Revolution been revolting against?

        Even if your criticisms were valid, which they’re not,(and I refer only to the criticisms in this post as you’ve made valid ones in other posts) all that would do is limit the Hard SF field to stories that don’t contain those concepts. Which would be significantly smaller, but it would still exist.

        My point about time travel was to highlight the silliness of your core assertion.

        I’m not complaining about scientific accuracy, I’m complaining about you using scientific accuracy as a valid form of criticism.

        There is far more to say about all of this, but this comment is already ludicrously long so I will leave it at that.

        • Nathan says:

          “Or else what have you and the Pulp Revolution been revolting against?”

          What are we rebelling against? Well, what do you got?

          Seriously, there’s plenty, from message fic to literary realism to mundane fic to slavish scientific accuracy pushing deserving stories out of science fiction into space opera and space western because they aren’t real sci-fi. Basically, against the tastes of a small group of hardcores that took over American science fiction by insisting on scientific accuracy and actively suppressing any stories that lack it.

        • Hooc Ott says:

          “silly”

          “silliness”

          You are a colonialism apologist and your waifu is shit.

          • Rigel Kent says:

            I am proud to be a descendant of colonials, so if you have a problem with colonialism you can shove it.

            It is logically impossible for my waifu to be “shit” since I have no waifu.

            Jasyn brought silly into this discussion, I was simply responding in kind.

        • I’ll agree that Hard SF exists, but I think that what is considered “Hard” and “Soft” is arbitrary. If something is currently impossible, then it is a fantasy element. Whether something is or is not “plausible” depends entirely on your philosophical outlook.

          None of us know what will be invented next week, and Science Fiction authors in particular have a poor track record for predicting future technological innovations. Was the real year 2001 much like the film “2001”? Not that I recall.

          I have no objection to authors who make the fantastic elements in their stories big machines. What I object to is when they claim that those big machines aren’t fantasy.

          • Rigel Kent says:

            I read an anthology a long time ago (but in a pretty close galaxy) where in one of the introductions the author was speaking sneeringly about space westerns and how it wasn’t real SF.

            I remember thinking two things. First, a space western sounds cool. Second, what the hell is wrong with a space western you dick.

            I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of Hard SF over the years, but I’ve never been a fan of the attitude some of it’s adherents have that Hard SF is the only “true” SF. That’s bull, plain and simple.

          • Anthony says:

            “Firefly” is not the only but is the most famous space western.

          • deuce says:

            Howard Chaykin definitely helped pioneer the idea (in the comics realm) back in the ’70s with “Monark Starstalker”, which also had noir elements. Very cool.

        • Alex says:

          “Or else what have you and the Pulp Revolution been revolting against?”

          Cat Pictures Please, Totalled, and Tuesdays With Molakesh, but that’s just me.

          • Anthony says:

            What are your issues with “Totaled” and “Tuesdays with Molakesh”? I found both stories excellent.

          • Alex says:

            Totaled had very little payoff given its potential, and something about Tuesdays With Molakesh just rubbed me the wrong way – too saccharine; had a Chicken Soup for the Soul vibe going on.

          • Anthony says:

            Well, “Tuesdays” was a parody of those types of stories, which is really why I thought it worked pretty well.

          • Alex says:

            I also guess I expected more of a direct parody of Tuesdays with Morrie given the title.

  • Scott Cole says:

    Misha Burnett calls it Hard SF “Materialistic Fantasy” which I find apt.

    Agree with your premise, a good tale is what’s important

  • Anthony says:

    Sorry Jasyn, I’m going to have to hold with the dissenters. Of course hard sci-fi exists; you say that judging on a hard to soft SF spectrum is a mistake, but – and I say this with the utmost respect – who are you to tell ME what criteria I want to see in my stories?

    Some people prefer harder sci-fi; “The Martian” would not be as good if Andy Weir didn’t take a heck of a lot of time getting the technical details right. That some stuff – like water on Mars – ended up invalidating certain things is quite besides the point, and the point is that the hardness of the science – the effort at making what happened in the book at least look and feel as if it could really happen somewhere – was extremely important to the book.

    And I agree with you that storytelling is more important! So would Andy Weir, who made the scene at the beginning that cut off Mark from the rest of the crew a dust storm even though dust storms of that magnitude are impossible on Mars; he did it because such a storm fit his theme of man vs. nature better.

    But to pretend the science in his story was as soft as “A Princess of Mars”, and that this didn’t contribute to a completely different storytelling experience that some people might find more or less to their taste, is just ridiculous.

    • Rigel Kent says:

      I kind of want to erase my comment now and just 2nd yours because you make your point far better than I did mine.

      Since I can’t do that I’ll just say well done.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      >But to pretend the science in his story was as soft as “A Princess of Mars”

      I never said this, or anything like it, and it’s kind of weird people think I’m claiming accuracy doesn’t exist. OF COURSE scientific accuracy exists.

      BUT…

      1 — Minute and pedantic adherence to current scientific knowledge isn’t necessary for a good Science Fiction story. A story can be moving, insightful, or entertaining with it or without it.

      2 — Scientific accuracy is no more important than technical accuracy, historical accuracy, biological accuracy, medical accuracy, geographic accuracy, firearms accuracy, computer science accuracy, or accuracy in horses. In fact, most of the time scientific accuracy is far LESS important than these, especially in the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre.

      “Accurate science” absolutism wrecks stories and and it wrecked the F&SF genre.

      • Anthony says:

        I never said this, or anything like it

        You said that hard sci-fi literally didn’t exist. As such, what that means is – by definition – the science in “A Princess of Mars” and “The Martian” are just as soft as each other, since hard doesn’t exist on the other end of a spectrum you consider harmful.

        As for the second portion of your comment – it’s all great. It also has nothing to do with the frankly ridiculous claim – I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to say this – that hard sci-fi doesn’t exist.

        You attached a provocative title to make an argument unrelated to it. I know part of the point here is that you’re trying to stir the pot but this is over the top. You’re just flat-out wrong.

        • Jasyn Jones says:

          “Hard SF” and “scientific accuracy” are not the same thing.

          The first is an artificial (and imaginary) pseudo-genre of stories, the second a relative attribute that can and does apply to any story, no matter the genre. Technothrillers, as an example, or Westerns.

          They’re not the same thing.

          • Anthony says:

            The first is an artificial (and imaginary)

            You’re going to have to make that case. So far you haven’t. You made an unrelated case for unrelated things, and then also said “By the way, hard sci-fi doesn’t exist”.

            I’m just not seeing this one.

        • Gaiseric says:

          No, he used a rhetorical flourish that went over your head, apparently. Stop being pedantic, and the post makes a lot more sense.

          Of course, if you can’t stop being pedantic, the post makes even MORE sense in a way, since that’s actually pretty much what he’s complaining about.

          • Anthony says:

            No, he used a rhetorical flourish that went over your head, apparently.

            Please, let Jasyn confirm that it was merely a pot-stirring rhetorical flourish. I don’t think he believes that, though.

            For a rhetorical flourish, he is quite insistent on this point, and even continues to defend it in his comments section. So your theory doesn’t seem to pass muster.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            A thing can be phrased as a rhetorical flourish, whilst also being true.

            The two are not mutually exclusive.

          • Anthony says:

            Then a person cannot counter my point by claiming I am not attempting to rebut a real thing, and it is disingenuous to claim that you can.

            Either you believe there is such a thing as hard SF, or you don’t. If you do, what are we talking about?

            If you don’t, then the discussion is valid.

      • Anthony says:

        To put my point another way:

        1 — Minute and pedantic adherence to current scientific knowledge isn’t necessary for a good Science Fiction story. A story can be moving, insightful, or entertaining with it or without it.

        2 — Scientific accuracy is no more important than technical accuracy, historical accuracy, biological accuracy, medical accuracy, geographic accuracy, firearms accuracy, computer science accuracy, or accuracy in horses. In fact, most of the time scientific accuracy is far LESS important than these, especially in the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre.

        “Accurate science” absolutism wrecks stories and and it wrecked the F&SF genre.

        Well, so what? What does this have to do with the claim that hard sci-fi doesn’t exist?

        • NARoberts says:

          I believe what he is saying is that many people consider “accurate” science a prerequisite to their stories, and as such they scoff at things like Barsoom, because they are “not accurate” or “impossible” while they themselves are quite willing to use the implausible or impossible in their own stories, merely re-contextualized into a more mundane setting, or operating in a more mundane way, or explained away with technobabble. They’ve just presented their unrealistic element in a more boring way, and yet they claim that they are superior to the fantastical stories because they are “accurate” and “real.” They are taking credit for air-tight science they mostly don’t attempt–and couldn’t be sure of anyway, because science is always evolving and very little will ever be truly air-tight. So this standard that they claim to adhere to–not only do they not, but it would be almost impossible for anyone to do so. Hence the idea that is doesn’t really exist.

          Or at least that is my take from this whole discussion.

          • Anthony says:

            Well, MY big point here is that while those are all fine points, none of them lead to the conclusion ” And thus, there is no such thing as hard sci-fi”. Point B is missing in the A to C chain.

            And when you make that your big provocative attention grabber, there should be more than just defenses of other perfectly valid arguments.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            The entire post is about why the supposed attributes of the “Hard SF” pseudo-genre are, in fact, impossible to qualify for—and nobody seriously tries. (As NARoberts said.)

            Since no story can meet the ostensible criteria for the pseudo-genre, it doesn’t exist, except as a lie authors and readers tell each other. (The term I originally used was “consensual hallucination”.)

            The “Hard SF” pseudo-genre does not exist; it’s a nonsense category that is both unnecessary and harmful.

          • Anthony says:

            Good discussion. I’m not entirely sold yet but it’s late here and I’ll think it over before responding more.

          • Anthony says:

            Note that in On Fairy Stories, Tolkien DOES NOT make these sorts of distinctions.

            That’s hardly relevant; he certainly works very hard to make other distinctions; he is very clear, for instance, that he does NOT consider talking animal stories fantasies, for example. It’s not as if he wasn’t willing to play that particular game.

        • deuce says:

          Too much is made of how “unscientific” Barsoom is. What it WAS, at the time Burroughs wrote “Princess”, was at least plausible science OF THAT TIME. Plenty has been written about the state-of-the-art at that time and how Burroughs researched it.

          Was the science “hard”? Super “hard”? Chuck Tingle “hard”? It was plausible at the time and it’s bulls**t to keep throwing it out there to show the opposite example of “hard”.

          Burroughs main “hard” science violation was Carter’s transmigration to Mars. Exactly how else was JC to get to Mars in 1890 or whatever? By what “hard” scientific means was that to be accomplished? Should Ed have just tossed the manuscript in the stove and rewrote it as “A Seamstress of Manitoba”?

          I’m sure Asimov wished exactly that had happened while he wanked off over Wells or whoever.

          SMH.

          • Anthony says:

            I honestly don’t care. That wasn’t a criticism of Barsoom.

          • Anthony says:

            Use “A Wrinkle in Time” (one of my favorite books) if it makes you feel better.

          • Alex says:

            “Now I had been a devotee of imaginative fiction for many years, and had often thought of turning my hand to writing it. I prided myself on having a better than usual imagination; yet, I did not think of the implications of the theory of telepathy when Dr. Morgan told me that the man who built the thought-projector was on Mars. While I deferred to no one in my fondness for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories of John Carter and others on Barsoom, I was well aware of the fact that what we knew of the planet Mars made his wonderful civilization on that planet quite impossible. I said as much, going into facts and figures.

            “Of course, we won’t really know for sure about the exact conditions there unless we land on Mars. But still we know enough to make Burroughs’s Mars probability zero,” I concluded.

            Dr. Morgan nodded. “Entirely correct,” he said. “There is no such civilization on Mars.”

            He then explained his own incredulity when his machine picked up the thoughts of a man who identified himself as a human being— one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. But Lal Vak was no less incredulous when Dr. Morgan identified himself as a human being and scientist of Earth. For Lal Vak was certain that there could be no human civilization on Earth, and cited facts and figures to prove it.” – Otis Adelbert Kline, The Prince of Peril, 1930.

        • deuce says:

          Then I’ll ask this question(s):

          At what point does a “Hard” SF story (as certified by the Council of Hard SF Buds or whatever) become “not-Hard”? Does it ever drop down in “hardness”? Or does it maintain that “hardness” in perpetuity?

          Because if a “Hard” SF story can lose its status with the passage of time and new discoveries, what was the point? What, exactly, was the goal the writer was trying to achieve? The whole thing seems quite ephemeral, if not quixotic.

          • Jeffro says:

            Smells like any other bit of fake literary criticism. It doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to cause people to look down on earlier, more Christian/Western/Masculine works. That’s the whole point.

            Note that in On Fairy Stories, Tolkien DOES NOT make these sorts of distinctions. It’s not natural or inevitable. But it certainly was useful to people looking to subvert the entire field.

          • Anthony says:

            This was put in the wrong spot, so I’ll try here:

            Tolkien never did discuss this particular distinction, but it is wrong to say that he didn’t play the distinction game; he is absolutely insistent – insistent, I say! – that talking animal stories are not, not, NOT fairy tales.

            That he didn’t discuss soft and hard sci-fi is hardly relevant.

        • NARoberts says:

          I think Jules Verne is the prime example of what is being discussed here. In the introduction to one of his books (I forget which) the writer points out an irony: Jules Verne made fun of H.G. Wells’ moon landing story, because of his “unrealistic” floating metal spaceship. Verne spent HIS moon landing story on nothing but the logistics of the flight, in fact the book ended with the takeoff. The actual flight had to happen in the sequel. Verne used all the real science…to fire his ship at the moon from a giant cannon. This is the man who thought his science better than Wells’.

  • Keith West says:

    My personal definition of Hard SF is science fiction in which there is an effort made to keep the scientific inaccuracies to a minimum while still telling a compelling story. That’s not to say there aren’t things in it that aren’t possible based on known science when the story was written. FTL being the most prominent but not the only example. Different writers will use different “inaccuracies” and “impossibilities”. Greg Benford comes to mind as a writer who doesn’t use FTL; Larry Niven, another writer generally considered a hard SF writer, will use hyperspace. And many of the writers who use elements which violate the current state of scientific knowledge will at least strive give their violations the veneer of plausibility. That’s my definition of hard SF. YMMV.

    And most honest science fiction writers will quickly admit that science in a story can become dated before a story is ever published. It’s not something that will necessarily kill a story for me. I think the thing that’s most important is the author establishes a suspension of disbelief and is able to maintain until the last line. This is where personal taste and preference come in. What one reader doesn’t notice will throw another reader completely out of the story. Personally, I find characters who don’t act like real people to be much more of a problem in fiction than poor science, and I say that as a person with a scientific background who enjoys hard SF.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Exactly. It’s verisimilitude, not “realism” or “hard science”.

      And that’s the next level of the discussion, after people accept that: know your audience, and craft the story for them. Writing for gun nuts? Best get details about firearms right. And so forth.

    • B&N says:

      “This is where personal taste and preference come in. What one reader doesn’t notice will throw another reader completely out of the story.”

      ———-
      One person’s miracle is another person’s sorcery.

  • B&N says:

    If it can happen, it’s realism.
    If it’s about to happen, it’s prophecy.
    If it could happen, it’s sci-fi.
    If it couldn’t happen, it’s fantasy.
    If it did happen, it’s history.
    If it could’ve happened, it’s religion.
    If it couldn’t’ve happened, it’s mythology.
    If you start every sentence with “if”, you’re tr0lling.

  • Andy says:

    Grammatically, any story, no matter whether it involves starships, just one starship, or anything else, IS drivel, not ‘are’ drivel. The verb should agree with the singular noun because that is the subject of the sentence. You wouldn’t write “This story are drivel.” So you don’t change the verb just because of words that qualify that noun.

    And the prefix is spelled PSEUDO, not PSUEDO.

  • Since I write stories where the scientific accuracy of the speculation is one of the selling points that the readers seek in my work (cf. THE GOLDEN AGE, COUNT TO A TRILLION), and since, in fact, my “Hard SF” stories have no faster than light drive, no time travel, and no unicorns, if Hard SF does not exist, to what term do you use to describe stories of this type?

    I mean, I also have written space operas and science fantasies (SUPERLUMINARY, NULL-A CONTINUUM) where no attention was paid to sound scientific speculation, the distinction between the two types of stories exists.

    I submit that one might as well call Hard SF by the term “Hard SF” as by any other, since it is already in use, and its definition is well known enough to make breezy statements of its nonexistence too easy to dismiss as mere rhetorical posture.

    If you want to make a point about the deliberate inclusion of sound scientific speculation into SF stories being unnecessary, you would do better by construction a sound argument to move the ball.

    Merely changing the definition of a word to mean what no one means it to mean (which is what you are doing here, by defining “Hard SF” as that which does not exist) is a flashy trick, like the cheers of a pretty cheerleader squad. Such cheers rouse team spirit, but do not actually do the work of moving the ball, if you catch my drift.

    • Anthony says:

      Exactly. That last paragraph is just a better restatement of precisely what I was about to write myself.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Whatever the merits of my post, one cannot claim its opponents lack stature.

      “[T]o what term do you use to describe stories of this type?”

      To be honest, the question is orthogonal to my point. If it were a question of merely categorizing certain stories, analogous to Cyberpunk vs Steampunk, the term would not draw my ire. But it is not.

      “Hard SF”, as a term, is part of a critical framework, one that divorced Fantasy from Science Fiction (outlawing many incredible Pulp stories) and one which privileges pedantic and minute adherence to one small facet of a story above all other potential storytelling elements, then presumes to judge the artistic merits of a work based solely on the work’s adherence to this critical frame. (I do not say you do this, as you do not. But it was done, and continues to be done.) This caused a bastardization of the great F&SF genre, and indeed is largely responsible for the disrepute it later fell into.

      The exacting and rigid compartmentalization of stories into genres and sub-genres is also something I am militating against, though it has not been a specific focus of mine on this blog, as of yet. The more F&SF writers can evade and defy the grip of strict genre definitions, the more they can defy the restrictions of the Hard->Soft SF spectrum, the more imaginative the tales they can tell.

      And yes, I defy the Hard->Soft SF spectrum, I defy its implicit value judgment of “Hard SF is the only real SF”, and I continue to insist that, no matter the scientific virtues of your mentioned works (which I do not doubt), Hard SF as a category or pseudo-genre DOES NOT EXIST. One can call a mixed assortment of washer and bolts a pile of kumquats, that does not make it so.

      In this wise, I am not merely moving the Overton Window, but smashing down the whole damn wall.

      I reject the claim that my post is mere sophistry, a cheap and tawdry rhetorical trick. Though framed in melodramatic and bombastic language—because DADDY WARPIG—the logic and coherency of my position is sound and evident.

      In short, I defy your claims, sir. I defy your reasoning and I defy your conclusions. (With respect, of course.)

      • Anthony says:

        I reject the claim that my post is mere sophistry, a cheap and tawdry rhetorical trick.

        In all seriousness, I am quite glad to hear that, since somebody tried to rebut a criticism of mine earlier by saying you were merely using a “rhetorical flourish”.

        At least I know to ignore such comments as mistaken.

        • Jasyn Jones says:

          OF COURSE I use rhetorical flourishes. Warpigs gotta Warpig. It adds spice to what would otherwise be a dry and boring discourse.

          But the argument is sound, and is not based on emotion, but rather on rigid and evident logic.

          • Anthony says:

            I know you do! He tried to claim that the claim itself was a rhetorical flourish.

          • Gaiseric says:

            My point was “stop being pedantic.” Of course stories exist that exhibit the traits that we normally associate with the label Hard SF. You were allowing yourself to be drawn into an absurdity rather than looking at what the whole point is; i.e., that the conceit of Hard SF is itself a flawed one.

            Geez. I feel like a comedian on the stage trying to explain the punchline to a glassy-eyed audience. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Don’t sperg on labels and definitions and try to imagine this discussion in a big picture context and it makes perfect sense.

            See, now you’re getting hung up on my use of the word “rhetorical flourish.” If you’re going to continually try to parse the discussion down to warring dictionary look-ups, then it’s… well, it’s not going to be a very fun discussion to have.

          • Anthony says:

            My point was “stop being pedantic.”

            Oh, stop. If Jasyn didn’t mean “There is no such thing as hard SF”, then he shouldn’t have said it.

            Don’t blame me for contesting with *the title of the post* as well as a claim he repeats throughout. If he wants to be provocative, then he can’t complain if people are contesting the provocative claim.

      • ” Hard SF”, as a term, is part of a critical framework, one that divorced Fantasy from Science Fiction (outlawing many incredible Pulp stories) and one which privileges pedantic and minute adherence to one small facet of a story above all other potential storytelling elements”

        If there is some privilege involved in hard vs soft SF, aside from the tastes of the readers, I am unaware of it.

        The statement that scientific accuracy does not necessarily make for a good story is true but trivial. The same could be said about any story element.

        All stories are illusions. What element must be present is dictated by the reader’s expectations. If the expectations are violated, the story fails.

        There are at least two tastes or moods in science fiction.

        When one is in a Jules Verne mood, the accuracy of the make believe science is a selling point.

        When one is in the HG Wells mood, the accuracy is less important than the fun of the speculation.

        A reader in the Verne mood is jarred out of the story by ignorant or careless violation of known science. CS Lewis having his astronauts use weight belts in zero gee to hold their feet to the deck is an example.

        To blame the hard sf reader for his taste is the same as blaming a fan of Regency Romances who is thrown out of the illusion of the story by an anachronism inaccurate to the regency period.

        Now, by posing the assertion that readers who like hard sf are wrong, you yourself risk becoming the very inquisitor of wrongfun to whom you object.

        The reason why the hard/soft distinction exists is because Wells readers are not thrown out of the story by noises in outer space, banked turns in a vaccuum, and visible laser beams outside an atmosphere. But Verne readers are, because these are tyro mistakes.

        By posing the objection that hard sf is not the only form of sf, or the best, you make a trivial point no one in his right mind would deny.

        I like STAR WARS. But if it were true that there was no such thing as hard sf, then I would judge all sf by the same standard as Jules Verne or Hal Clement or Andy Weir, and could not enter the illusion needed for a space opera.

        Far from killing off good soft sf, the definition of hard sf saves it.

        If you say Jules Verne type stories do no exist at all, you speak nonsense.

        You rhetorical flourish hides your point by making your argument too easy for an unsympathetic reader to dismiss.

        As an attention getter, it is counterproductive. If your pulp revolution adopts jargon to alienate your most sympathetic and ardent follower, me, and put us at odds, brother, you are not using the right jargon.

        • Gaiseric says:

          “As an attention getter, it is counterproductive. If your pulp revolution adopts jargon to alienate your most sympathetic and ardent follower, me, and put us at odds, brother, you are not using the right jargon.”

          I think this falls into the fallacy of expecting the pulp revolution to be a movement, rather than a semi-spontaneous zeitgeist. Ideas and suggestions and labels and classification schemes (or the attempted destruction of such) will form all over the place, and will in turn be dashed or eventually adopted based on their own merits.

          I think it’s not hard to suggest that the Warpig pushed the pendulum a bit too far in rejecting a label entirely based on the bad behavior of a number of its champions… but if so, then THAT idea will eventually rise above the idea that “there is no Hard SF” and be something more moderate, like “Hard SF is a marketing gimmick to appeal to a certain conceit that some customers have, which has been abused by some editors who wanted to proclaim it as the ‘One True Way’ to write science fiction for decades” then that might well win out in the end.

          Honestly, I don’t think that there’s much daylight between those two positions, but I guess maybe I feel differently about it because I’m not emotionally attached to any of the labels and I don’t particularly care what we call them as long as it’s obvious from the label what I can expect the story to be like.

          • Gaiseric says:

            I suppose the real question, to add to that, is whether or not the label Hard SF is still a good one, or if it’s too much “damaged goods” at this point due to the abuse of decades of editors and writers who promoted it as the only true science fiction.

        • Jasyn Jones says:

          John:

          > To blame the hard sf reader for his taste
          > Now, by posing the assertion that readers who like hard sf are wrong,

          I did neither of these, and indeed would not. Things like this make me think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding between us somewhere. I don’t know exactly where it lies, so I don’t know how to clear it up.

          I have become aware that many people hold ideas about “Hard SF” which I do not understand. One person asserted that Hard SF was continuity, and that to despise this term meant I opposed continuity. Others have asserted that Hard SF is scientific accuracy, therefore If I said Hard SF didn’t exist, I was saying scientific accuracy doesn’t exist.

          There may be something of this nature going on here. Either or both of us might be relying on unstated assumptions which simply do not match.

          Rather than argue the original thesis, let’s set it aside and talk about fundamental assumptions.

          1—Scientific accuracy exists. It’s a relative attribute that can and does apply to any story, no matter the genre. Technothrillers, as an example, or Westerns. It is NOT the same thing as “Hard SF”.

          It is not the only kind of accuracy that can apply to a story. There’s also technical accuracy, historical accuracy, biological accuracy, medical accuracy, geographic accuracy, firearms accuracy, computer science accuracy, melee fighting accuracy, or horsemanship accuracy. Scientific accuracy is just one part of the elements comprising a story. All of these elements can be important, none is inherently more important than any other [but see #3 below].

          2—Certain stories can have a larger amount of scientifically accurate information in them than others. Also technical accuracy, historical accuracy, medical accuracy, geographic accuracy, etc.

          3—“Realism” is a loaded term, almost always misused. More important than actual realism is verisimilitude—believability.

          Everyone has a different standard for believability. Most people are naturally more rigorous about things they know well, or think they know well. A cop would notice errors in police procedures in a novel, but might overlook inaccuracies about how computers function. As always, know your audience.

          4—One can observe counterfactuals—things which vary from reality—in every story. Sometimes these may be deliberate (a writer altering, for example, historical personalities or geography for the purposes of a story), sometimes they are done in ignorance. These counterfactuals can be scientific, geographical etc etc.

          5—Scientific counterfactuals are no more significant than any other. In fact, in the F&SF genre, they are considerably LESS significant. Deviating from reality is the entire point of this genre.

          #5 is a value judgement, with which one can disagree. But #1-4 are simply factual observations, in my mind, and anyone who disagrees with them, or doesn’t understand what I mean, will never agree with / understand the consequent assertions I made in the original post.

          Does this answer the statements you made? Of course not. It’s not intended to. It’s intended to clarify my undergirding assumptions.

        • NARoberts says:

          On Verne vs Wells: Some introductions themselves point out his scientific inaccuracies…juxtaposing impossible flora and fauna on his mysterious island…shooting his space-pod to the moon…and laughing at Wells for being too fantastical.

          So I don’t think he gets the credit that he claims he does. And I think that argument is all the original post is presenting, just on a broader scale.

  • Anthony says:

    To continue with John’s point:

    You seem to be saying that a sub-genre of science fiction that:

    – People claim to write and know what they’re writing

    – That readers have recognized for decades

    – That much ink has been spilled over developing things like spectrums for the hard and soft scale

    …Simply does not exist. We can all see it, and people can create it and we can acknowledge it as hard SF, and people can create “hard to soft” spectrums and judge works on such a scale, but somehow we’re still supposed to believe that hard SF is a thing that does not and never existed.

    I don’t buy it.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Human beings rigidly defined (and enthusiastically practiced) Marxist science, see the history of the Soviet Union. And it did not exist. See also astrology, voodoo, and Keynesian economics.

      People claim to know and practice and pedantically define many things which do not exist. It’s endemic to humanity, and the Hard->Soft SF spectrum is one such.

      Ink spilled over developing and detailing such spectrums was wasted, arguments over where a particular story was binned were pointless, and the entire exercise, in the end, did substantial harm to the genre of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

      I reject it utterly. And have supported my rejection with exact logic, which logic has itself been rejected but not disproven.

      • Anthony says:

        Human beings rigidly defined (and enthusiastically practiced) Marxist science, see the history of the Soviet Union. And it did not exist. See also astrology, voodoo, and Keynesian economics.

        All of those things absolutely did and do exist. They fail, and are harmful ideas, but they unquestionably exist.

        • Jasyn Jones says:

          Marxist Science isn’t real. The behaviors it describes do not occur in the real world. It is a false map of reality.

          This is what I mean when I say it “does not exist”.

          Keyensian economics, the same thing. Astrology, ditto.

          And so it is with Hard SF.

          • Anthony says:

            Your argument that hard SF is the same doesn’t work because people, using the spectrum you decry, have been making the distinctions you’ve been making here already; you just don’t want to call it hard or soft SF, but that’s just you redefining terms.

          • Another Bill says:

            Just because something is false does not mean it doesn’t exist. False ideas exist alongside true ideas. Actualy I would say there are many more false ideas than true ones. And ideas are real.

            Your argument seems to say that because the hard soft scale doesn’t reflect truth 100% that it can’t exist. Which I reject.

            I can use the scale to determine if the book I am considering purchasing will suit my taste. So hard sf does exist right alongside soft sf. To me they exist enough for what I need.

    • Alex says:

      That there’s a spectrum of Sci-fi hardness is actually a point in favor of the “No Hard SF” argument. On the gag Mohs scale of Sci-Fi Hardness, a higher number means more fantastical has been stripped out in favor of realism. However, if ultimate purity on a Hardness scale can only be achieved by stripping out every last bit of fancy, one ends up without the fiction part of Sci-fi. So, if in its purest, hardest sense Hard Sci-Fi could not exist without ceasing to be fiction, then Hard Sci-Fi does not exist.

      The very top of the theoretical hardness scale would be a work like Gerard O’Neill’s The High Frontier, which is a work of non-fiction that was adapted later in fictional ways (Gundam is just O’Neill + robots & space psionics), and itself failed to become a reality, rendering it, in a sense, a work of speculation, if not fiction.

      • Anthony says:

        However, if ultimate purity on a Hardness scale can only be achieved by stripping out every last bit of fancy, one ends up without the fiction part of Sci-fi.

        I don’t understand this at all. It seems pretty clear that for sci-fi to be sci-fi, it has to be fiction.

        • Alex says:

          Ergo Hard Science fiction cannot truly exist.

          Top of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: “A Shared Universe which spawned its own genre, known as “Non-Fiction”.”

          Because Hardness in SF is a comparative thing (X can be harder than Y but softer than Z), there can be no truly hard SF which is harder than the rest and still remain in the realm of fiction.

        • Alex says:

          Which isn’t to say there’s a problem with SF that aims to be “Hard” but rather with the implications of the term itself.

        • Alex says:

          My point is that the fact that at no point in the addition or reduction of fantastical unscientific elements can one say with certainty that a work has become or ceased to be Hard means that the case to argue in favor of of the meaninglessness of a term that relies on a spectrum in its definition is a valid one to make.

          It’s really a less ridiculous argument than it has been made out to be.

        • Anthony says:

          No, your point is only true if when somebody says “I prefer hard sci-fi to soft sci-fi” or “I am writing a hard sci-fi novel” we don’t know what they mean.

          But EVERYONE knows what they mean. There are specific points on the scale that we might need to point to, but if I say “The Martian is diamond hard sci-fi”, you know to expect something very technically accurate when you read it.

          We’ve gone now to pretending that the term doesn’t mean anything, when of course it does; the spectrum is useful for judging how important you consider accurate science in your story.

          Yes, other things are more important. That was never the question in the first place.

      • Anthony says:

        To say “The hardest sci-fi of all isn’t sci-fi!” is just a tautology. It doesn’t say anything for or against the existence of hard sci-fi.

        • Alex says:

          It’s a case against the defining terminology, which I’ve hopefully been able to show, is flawed.

        • Alex says:

          So, what is it about this that you don’t get?

          Do you have any examples of Hard SciFi that don’t have any instances of fantastical or scientifically impossible elements that could not be pointed out in a way by someone that could invalidate their “Hard”ness?

          • Anthony says:

            Do you have any examples of Hard SciFi that don’t have any instances of fantastical or scientifically impossible elements that could not be pointed out in a way by someone that could invalidate their “Hard”ness?

            Yes, if you deny the existence of a spectrum, there is no spectrum. I don’t do that.

          • Alex says:

            I’m not denying the existence of the spectrum. I’m saying that the very existence of the spectrum invalidates “Hard” as defining terminology applied to works within that spectrum.

          • Anthony says:

            Then you’re using hard in a different way than most people use it.

            I’m actually not sure how *I* can be more clear. Yes, if you redefine hard sci-fi to preclude hard sci-fi’s existence, hard sci-fi doesn’t exist. Granted, tons of people use it to mean specific things and everyone knows what they’re talking about when they do, but sure, if you define it away they’re all wrong.

            I think that’s wrong.

          • Alex says:

            Hard SF is “True Scotsman – The Genre”

          • Anthony says:

            This is nonsense. YOU’RE the one changing the definition – not the other way around.

            Nobody is saying that everything we want to be hard sci-fi is hard, merely that it exists. So far from what I’ve seen nobody has been able to prove its non-existence, merely that they dislike it or think their are levels of hardness – a thing nobody has ever disputed, and yet everyone’s acting like it’s some huge blow to the concept.

            Hard SF exists, and we all know it too.

          • Alex says:

            SF of varying degrees of hardness exists. I’m not denying that.

            I’m simply supplying the philosophical framework with which to argue that Hard SF does not because the notion of Hard cannot be defined in terms that do not eliminate the genre.

          • Anthony says:

            This is only if somebody is unable to make the trivial distinction that once something ceases to be fiction it is not, in fact, fiction. If one can do that, then the definition is perfectly fine.

            The more something sticks to solid scientific principles as they are known at the time of the writing, the harder the science in the story is. Once the science gets so hard it’s no longer fiction…then it’s no longer fiction. That’s it. But calling something hard vs. soft sci-fi still communicates something meaningful.

            I’m baffled as to why everybody has an issue with this – and if they don’t have an issue with this, then hard sci-fi exists.

          • Gaiseric says:

            Yes, of course Hard SF actually *exists*. The point is, is the label too damaged to be useful?

            That’s where I think the Warpig may have gone out a bit further on that limb than I would have been willing to go, but I can easily see his point.

          • Anthony says:

            See, it’s finally turned into “of course it actually exists”, and you say that Jasyn’s point is obvious; but he is insistent – insistent! – in the original post that it not only doesn’t exist, but that it’s an obsession of people who understand neither science nor fiction – something Mr. Wright has already pointed out is ridiculous, see he himself claims, at least, to write science fiction.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            “an obsession of people who understand neither science nor fiction”

            That’s so hyperbolic, it’s obviously not meant to be taken as a dead serious insult.

            Apologies if it seemed otherwise.

          • Anthony says:

            Jasyn,

            I knew it wasn’t meant to be a serious insult, and never thought it was such. However, it’s clear that you re – un-hyperbolically – VERY insistent that hard SF is not a category that serious writers should believe exists, and those who do consider it a category you believe are mistaken.

    • Gaiseric says:

      John’s point misses two details: literary critic Gary Westfahl actually made a decent point (in spite of being a professional literary critic) when he said that “neither term [hard and soft SF] is part of a rigorous taxonomy; instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.”

      Ironically, the label Hard SF is a bit of Soft science, at best.

      Also, when making the distinction that he does between Verne and Wells, Verne himself denied writing as a scientist or attempting to make accurate predictions about anything.

      In other words, the distinction that he views between the two modes is nothing but serendipity and luck.

      • Nathan says:

        There are those like Maurice Renard who would remove Verne from Hard SF because he did not extrapolate from scientific principle and just utilized the discoveries of the time.

        http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/documents/renard.htm

        It is curious that in 1909 there was already a split between scientific-marvelous and scientific romance, and, despite the crunch of Verne,he did not qualify for the hard SF of his time.

  • Cambias says:

    All right, here’s my defense of hard SF. It also applies to realism in historical fiction, and of course stories set in the contemporary world, as well:

    The world is interesting.

    That’s it, but I’ll expand a little, going in a couple of directions.

    First, fiction that actually tells you and shows you something about the world is entertaining. There used to be a whole genre of people like James Michener and Harold Robbins, writing books about airline executives or hotel managers. They were full of soap opera stuff, but they were also full of neat descriptions of what it was like to do those jobs. I suppose current legal thrillers still do that to some extent. Tom Wolfe has been writing panoramic, realistic novels about the current world for a couple of decades now, and they have the same appeal.

    In science fiction, it’s cool to know that this stuff is real. When you read Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, half the fun of the first section is that Kip’s suit is so convincingly realistic. Sure, there’s flying saucers and aliens — but by grounding it in the sweat-smelling reality of Oscar the space suit, RAH gets the reader to buy into the fantastic adventure which follows.

    Second: the world is interesting. Which means it’s a huge resource for writers. You don’t have to make stuff up; the world makes up cooler stuff. I’m writing a story right now set in a star system with a planet that has continents of diamond floating on seas of lava. I didn’t make that up. That’s a REAL PLANET.

    I have nothing against fantastic stuff. I’ve written stories with dinosaurs in the 1980s, stories about sorcerers, stories about the Holy Grail. I agree that the Campbellians went too far in claiming that Hard SF is the One True SF — but that’s a battle that they lost about two generations ago! The New Wave of the 1960s and 1970s was partly a rejection of the idea that all SF must be Hard SF. At this point dumping on the straw man of Hard SF is like taking a bold stand against the tyranny of the Habsburgs — it may be true, but it’s been done, and you don’t win any glory.

    The world is interesting. Stories about that world are fun. If you don’t think people can have heroic adventures in a realistic setting, read some history.

    • Another Bill says:

      Yes I think you made my point better. Hard SF does exist and to take your example farther, a story set in current time with 100% true science but with fictional characters or situations would actually meet Jasyn’s definition of “Hard SF.” I have always used the loose definition of SF as any fictional story that highlights science or a scientific theory to further the story. And hard SF is more accurate with what is known at the time of writing. Science Fantasy otoh totally ignores whole portions of current science at the time it’s written.

      I happen to like both it just depends on what I feel like reading at the time.

  • Nathan says:

    Not everything that has crunch is hard SF. The Martian is not hard SF, for hard SF in the traditions pre-pulp was “all about extending science fully into the unknown, and not simply imagining that science has finally accomplished such and such a feat currently in the process of coming to be.” The Martian has significant scientific accuracy, but it is all emergent engineering and not the extending of science fully into the unknown. John C. Wright’s Count to the Eschaton is far more fanciful than the Martian, but it is true hard-SF as it takes the vast distances between worlds and postulates what might be needed to create a polity between them.

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