So I Shook the Pillars of Heaven!

Thursday , 2, March 2017 60 Comments

Sometimes you go to get your truck back, and end up shaking the pillars of Heaven. Hey, it happens, even if you didn’t mean it to.

It happened to me.

Monday’s post, intended as a short and provocative opinion piece, touched off a conflagration far greater than I expected, one that’s still sputtering here and there on the net:

Hard SF DOES NOT EXIST

Two main questions people asked: “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” and “Why does this even matter?”

Was I serious? Well, yes. And correct, or at least none of the people objecting to my argument proffered arguments sufficient to invalidate the thesis. But I was wrong in one critical area:

I was referring to a different definition of Hard Science than those who objected to the piece usually use. We were talking about two different things.

So, a modification of my original claim: I will stipulate that “Hard SF” as defined by John C Wright in his comments on the original piece DOES EXIST. His definition is simple, straightforward, and serves a useful purpose. It does not impose value judgements, except as individuals fans may add them. As I said then, if it were the only definition of Hard SF extant, I’d have never written the piece in the first place.

But the other definition of Hard SF, the one I was referring to, is utter nonsense. It is tripe, beginning to end, and the number of stories which match this definition is nil, the empty set. As no stories match the definition, IT DOES NOT EXIST.

I refer, by way of analogy, to the calexyfidgit. A calexyfidgit is a creature with the head of an ant, the body of a butterfly, the wings of a duck, the hands of an albino Australian drop bear, the feet of a classically-trained ballerina, and the tail of a boa constrictor.

There are not now, nor have there ever been, any calexyfidgits. The creature DOES NOT EXIST, and never could. One could make a list of its attributes—as I have done—and even illustrate it (perhaps in full color). The creature still WOULD NOT EXIST, for exactly the same reason that this second kind of Hard SF DOES NOT EXIST—what the list describes is imaginary. There has never been an example of it, and never could be.

This second definition of “Hard SF”—which I eviscerated in my original post—does involve very strict and rigid value judgments. “Hard SF is morally, artistically, and pedagogically superior to all other kinds of Fantasy and Science Fiction, because science.” “Soft SF, Science Fantasy, and plain ordinary Fantasy—all are are garbage, fit only to be sneered at.” “Hard SF is the only true SF, and should be the only kind of SF allowed.”

This is—or was—a real attitude. Real people really believed it, and actually implemented their beliefs. Writers who could not, or would not, write stories which matched this definition of Hard SF were run out of the genre. Driven off. Deprived of the ability to be published in SF magazines. Had their careers destroyed.

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s listen to Isaac Asimov.

“[H]e forced first Astounding and then all science fiction into his mold. He… extirpated the Sunday-supplement science. [M]any of the established writers of the 1930s could not meet [his requirements]. [T]hose who could not meet his requirements could not sell to him.”

All of Science Fiction was forced to comply. Those that did not, were not published. They had no careers.

Asimov, by the way, is BRAGGING about this. This is, in his mind, a great and good thing that changed SF for the better. Better that people lose their careers, than the field be tainted by Soft SF.

This last answers “Why does this even matter?” It matters because the careers of these artists were destroyed, and we were deprived of the stories they could have told. It matters because the stories of earlier ages which they judged inferior were deliberately memory holed. It matters because, even though Clay Age writers have abandoned Hard SF entirely, the prejudices of the Hard SF absolutists still linger.

Time and again reviewers will say (in essence) “X and such is Soft SF, therefore crap.” or “Y is Hard SF and therefore good.” Often Internet slap fights between fandoms—Babylon 5! Star Trek! Star Wars! Battlestar Galactica! New Battlestar Galactica! Blake’s 7!—are often “won” because one work is said to be “more realistic” than another. Hard SF is still judged to be intrinsically better. (Even Clay Agers pretend to believe this.)

The pervasive bigotry against adventure SF, Planetary Romance, and really any sub-genre that isn’t Hard SF is foolish. It hobbles writers’ imaginations, and sharply limits the kinds of stories they can tell.

Hard SF absolutism drove the mainstream audience away. You want to bring the audience back to written SF? Start telling those kinds of stories again, the kind of stories the Hard SF absolutists sneered at and banned from publication.

Adventure. Heroics. Romance. Stories like these—a genre filled with stories like these—really can shake the pillars of Heaven.

Even more than my original blog post did.


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.

60 Comments
  • Astrsorceror says:

    I do see a difference in the types of SF; but they are both great and have their place. Pulp action/adventure in space with questionable physics and laser-swords is great, as are men-with-screwdrivers trying to solve a complex issue that depends on a working grasp of physics.

    In fantasy, there is high-fantasy, myth, swords-and-sorcery, and now “urban fantasy”. I love ’em all, but they are very different in their approach.

  • NARoberts says:

    “Asimov, by the way, is BRAGGING about this. This is, in his mind, a great and good thing that changed SF for the better. Better that people lose their careers, than the field be tainted by Soft SF.”

    I think this is a little harsh. I don’t really agree with the recent Asimov-bashing in this community. I like Asimov. Sure, it sounds like he was wrong much of the time, and his stories had weaknesses, but they had strengths as well.

    I don’t think it is necessarily fair to blame him for having this opinion, after all, we would like to corner the market away from the pink folks because what they produce is disgusting and mean, and we would not like to have a market full of it. Wouldn’t we rather have the nasty modern writers turn to something else and have the genre clean and decent again?

    I would rather go with the definition discussed elsewhere here of Campbellian SF being “blue” and pulp being “red” and both being “good.”

    Incidentally, as regards Asimov. He was a great lover of mystery stories, and I think this might explain why his work was so action-less and boring to the adventure aficionado. He really wanted those “cerebral” stories and twist endings, almost like a whodunit.

    • Gaiseric says:

      I don’t care about fair. That said; why wouldn’t it be? Asimov was a small-minded, smug, pretentious jerk—and that’s obviously and observably true whether you like his stories or not.

      Even if his stories do have some strengths, his deliberate efforts to strangle the genre by enforcing his vision on everyone else was petty and execrable.

      • Anthony says:

        I don’t care about fair.

        Fine, but don’t expect everyone else not to just because you don’t.

        That said; why wouldn’t it be? Asimov was a small-minded, smug, pretentious jerk—and that’s obviously and observably true whether you like his stories or not.

        The point there is that the quote really isn’t too far off from how we talk and have talked about pink SF. The only difference is that he’s talking about sf and fantasy that happens to be to our taste.

        • Gaiseric says:

          And the counter-point I’m making is that why would the quote be too far off from how we talk and have talked about pink SF? Although Pink and Blue SF certainly look quite different, the vanguard of the Blue SF luminaries utilized essentially the same thinking, the same attitudes, and the same methods as the pink gatekeepers.

          And it appears that that’s what he objects to. Because he likes the results of blue SF better than that of pink SF (which to be fair; who doesn’t?) we; what, can’t criticize blue SF writers for their attitudes even when they’re mirror images of that of the pink SF writers?

          And then ironically turn around and say that it’s not fair to treat blue gatekeepers the same as pink gatekeepers when both are acting identically, because I like the blue result better, so let’s give them a pass?

          • Anthony says:

            And it appears that that’s what he objects to. Because he likes the results of blue SF better than that of pink SF (which to be fair; who doesn’t?) we; what, can’t criticize blue SF writers for their attitudes even when they’re mirror images of that of the pink SF writers?

            We can criticize what we want as long as we recognize that OUR attitudes are *exactly the same*.

            This has been my problem with this whole movement so far – the absolutism so far. It can’t JUST be that Campbell imposed a monopoly on the field that pushed out earlier worthy works unfairly, leading to a gap that we are now filling. No, it must be *objective truth* that Campbellian sci-fi is inferior in every way. Objective. You disagree, you’re wrong.

            The truth is that I actually think Asimov was frequently pretty great, and a genuine pioneer in a lot of ways. He does, however, appeal to different tastes than the pulp guys. Which is fine! But we should be careful not overstating our case when we talk about the damage the Campbellian era did to the field.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            Actually, my position is and always has been:

            “These three concepts, rigorously enforced by a tiny clique of editors and writers, hobbled and hampered the fiction of the Silver Age. As a result, Silver Age stories are and were (judged as a body of work, individual tales excepted) inferior to the Pulps. The Pulps (as a body of work) were more imaginative, more visceral, more entertaining.”

            I’ve always recognized that certain Campbell tales or writers produced quality material.

          • Anthony says:

            (Actually, problem is too strong – I very much support what’s going on here, and I agree with the vast majority of what is written. Call it instead my main reservation.)

          • NARoberts says:

            “Asimov was a small-minded, smug, pretentious jerk—and that’s obviously and observably true…”

            These sort of remarks are the ONLY thing I object to. Maybe I am a hypocrite because I have no problem watching Knight and Blish and Campbell get torn down because I know nothing to suggest they did not deserve it. But I know nothing to suggest that Asimov DID deserve it, and some little to suggest that he was an OK person. You can criticize his judgement, his taste, his ideals, or whatever–but I don’t believe these claims against his character. I don’t see anything to suggest that he wasn’t just like us–a guy who wanted more of what he liked and saw a market full of what he didn’t. And so he wrote his own stuff, and liked the guys who agreed with him.

            Sure he coulda been wrong. But that doesn’t make him a jerk.

          • Anthony says:

            Jasyn, what I’m saying is I’m not sure, and honestly doubt, if your claim actually is provably true or if you just happen to like the pulps more.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            I didn’t just assert it, I provided reasoning and evidence to support it.

            Feel free to go back to those posts and attempt to disprove the thesis. This is probably the best one to start with:

            http://www.castaliahouse.com/the-big-three-catastrophic-errors/

          • Anthony says:

            What I see there is the quite correct acknowledgement that the silver age was more about exploring the implications of technology and puzzle fiction as opposed to heroic fiction – which is true (I still haven’t seen evidence of an attempt by the Campbellians to eliminate entertainment).

            That’s different from making the case that the pulps are objectively better. You say “read appendix n if you want proof”, but I know people who read pulps, hate pink sf, and prefer Campbell. So there’s that.

            You point out that the pulls produced more iconic characters, which is true, but the Campbellians were about ideas, and indeed several iconic ideas from that era have made their way into the mainstream and were enormously influential on the field and on pop culture.

            I think you’re firing too many broadsiat those who want to be your allies.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            It’s pretty simple. Banish heroics, and your art is inferior. Banish adventure, likewise. Impose rigid restrictions on what stories writers can produce, likewise.

            And drive off veteran writers who produce excellent work… well that’s lunacy.

            Incontrovertible.

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

          • Gaiseric says:

            Are we reading the same passages? Nobody said that it was inferior in EVERY way. But certainly that because it was intentionally restricted and constrained, and it certainly is reality that the field contracted during the watch of the Blue Man Group.

            Which, given that the ACTUAL SPACE RACE was happening at the same time, is frankly unaccountable other than to suggest that it’s because they deliberately shilled what was less popular.

            Disagree with that; come up with another explanation, and make it convincing. Don’t accuse the Red fans of simply shilling on the blue because we don’t like them.

            I haven’t read that at all.

          • Gaiseric says:

            “These sort of remarks are the ONLY thing I object to. Maybe I am a hypocrite because I have no problem watching Knight and Blish and Campbell get torn down because I know nothing to suggest they did not deserve it. But I know nothing to suggest that Asimov DID deserve it, and some little to suggest that he was an OK person. You can criticize his judgement, his taste, his ideals, or whatever–but I don’t believe these claims against his character. I don’t see anything to suggest that he wasn’t just like us–a guy who wanted more of what he liked and saw a market full of what he didn’t. And so he wrote his own stuff, and liked the guys who agreed with him.

            Sure he coulda been wrong. But that doesn’t make him a jerk.”

            http://www.castaliahouse.com/cosmic-knights/

            No, THAT makes him a jerk.

          • Anthony says:

            I get what you’ryou’re saying, and agree that the limitations imposed were very harmful to the field, which is why we need a pulp revolution.

            I just think that preference for the Campbellian writers isn’t necessarily unreasonable.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            People can like Campbellian stories. I like some Campbellian stories. I’m reading “Starship Troopers” right now.

            I think there’s a place for it in F&SF. Just not as the only type of F&SF.

          • NARoberts says:

            We must agree to disagree, I suppose. I see nothing in those quotes that is harsher than our own Daddy Warpig letting fly at the Campbellians.

            The only difference is that I don’t agree with Asimov and pity the circumstances which must have forced him into such cynical conclusions.

            But like I said, criticize his ideals, his taste…

            Certainly criticize his attitude, if you want.

            But those aren’t his personal character.

          • NARoberts says:

            Anthony–

            Daddy Warpig is ONLY saying the restrictions they imposed were harmful. No more.

            Those restrictions blocked so many good writers that quality became scarcer. The quantity of quality writing dropped, if you take my meaning.

            He didn’t say that the blue writers were worse, because they were blue, just that there were fewer good blue writers than there had been red ones.

      • Bryce says:

        So forgive me, I’ve read a couple of Asimov works, but I’m not really familiar with the man himself or his life. What did he do to “strangle the genre” and “enforce his vision”?

    • deuce says:

      Azzy was just following in the footsteps of Campbell. In regard to what kind of guy he was and some of the ways he used his genre clout to talk down to the moronic untermenschen who didn’t share his brilliant vision for humanity — if ONLY we would listen! — here’s a post:

      http://seagullrising.blogspot.com/2017/02/devious-brains-honest-brawn.html

  • B&N says:

    Wasn’t “Heaven-Pillar Shaker” your nickname in high school?
    They call me H.P.S. Jones!

  • Fenris Wulf says:

    Asimov’s brand of “hard SF” isn’t all that hard except when he’s dealing with his specialty, which was biochemistry. Unlike Heinlein, he wasn’t an engineer, and the technology in his stories is hand-waving nonsense dressed up in sciencey language. His characters talk and act like scientists, right down to the touch of Asperger’s, but the “science” is every bit as fantastic as telling fortunes with a crystal ball, or bringing a clay statue to life by writing the name of God on its forehead.

    Cambellian revolution = blander characters and more facile technobabble.

    • deuce says:

      Very well put. Yeah, a “neutronic brain” is just the epitome of “hard” science.

      Asimov also worshipped at the altar of the Blank Slate, which is absolutely NOT a hard fact of science.

      “Cambellian revolution = blander characters and more facile technobabble.”

      Classic quote.

  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    I, for one, would be delighted with a grand revival of science fantasy. We have the tools — now let’s use them.

    • B&N says:

      Mixed genres can be great. Chrono Trigger isn’t pure [Tolkien] fantasy, and Final Fantasy VI isn’t either, but their worlds are arguably even more creative than some recent pure [Tolkien] fantasy games.

      • NARoberts says:

        Their worlds are no doubt more creative than MOST Tolkien knockoffs, modern or otherwise.

        However, I don’t think that is an inherent virtue of mixed genres. After the Tolkien-knockoff wave of the past two generations we are all very burned out on that sort of thing, and I think we’ll burn out on GRRM type Unending Volumes of Woe soon as well. You’re picking the very best of the JRPG scene anyway, not something like, say, Technomancer.

        If we are talking about comparisons solely among games though, I would look to Dark Souls and Hidetaka Miyazaki’s other work. Pure fantasy, yet this man seems to be the only modern creator following in the footsteps of the pre-Tolkien fantasists, with stories that are a blend of legend and fairy-tale in a way that is really refreshing right now.

        • B&N says:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZmAiyPRGqE

          The SECRET Rhythms of DARK SOULS! | The SCIENCE!…of Dark Souls 3

          ————
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LueVmefY_Kg

          The Philosophy of Dark Souls – Wisecrack Edition

        • Alex says:

          On the western RPG end of things, it kinda broke my mind when I realized that Morrowind was a huge Jack Vance pastiche that might as well have taken place on a cross between The Dying Earth and the Gaean Reach. The Dunmer are the Uldra from the Grey Prince for gosh sakes!

          • NARoberts says:

            My Morrowind experience was in Dragonborn, but even in that little bit, I was impressed by the unique setting–deserts, giant mushrooms and floating jellyfish were and are a breath of fresh air after the five-hundredth vampire or dragon.

            Of course, Morrowind proper came out a while ago. Do you think western gaming has converged since then? I certainly have felt myself only looking at Japanese games now. NieR…Devil May Cry…Soulsborne…Metal Gear Solid…

            I know to be suspicious of SJW places like Bioware and Dontnod and Naughty Dog and Eidos Montreal. I find it telling that Final Fantasy VII could make the “green terrorists” the good guys and still be more palatable than much of today’s crap…

            I almost feel like these cultural critics did “win” in western gaming, since they infected the studios who were already eagerly receptive to such ideas.

          • Alex says:

            It’s hard to say, in part, using Morrowind as a reference point because it was so ridiculously outside the norms of what was typically seen in western RPG video game either before or since.

            Prior to Morrowind, TES had gone from a straight-forward generic fantasy setting in Arena to a world that appeared on the surface and played for all intents and purposes like a straight forward generic fantasy setting but was, in the lore, a deconstruction of them in Daggerfall.

            Oblivion suffered from a lot of fan backlash because the game’s setting did not jibe with any of the lore established in previous games and was seen as a huge step backwards from the gonzo New Wave Weird of Morrowind. Ironically, much of the lore expanded on in the in-game fiction and history still hinted at and reflected the bizarre and exciting world that players were not given. It’s never relevant or seen that there are talking apes, or that wood elves are cannibals, or that in Argonia people travel undigested in the stomachs of giant swamp worms.

            I’m still mad that Skyrim retconned the after-the-fact backstory for Arena found Daggerfall via the unauthorized biography of the dark elf queen. I loved the idea that an evil wizard would imprison an emperor in a shadow realm all to impress a dame and then run the empire into the ground as an impostor out of ennui when things didn’t work out.

  • deuce says:

    For myself, I would be fine if they just called it “Tech SF”. “Hard” has major implications of the work(s) in question being either more “pure” or somehow “better” or both. It’s a weasel word. The type of passive-aggression we would expect from someone like Asimov.

    “Tech SF” would encompass both “technology” and “technical” — as in, being technical about the details of physics/whatever. It would do exactly what “Hard” does right now, but without the implied value judgements.

    Of course, then we couldn’t have these various chapters of the Hard Buds of SF.

    • deuce says:

      That should’ve been “Buds of Hard SF”. One could still have “Buds of Tech SF”, but it really wouldn’t be the same, IMO.

  • deuce says:

    Since this question was asked on a previous post but never really addressed, I’ll ask it again here:

    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.

    I have some ideas, but since I don’t write the stuff and have only been a casual consumer of the sub-genre over the years, I’m inviting more informed comment.

    • B&N says:

      Yesterday’s sci-fi is today’s fantasy, and tomorrow’s mythology (collective fantasy).
      The point is that either you wanted to write it, or someone else wanted to read it.
      All human projects are ephemeral.

      “No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make.”
      -Michael Michalko, Thinkertoys

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, this is what I was trying to get at myself, the other day.
      The if implausible, fantastical, and impossible are elements that prevent a work from being Hard SF, the goal of pursuing hardness is essentially reductive in nature.

    • Alex says:

      I’ll go back to my Gundam example. Compared to everything that came before in terms of Giant Robots, it was pretty damn Hard SF. But other Real Robot shows that came later were “harder” in many regards. So what would have to be done to make Gundam “Hard SF”?

      -Newtypes would have to be dialed back. A lot. Or much more time spent on the science behind the ESP aspects. Ironically, some of the Newtype stuff like using neural transmitters for remote control of “funnel” weapons is more ‘hard sf’ now than it was then. But talking psychically across the gulf of space in glowing turquoise seas of light has to go! As do things like the psychic backlash associated with killing particularly powerful newtypes.

      -Minovsky particles are right out. Pure phlebotinum made in universe as an excuse for why long range radar guided weapons were out of the picture. Ironically, with the exception of the grittier installments and certain video games, this handwaving gets its own handwaving.

      -Colony drops are out, too. They might cause some damage, but O’Neill cylinders would break up and burn up in the atmosphere. It would not be the equivalent of dropping a million nukes on a city.

      Even if you got rid of those biggies, at which point it really wouldn’t be Gundam anymore, there’d still be fantastical elements which would arguably prevent it from being “True Hard SF”.

      That’s why I say it’s reductive. It’s the pursuit of an impossible goal where slapping the label on is really just saying “good enough to meet my personal definition”.

      • Jesse Lucas says:

        It would still be True Enough Hard SF. It’s not the pursuit of a goal at all, that’s what we keep telling you, it’s an aesthetic of general scientific accuracy.

        And it’s not about removing all fantastical elements including the existence of people
        who do not in the real world exist. It’s not Hard Fiction. It’s Hard Science Fiction. The
        Science is the Hard part. Take Stephen Baxter’s Voyage. It’s alternate history, so by
        your definition it’s right out, that’s a magical planet, but within that context the science is accurate. So it’s Hard Science Fiction. If you have a problem with nuclear rockets that doesn’t make it a fantasy. If the people don’t act like real people, it might be a bad story on that account, but the Science does not thus cease to be Hard. If bureaucracies are too efficient or socialism works or any of the million inaccuracies that even nonfiction tends to allow, that does not negate the science being Hard.

        I hope we’ll drop this soon because our natural enemies are no longer Men with Screwdrivers. Maybe they used to be, but Asimov’s dead and Niven isn’t, and we are in a golden age of dark fantasy. This is the age of Martin and Abercrombie and Bakker, of authors like Gaiman and Swanwick who understand the pulps, who read the classics, and
        actively try to destroy them. Campbell and Asimov were high-functioning egotists who could choke the good stuff out of the markets, but the Children of Moorcock seek to corrupt them at the source.

        • Alex says:

          For real, I’m more fascinated by the philosophical quandary around the terminology than I am positioning myself as some kind of enemy of Hard SF.

          • Jesse Lucas says:

            I don’t see a quandary.

            “Hard SF is fiction based around a scientific problem or problems where accuracy is strived for or maintained and which retains this scientific accuracy to the present day.”

            Is that good enough? Of course it’s not a Hard definition, but literature is not a science. You could not write a Hard SF novel where the science in question was a novel of infinite SF Hardness, not because that’s impossible but because that’s not science.

            But did the Suttons strive for accuracy in Apollo at Go? Yes. Is it still accurate? Yes. Will it remain accurate? Yes. It’s Hard. There’s no debate about that. But the Science is no longer fictional, you might say. That does not make it no longer Science Fiction, because Science Fiction is not Fictional Science but Fiction about Science. The Baroque Cycle is Science Fiction even though all the Science in it was common knowledge two hundred years ago.

          • deuce says:

            Same here. I love THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE and STARSHIP TROOPERS more than I do ELRIC OF MELNIBONE or GAME OF THRONES. I haven’t read much of the recent works of what terms itself “hard” SF because so much of it is converged. I just don’t feel it’s worth the effort to sift the stray grains of wheat from the chaff. I do read a fair amount of military sci-fi.

            As I keep saying, by calling it “Hard” rather than “Tech” the whole thing has lent itself to binary classifications. I mean, what do you call “Not-Hard but Not-Soft” SF? People keep talking about a “spectrum”, but that really isn’t how it plays out. “Hard”, as I said above, implies a certain superiority or purity or increase in quality. Does anyone seriously think that “Soft SF” sounds equal to “Hard SF”? If not, then yes, there is a kind of purity spiral going on and “Super-Hard” SF would be, by definition, the best.

            I loathe the term. Just call it “Tech SF”, which is what it is, and I won’t say another word. I’m not an enemy of the sub-genre — which is all it is, NOT the ideal to which all must strive or be found wanting. I can’t stand the name-branding and what it implies.

          • Jesse Lucas says:

            You just call it SF. Hard is not a hard category, it’s a tag.

          • Alex says:

            @Jesse

            ““Hard SF is fiction based around a scientific problem or problems where accuracy is strived for or maintained and which retains this scientific accuracy to the present day.””

            This is a pretty good definition, except that it hinges upon the success of one’s attempt at writing the in the genre rather than the mere attempt itself.

            A person cannot set out to write High Fantasy and fail in such a spectacular way that the outcome is not High Fantasy in the way that a person can set out to write Hard SF and fail in such a spectacular way that the outcome is not Hard SF.

          • deuce says:

            It’s the only tag being used. Does anyone releasing an SF novel say it’s “a Soft SF novel”? No. The tag “Hard SF” doesn’t really imply a “spectrum” so much as a scale of purity and quality. A grading scale with “Super-Hard” at the top. That’s not how SF started out.

            “Pink” SF — not what it calls itself — checks off boxes and so does “Hard” SF. The very tag drives it to do so. Gotta stay “Hard” and keep the “Softies” out.

          • Anthony says:

            Alex,

            Accuracy only needs to be strived for. It’s not necessarily dependent on success.

          • deuce says:

            Will the act of contrition — ie, saying that one sincerely strived to be “Hard” but failed — suffice in getting the writer’s story back in the Buds of Hard SF Club? If not, then Alex’s point is valid. Standards are rigorous. Rigor is Hard. “Hard” SF standards are the most rigorous of all, from what I can tell.

          • Alex says:

            A dude can strive all he wants, but if he can’t science and uses dumb and wrong explanations, you’d better believe people will say that his story is not Hard SF.

          • Alex says:

            Neptune is cold, so people need to wear furs when they fight ice dragons there, ergo scientific accuracy has been strived for and it is Hard SF.

        • Alex says:

          Others may be trying to make or establish some sort of culture war beachhead with this, but I’m just glitching through walls.

          • deuce says:

            Oops. I posted my reply to you, Alex, but it appeared right above your post. Once again, I’ll say that I don’t hate the sub-genre and I certainly don’t want there to be some culture war between “Red” and “Blue” factions. There’s room for well-done versions of both kinds of SF.

      • Anthony says:

        Alex,

        Sure, if you live in a bubble and ignore all known facts about nature and physics, yes, people will tend not to believe you when you say you were striving for scientific accuracy.

        I think this is way less of a conundrum then people make it out to be – but then, as Jasyn pointed out, we were probably all talking at cross-purposes the whole time anyway.

        • Alex says:

          Of course, but that’s why I argue that Hard SF is reductive. Eliminating errors and implausibilities makes Soft SF Hard.

          Take my Neptune example. What if it’s not furs, but special suits? That becomes a reduction in error by replacement. Unfortunately, ice dragons are an almost certain impossibility, so they have to go. That becomes a reduction in error by omission.

          If there’s no plausible scientific way for the suits to keep one from freezing on Neptune, those go out too, and ultimately you’re left without an adventure on Neptune.

          • Anthony says:

            Well, sure. If you want to write a scientifically plausible way to write a Neptune adventure but can’t think of any then no, you can’t write a scientifically plausible Neptune adventure. By definition. So What?

    • Jesse Lucas says:

      The Hard SF story loses its hardness once it depends on more than one (1) element of (physical) science to retain the accuracy of its primary story curve. It may only attain Hardness if it possesses acuracy in the first place, and so may only drop down in Hardness if a physical principle it originally depended on is disproven.

      “Because if a “Hard” SF story can lose its status with the passage of time and new discoveries, what was the point?”
      To have a lot of fun with science and talk about science with Hard Buds.

      “What, exactly, was the goal the writer was trying to achieve?”
      The beauty of accuracy, the adoration of the quest for knowledge, the order of the train set.

      “The whole thing seems quite ephemeral, if not quixotic.”
      Such is life below the heavens.

      • deuce says:

        I’d say that answers my questions pretty well. Thanks.

      • Jesse Lucas says:

        Whoops, I meant it depends on more than one unknown/unproven element of physical science. It can have as much known science as it wants, or only known science.

      • maniacprovost says:

        GUYS
        GUYS

        Hard Sci Fi cannot lose its hardness due to new scientific discoveries after it is written.

        It merely gains a prestige class as “Retro Sci Fi.”

  • deuce says:

    By their own rules, any work of “Hard” SF is 99.999% likely to become “not-Hard” in the not-so-distant future.

    Meanwhile, Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique tales or Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR or Tanith Lee’s “Flat Earth” stories are fairly impervious to redundancy on sheerly technical grounds because the respective authors really didn’t care. Not to any meaningful extent. All that mattered was if the tales themselves were internally consistent enough to hold the reader’s attention and entertain. As much as ERB researched then-current science regarding Mars, his primary objective was to entertain. I doubt his soul was troubled much by new discoveries. HIS primary goal had been achieved.

    Meanwhile the truly dedicated “Hard” SF writer keeps chasing something that really isn’t there. It’s like trying to accurately determine the momentum AND position of a given particle in the same moment. “Hard” SF is certainly pursuing a moving target.

  • Another Bill says:

    Ok now I haven’t yet read the replies here so ignore this if it’s been said. You haven’t defined the version of Hard SF you say doesn’t exist. You say one definition is JCW’s and the other has strict and ridged judgements to define it. However you do not state what they are. So either you are complaining that since it’s not defined anywhere it cannot exist, which would be true or you are being deliberately obtuse because you don’t want to admit you were wrong.

    All I am asking is define what you are saying doesn’t exist.

  • Another Bill says:

    Ok now I read through the comments it seems you are just not happy with history, unless in the circles you hang in people say Hard SF is superior, that’s just a judgment call.

    I don’t see why you’re even trying to argue it doesn’t exist. Even though you still haven’t defined it.

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