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:
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.