Subgenre Study: Hard Science Fiction

Science fiction can be divided into two subsections: hard and soft science fiction.  Hard scifi is focused on the actual “science” part of science fiction and is much more interested in maintaining scientific accuracy than other subgenres.

Hard science fiction also tends to have a certain feel to it.  The science tends to take a major part in the story, sometimes even to a greater extent than characters or plot.

It is interesting to note than many people think this feeling is more important than scientific accuracy.  If a story feels like hard scifi, but the main scientific principle is eventually proven to be incorrect, it is still considered to be hard scifi because the story was written as scientifically correct when it came out.

The last hard scifi I read was Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (the sequels are not hard scifi, however).  Other examples include things like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, and then there’s some debate about stories like Brave New World, Dune, and even Ender’s Game.

There seems to be a fair amount of bad blood on the subject – some people swear that if there’s no science to be found, it doesn’t count as science fiction and it’s not worth reading.  Others argue that hard science fiction is boring and dry and, for all its scientific wanderings, is just not good for reading for entertainment.

Hard science fiction seems like it’s been harder to find lately.  I think part of this is because science tends to evolve so quickly these days that it’s hard to keep up.  And most hard scifi seems to be set far in the future involving space travel, and there seems to be a trend lately where science fiction is set in the near future and focuses on the changes in society.

How do you feel about hard scifi, Squiders?  Dry and boring?  Scientifically fascinating?  Do you need science in your science fiction?

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Christopher on 2011/08/26 at 5:53 PM

    I’m not much on hard sci-fi. The last thing I read that even might have qualified was Larry Niven’s “A World Out of Time,” and that was in my twenties. (Unless we count re-reads, in which case it was “the Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” from Robert A. Heinlein.

    I’m more focused on story than science, but I don’t think hard sci-fi is bad so much as it’s just “not for me.”

    (Besides, I lack the math skills necessary for most “hard sciences,” so that part’s just wasted on me.)


  2. I’m not philosophically opposed to hard sci-fi, but I find it does tend to focus too much on a specific concept, using that as a gimmick rather than a nice strong plot with interesting characters. Gimmick alone doesn’t float a book for me. Gimmick plus good writing will.

    At the same time, I don’t want my sci-fi to be devoid of rules and realism. Too soft and I wonder why it isn’t fantasy or magical realism (and I can’t stand magical realism – just don’t get it).

    I guess I like my sci-fi like Goldilocks – over medium. 🙂


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