Where Has All the Hard Science Fiction Gone?

So, I recently finished reading Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan, a hard science fiction novel from 1985. We talked about some of the things that were a little bit jarring a few weeks ago in the Old Science Fiction post (to that, I add: an apparent lack of the understanding of plate tectonics), but overall I enjoyed the book and found the science to be mostly solid, even if the characters didn’t figure out what must have happened for things to make sense scientifically until about 100 pages after I did.

That got me to thinking. In general, I like hard science fiction–it must appeal to the engineer in me or something–but all the examples I could think of that I’ve read are older books. Rendezvous with Rama was published in 1973. Ringworld is from 1970. Contact is also 1985, and The Andromeda Strain is from 1969.

Even looking at the Wikipedia and Goodreads lists of hard science fiction shows that there’s been very little of the subgenre put out in the last ten years (and Goodreads’ list is a bit suspect. I am pretty sure Ender’s Game is not hard science fiction).

Why do you think that is, Squiders? Is it because hard science fiction, being fairly dry, just doesn’t ever attract that many readers, meaning a limited number is published at any point of time? Maybe it’s not any slower than before, but there’s just not a lot of it in general. Or is it a representation of some changing tastes in readers and/or writers, where people don’t want to think about science unless it’s accompanied by  explosions and starship chases?

I don’t honestly know, my friends. I welcome any thoughts you have on the matter, and if you do have any good, recent hard science fiction recommendations, please share.

4 responses to this post.

  1. As a fan and writer of science fiction myself, I enjoy the gold old Hard SF writers (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein etc.). However I think that nowadays we live in a time dominated by fantasy, Tolkien and Rowling are dominating the world of fiction. One reason for this, I believe, is that since the 1960s people are increasingly distrusting science and instead want to flee into the world of fantasy and magic.


  2. It is with sadness that I have seen what I considered once as hard science fiction of the younger generation of writers move towards fantasy. There are still some of the old guard left, but as time passes they will get fewer in number.
    I know from experience how difficult it is to get hard science fiction published. The industry just does not seem to have any interest in doing so e.g. the last open door call from Angry Robot was for fantasy only. It’s putting hard science fiction writers off from writing and submitting stories. So I would not expect a revival any time soon.


  3. Posted by amoskalik on 2015/04/03 at 8:34 AM

    I think there are two related reasons why hard science fiction is not written as much anymore.

    First, the favorite playground of HSF is outer space because that is where physics (the hardest of the sciences) dominates the setting of the story.

    Second, as we march deeper into the 21st century, the likelihood of humans exploring space dwindles. It is just not economic when machines can carry out the same mission far cheaper and with less danger. Outer space without human characters, however, makes for a dry story indeed. So, to write a story set in space, one must break with realism and that violates the principals of HSF.


    • Would you then consider the more technology-based scifi of today, with computers and artificial intelligence and similar, to be the logical evolution of HSF?


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