Hard SF

Sub-genre of Science Fiction in which the 'science' is regarded as more important than the 'fiction'. Proponents include

Opinions on whether or not this is a good thing vary hugely from OUSF Gus to OUSF Gus, with, perhaps unsurprisingly, the scientist OUSF Gi being generally in favour of Hard SF, whilst the humanities and arts students regard the 'science' aspect of SF as peripheral at best.

One account of this division might be that, being rather more familiar with the scientific incantations being recounted than we arty types, scientists find the fourth wall (to borrow a television expression) broken when the novel or film or series gets them wrong. For me personally, implausibility threatens the fourth wall. Obviously anything which I know to be inaccurate is implausible, but such waffle as 'string theories' and 'superstrings' means nothing to me right or wrong, and whilst I may groan despairingly at bad science which demonstrates ignorance of the laws of planetary motion or escape velocity, I'm unlikely to care if the maths is out, or simplified, or even if the maths is skipped altogether. In fact, in lieu of reading pages of tedious calculations, I prefer it if it is. See comments on Doctor Who. However, someone who's spent all day in the lab poking DNA with a stick to make it jump is going to be understandably less tolerant of a writer making it do impossible things than I am.

The above may account for the interest in accurate science, but why it's often felt that such issues as interesting character or plot are dispensible so long as the science is right is beyond me.


I think you misunderstand Hard SF, William. The point of Hard SF is to take an idea (any idea, not necessarily a scientific one) and explore its consequences, taking it to its logical conclusion. Hard SF is about thinking about things, about not shying away from hard ideas or unpleasant conclusions. It just so happens that most Hard SF deals with scientific ideas because they're the easiest to capture and extrapolate. Stories are not Hard SF merely because of oodles of technical detail; Hard SF does not need "pages of tedious calculations", it just needs clear thought. Books exploiting masses of technical trivia (along the lines of Tom Clancy, only with physics) are not true Hard SF; perhaps we should call them Hard Sci Fi, in recognition of their intellectual emptiness. -- TA

This reminds me: Tom, I need to lend you Ted Chiang Stories Of Your Life And Others. I'll bring it to the library meeting on sunday. -- NH

Sun, 24 Nov 2002 19:14:02 GMT Front Page Recent Changes Message Of The Day