Do you like it Hard or Soft?

15 Sep

Months and months ago on Twitter I started asking people whether they liked ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ science fiction. Initially it was met with stoney silence because I was mostly followed by bots who don’t respond to sci-fan questions (story in there somewhere…). Then I started to get a rather mixed back of reactions ranging from “I don’t anything about science so I wouldn’t know if it was hard or soft” to “as a physicist Star Wars really annoys me”.

For those that don’t know the difference between the two here’s my quick guide (as stolen from Wikipedia):

Hard: Category of science fiction characterised by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both. I would recommend the Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson, basically a manual for the colonisation of Mars.

Soft: More concerned with character, society, or other speculative ideas and themes that are not centrally tied to scientific or engineering speculations. I recommend Connie Willis’ time travel books, just fantastic.

Note: For the really hardcore fans please note that I class all scientifically accurate sci-fi as ‘hard’ regardless of the science it describes (i.e. sociology rather than physics).

For my two pennies I would say that both have their place in sci-fi writing. I don’t think you can be completely accurate about speculative fiction, who knows what science will turn up in the future and this is when sci-fi can be at it’s best.  Though I must say that if someone sets out to write a sci-fi novel some scientific knowledge is required to be taken seriously, otherwise there’s no point.

I saw a book the other day which said it was “a journey into the cosmic microwave background where black holes are made”. Those that don’t have any knowledge of physics may not be bothered about this, but for a physicist they might as well have said “come journey to Disney World to see Mickey make rainbows from happiness and glitter”.

The fact there are levels of hard and soft in Sci-fi make it is so readable; there is a book for every taste.


Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Do you like it Hard or Soft?

  1. Corey Hardin (@Wickedsmack)

    September 17, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Agree, much like other genres there is a bit of a spectrum the types of sci-fi writing. I read a great deal of sci-fi, and to be honest sometimes I just want to read about intergalactic space robots that destroy ice cream shops because they hate soccer. Other times I want to be blown away by the scope, detail, and grandeur of how vast and awesome a really good space yarn can be.

  2. Simon Stone

    September 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Good post. There needs to be balance. Too “hard” and it reads like a physicist’s thesis for their phd with a few characters added. Too “soft” and it’s laughable.
    I actually think “soft” sci-fi should be labelled science-fantasy. Star Wars is basically swords and sorcery in space, and awesome because of it. I personally found the Mars books a bit of a chore, but scale the detail down just slightly and I’m hooked. (I actually have a degree in physics, but I like my heavy science restricted to science books)

  3. Dan G Swindles

    October 4, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Well, I like both. Dull comment huh?

    But I think I generally prefer each in a different format. I prefer hard sci-fi in short stories and soft sci-fi as full novels.

    In a short story I want to read about ideas, the kind of ideas that give you intellectual vertigo as they’re so breathtakingly creative and insightful. I want to read about the discovery of warp drive, the cloning of neanderthals or first contact with an intelligent alien race, I don’t mind if the characters are a bit wooden, or even if the writing isn’t great, because an interesting idea can drive a short story.

    If I’m reading a novel though I’d prefer to become immersed in a believable world, to form an attachment to realistic characters and to be absorbed by an intriguing plot. Interesting ideas aren’t enough for a full novel. I’d class Dune as being in this category, sure its got some great ideas, but for me is soft as the focus is on the drama and the progress of Paul. I think I need these elements to read something more than a few thousand words long


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