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.