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Do you like it hard?

Now that I have your attention (what, isn’t the title sensational enough for ya?) I have a question. Do you prefer your science fiction harder or softer? If you’re not sure what I mean, to me hard science fiction refers to books where there is a focus on technical accuracy, except for the fictional elements of course. The fiction is based on extrapolating from the known facts of today’s physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc.

I enjoy hard science fiction most, but don’t eschew the softer side. There are plenty of good books that aren’t based on reality as we know it at all and that works just fine for me. For example, I don’t think people would count Gene Wolfe as hard science fiction but I enjoy the heck out of almost all his writing.

But what about you? Do you demand hard science fiction? Maybe go so far as mundane science fiction?

17 Comments on Do you like it hard?

  1. If it’s entertaining, I don’t care either way. If it’s a physics text disguised as fiction or The Love Boat with spaceships, I’m not going to read it.

  2. Prediction : this discussion will rapidly devolve into what the correct definition of hard SF is 🙂 I don’t have a definition, but I think yours is liable to generate false negatives. Blindsight is the most notable work of hard SF in recent years and its got vampires in it. In fact, if anything your definition is closer to mundane SF than hard SF.

    But yes, I love hard SF. I like any work of SF that is intelligent and about exploring ideas and hard SF can usually be relied upon to do exactly that and in some detail. If anything, the further we move from hard SF and the closer we get to something like Star Wars, the more I struggle.

  3. If it’s entertaining, I don’t care either way. If it’s a physics text disguised as fiction or The Love Boat with spaceships, I’m not going to read it.

  4. I prefer all my fiction hard. Watch a show called “The Wire” and you’ll see just how good well-written hard fiction can be.

    The difference between soft and hard isn’t so much a difference between, say, green and yellow, but more like a difference between a cheap American car with the basic essentials and a well-engineered comfortable European luxury car. We may argue about their color and we might find the dashboard arrangements to be off-putting, but you’re still getting so much more in the European one.

  5. So, the major crash I saw upon posting my first comment occurred AFTER it had been saved. Sorry about that.

  6. I like my science fiction to be good.

    Hard and soft are just different flavours. So long as the restaurant has a good chef, I’ll go for Mexican, Chinese, Indian, whatever.

    Now, if you wanted to argue the distribution of decent writers between the subgenres, that’d be a controversial thread and no mistake … 😉

  7. Splicer // May 17, 2008 at 5:28 am //

    I’ll be as pointed as possible – I want my science fiction (and anything else I read) not to bore the shit out of me. The reason I don’t read “Contemporary Fiction” is because I don’t need to read a story about a guy that gets up in the morning and does all the crap that I do all day, has “stuff” happen to them that’s really not that interesting and then three-hundred pages later has a meaningless ending. That’s my life – I don’t need it thrown in my face.

    I don’t read SF so that I can sit with my chin between my fingers pondering how fucking philosophical it all is. I want my SF to give me that god damned sensawunda that lets me escape my mundane existence for a little while – long enough so that I don’t kill myself from boredom.

  8. I’m proudly anti-mundane SF.

    This is not to mean that I don’t appreciate hardness in the science, or rigor in the speculation. However, to completely reject entire duchies of the science fiction empire as the Mundanists do…it is that sort of benighted myopia that I reject.

    I liked Little Brother, which could be considered as much “Mundane SF” as it is considered “YA”. However, I have no desire to read a novel which is the spiritual cousin to the anti-Moon government in Dick’s “Time Out of Joint”, who want “One happy world” of limited possibilities.

  9. I like hard SF as long as the author clearly hs a background in that field but usually I like a mix. Is there any hard YA/SF out there?

  10. Matte Lozenge // May 17, 2008 at 9:32 am //

    The first thing I care about is a story that makes me believe its premise and world, and makes me care about its characters. “Hard” and “soft” distinctions don’t mean so much — those come across as hairsplitting arguments over how much scientific/technical lingo, hardware and processes need to be present for a story to be considered SF.

    I can buy into supernatural themes if they’re handled well. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was enjoyable, even though I wouldn’t really call it SF. Its observations of people and places were finely drawn and rendered with wit, and that’s what sold the story.

    At the other end of the spectrum, it can be hard to make some topics the basis of an engaging story. Sometimes a story (for example, one based on the scientific research process, with main characters being scientists in labs) can be completely hard, but doesn’t have characters and a premise that come to life. It can have technical believability but no literary believability.

    All that aside, what I like most are stories that try to give a plausible look at the near future 50-200 years from the present. Is it just me, or are those types of stories a lot less common than they were up until the 1980s?

  11. I like my SF sunny side up.

    🙂 It honestly doesn’t matter for me, there are two things I like in SF (really any speculative fiction) – I like a nicely imagined and big world/backstory and I like character development (either one alone if done well enough, both together is a grand slam). The science fictioniness of it all simply allows interesting worlds to be built and characters to be placed in situations that would otherwise not be possible that allows relationships and development to explored from completely novel points of view.

  12. Hard, but any good book rates. Last weekend I read Little Brother in one sitting. I was going to say hard, then I thought of Ursula LeGuin, and Maria Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and decided any good read will do.

  13. I’m with most of the people above in that if it’s good, I’ll take anything. But, if we assume it’s all of equal goodness, I usually lean towards soft. I’m okay with FTL travel happening without worrying about the fact that it’s probably not really possible.

  14. I prefer soft but enjoy hard as long as the science doesn’t overwhelm the story and the characters. I like novels that have a solid plot, well developed characters, and good pacing. If a story has that – I will probably enjoy it.

  15. Like everyone else here, mostly I just like a good story well-told.

    When I read SF, it’s more important that the imagined universe hang together logically. As long as it doesn’t break its own established rules, I’m not too bothered whether those rules hew to established science.

    And frankly, I’m not a scientist, so most hard sci-fi goes over my head anyway. When I read Stross or Vinge going on about the computational power of the universe or transcendent machine intelligence, I just assume they know what they’re talking about. See above paragraph.

    My one knock on hard sci-fi (generalizing here) is that it seems more prone to the dreaded data dump, where we get pages of detailed explanation about how things work, rather then advancement of character or plot. The tech become more important then the story. That’s what killed Rainbows End for me.

  16. I like either as long as its good science fiction

  17. Hard as it is for me to like soft science fiction, I do. If the story is good I will get involved. However, that said, if there is a glaring error in suspension of believe (i.e. disbelief), I feel that the story then verges on fantasy, which I’m not to fond of beyond your typical Harry Potter movie, sorry soft and fantasy fans. No offense intended, but I like science, that’s what science fiction is really about for me. Futures in which science has some how changed the normal, making it interesting, terrifying, exciting and thrilling.

    I prefer my science fiction not to be so violent, if it is, like Battlestar, it’s just military SF. I have no problem doing without that. The one exception I make to my own personal rule would be something like Aliens. I became so disenfranchised by what passes for SF these days, I stopped reading and watching it, after 40 years of being a fan!

    Then I realized, that wasn’t the good behavior I should be having. I decided to try and write my own science fiction story, and did. I have posted it online for everyone free to read. “The Transhuman Singularity” is an evolving story about the extinction and rebirth of humanity. It includes concepts about the Technological Singularity, Lunar Ark, Transhumans, Nanotelepathy, Star Travel via Microstarships, Lunar Moon Bases, Simulated Humans, Simulated Realities, Artificial Brains, Artificial Intelligent Persons and Galactic Aliens.

    The premise is humanity has been extinct for a while and our lunar ark beacon, a sort of advanced life rebooting time capsule, is found by aliens known as the “The Nanos”. They visited our solar system and discover that the lunar ark contained preserved human genetic and cultural data buried deep below the surface of the moon, the originally incubators (artificial wombs) for restoring human life were damaged in a nanowar.

    The Nanos proceed to revive humanity, but inside a simulation, as they have done so for many other extinct galactic species (shades of the Matrix, without Kung Fu!). The Nanos travel from star system to star system collecting and resurrecting alien species for their zoo simulation. That’s when we meet our main character, Jason Chen who struggles to escape his simulation after he discovers he is living in one.

    Currently the work is unfinished, but I’m proud to offer up what I have so far. I’m not a professional writer yet and it may show… but after 3 years of working on this project I’m out there making a difference, and I suggest all who like hard thinking SF do the same.

    -Michael Blade

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