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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 160): Panel: Hard SF for the Beginner

In episode 156 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester gathers a group of SFSignal folks to discuss: Hard SF books for the beginner.

Hard SF has a reputation for being inaccessible to the beginning or casual reader. What Hard SF Book(s) have you read that you would recommend to someone trying to jump in with both feet?


This week’s panel:

This episode is sponsored by Borderlands Books. Listen for a special coupon code to take 10% off your order from Borderlands.

© 2012
Featuring original music by John Anealio

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

11 Comments on The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 160): Panel: Hard SF for the Beginner

  1. I disagree that Butler & Rusch are hard sf, but if you want another female name, I’ll throw out Canadian Julie Czerneda.

  2. I would have mentioned Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod and Kim Stanley Robinson as excellent entrypoints where the science is real and the writing is excellent.

    I think an excellent novel to suggest to people who are fans of Michael Crichton is “Waiting” by Frank M. Robinson, which gets into genetics and human evolution. An excellent thriller, too.

    A few quibbles with the inclusion of Starship Troopers and the discussion thereof:

    1.) It isn’t hard science fiction at all. At best it’s military SF. At worst, a political/sociological work that has the odd action sequence here and there (I won’t get into the loathsome politics it espouses). I cannot call any novel with FTL “hard science fiction” in any way/shape/form and indeed, I don’t know any hard SF writers who would include it on any list of hard SF. If you want a harder military SF novel, try Haldeman’s “The Forever War.”

    2.) I don’t think it’s a great novel to give to an adult who has developed their own political opinions – as an adult, I found the politics of the novel so much more loathsome than I’d noticed when I’d read (and loved) as a kid. Further, see above about it not being hard SF.

    3.) As for the film, I find the people who love the book automatically loathe the movie. This is because the movie dares to call out the book for it’s right-wing fantasies and they seem to neglect the fact that the movie is intended as a parody of both 1940s war propaganda films and of the sort of Cold War-era hysteria of the 50s, etc. I tend to find these are also people who use the expression “freedom isn’t free” in daily speech, which drives me crazy (freedom is by definition…free).

    Sorry for the rants, I just couldn’t believe my ears when that book was recommended in a podcast about hard SF.

    • We all have our own sub-genre definitions, but I agree – I wouldn’t call Starship Troopers hard sf either. I tend to read less into the political aspects of fiction, too, so maybe that’s why I enjoyed both book and film. But maybe that’s just me.

      • John, I think that’s exactly why I loved it as a kid and loathed it as an adult. I also honestly feel it’s become somewhat dated as a novel – there are better military SF books available if that’s your cup of tea.

        And variety is the spice of life. I actually would encourage people to read it. But it doesn’t belong in hard SF.

  3. I think any of the Jonathan Strahan anthologies–Engineering Infinity, the YA-oriented anthology about living on Mars, etc., would be good to start with.

    The books and stories (two books, two stories, another book coming) by “James S.A. Corey” would be good introductions to hard SF.

    Even something like the “Newsflesh” (“Mira Grant”) can be seen as hard SF, at least in terms of the rigor that went into the disease, how the zombies operate, etc.

    Jeff nailed it with the need to ask: “What have you read?” I might expand it to include what movies/television of a genre nature they have watched and liked.

  4. Michael Brudenell // October 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm //

    I have to admit that I am not well read in the Hard Sci Fi Genre. However, I very much enjoyed the conversation.

    I would also like to stand in solidarity with Patrick regarding the merits of the 13th Warrior (that is a title that I was not expecting would be mentioned in a discussion on Hard Sci Fi). I love that movie. Also, for the character of Ahmad ibn Fadlan, played by Antonio Banderas, I see his role in the story as essential. He is the outsider and narrator, looking into a world that is alien to him, and telling a story from his perspective. I believe that the movie would have lacked its tone and flavor without him. “The dog can jump…)

  5. I agree with Patrick’s comment at the end that it really depends on the person, because I tried Ringworld as an intro to Hard SF and couldn’t make it through a third of the audiobook. The imagery and aliens were interesting, but the pacing was so dull that I couldn’t even listen to it–and I’ve finished some bad audiobooks (The Tommyknockers). Same goes for Leviathan Wakes. I liked the science from a research perspective, but the story just didn’t hold me enough to finish. Cryptonomicon was interesting, but I stopped around page 260 because he spent too much time lolly gagging with details.

    I liked the suggestion of the biotech novelist (in the part mentioning the female authors), but I can’t remember who she was.

    • Joan Slonczewski. I wouldn’t recommend The Highest Frontier as a first hard sf novel to read. A Door into Ocean seems styled like a fantasy, but I haven’t read much of it.

  6. :::wildly dancing about::: Oh, thank you! I could squee for hours about 13W but I’ll spare you the experience. Apart from the script (brilliant), cinematography (stunning), set design (so flippin’ cool) and battle scenes (mud! yeah! and blood!), the actors are nearly all on point in every scene. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Antonio Banderas among them. 😀

    Ah, me. :::sigh::: It’s time for another re-watch. Thanx for the nudge. 🙂

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