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  1.  (1268.1)
    What are some of the better works in hard sf, and what are some of the better works in soft sf? Where do Gibson or Bradury or Asimov or Harlan Ellison fall into those two classifications?

    Here's the thing -- sf does not divide into hard and soft, okay? It's not a binary process.

    Harlan, I think, would reject the notion that he writes sf at all. I suspect he sees himself as working in the tradition of Borges. He can and has written sf, but I don't think he'd define the bulk of his work that way.

    Bill Gibson's interesting, because one of the early labels attached to what became cyberpunk was "Radical Hard SF." The NEUROMANCER trilogy certainly falls within hard sf, but one of the points of cyberpunk was that it would also fall under the rubric of social science fiction.
    • CommentAuthortmofee
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    Question, would anyone count stuff like Haldeman's Forever War as "hard scifi"? I mean, I know it's primarily a book about war, but the FTL ideas/time dialation I thought would give it that category. Just not that stupid sequel he wrote.
  2.  (1268.3)
    Ah, I don't care if it's hard or soft, anyone who is into science fiction should read some Ursula Le Guin! (although I guess hers would count as about 75% soft, 25% hard, having more social import than scientific).

    The Birthday of the World is a great place ot start, being a colleciton of short stories and giving a gentle insight into her huge universes.
    The Left Hand of Darkness is a wonderful novel.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    I adore Alastair Reynolds' work, the trilogy that starts with Revelation Space is absolutely riveting but perhaps not "hard" enough? There's no FTL travel but some of the other tech borders on godlike. Reynolds himself describes it as "Space Opera" though. Still a mandatory read in my opinion.
  3.  (1268.5)
    THE FOREVER WAR could definitely be put under the hard sf rubric. As would REVELATION SPACE, as they both count on rigid extrapolation of physics for their plot engines. REVELATION SPACE was part of a general move to "reclaim" space opera.
  4.  (1268.6)
    As Warren said, it is not one or the other. They are descriptors, not essential categories. The Forever War has hard SF elements, but also "soft" ones in dealing about the effects of war. Timescape is much more interested in the intricacies of scientific theories. Heinlein, for example, is generally regarded as a hard SF writer, yet he also blended social issues into a number of his works. I think that the best SF writers, like Robinson, do that blending quite well, so that it not just about the science, but its impact on human beings.

    Harlan Ellison has described himself in the past as a fantasist, fabulist, and writer of speculative fiction, and has taken great umbrage to the label of "SF" or the more horrifying "sci-fi" when applied to his work.
  5.  (1268.7)
    The way I always understood "Hard SF" as opposed to "SciFi" is that Hard SF really concentrates on the science (and the look-at-me portentiousness). It tries to make it as "real" as possible, sometimes to the detriment of the characters and plot. SciFi should have guns, explosions, FTL starships, badly disguised 18th and 19th century politics and sex.
  6.  (1268.8)
    The way I always understood "Hard SF" as opposed to "SciFi"

    Well, now it's been explained to you.

    If this thread continues with, "Yeah, but the definition I thought up in my head when I was taking a dump on my eighth birthday is --" then it's going to get shut down.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    I'm not going to bother with the hard or soft distinction either, so I'll just recommend pretty much anything written by Robert J. Sawyer. Calculating God and Factoring Humanity are my favourites, but his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy and Mindscan were also very good. Aliens, androids, uploading consciousness, messages from space, quantum physics and parallel Earths -- that's some good sci-fi.
  7.  (1268.10)
    I'm surprised no one's mentioned Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg and Starquake. Hard science fiction about life evolving on a neutron star. Great fun.

    Did Greg Bear get mentioned at all with Eon? Another good one. Actually, Greg Bear in general. I would also put in the other Bear, Elizabeth Bear's Hammered Trilogy, which was amazingly good as well.

    Niven and Pournelle, obvee, of course.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008 edited
    Even though Heinlein focused on the sociological side of things, his science was usually plausible -- at least insofar as what was known at the time of his writing. His best books were _The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress_ (harder) and _Stranger In a Strange Land_ (softer). An early novella, _Orphans Of The Sky_, has a detailed description of life on a star-spanning "generation ship" which had gone lost due to a crew mutiny, its surviving inhabitants' descendants carrying on without even knowing they're on a gigantic spaceship. I also have always had a fondness for Asimov's _The Gods Themselves_, a trans-universal story he wrote on a dare based on an impossible isotope of Iron. Arthur C. Clarke usually tended too much towards the transcendental for my tastes but _Rendezvous With Rama_ is a latter-day classic (can't say as much for the sequels) and .

    And, to pick something more obscure, L. Neil Smith's _Pallas_ describes a plausible and well-thought depiction of how one of the closer Dwarf Planets might be colonized and terraformed. On this world he establishes a sort of high-tech hunter-gatherer culture. You may or may not like his politics but it's still a good read.

    And times do change -- when I was in college "sci-fi" was considered unhip and derogatory; more recently it's been embraced, but now I'm starting to see a resurgence of the older aversion to the term. Which is why I like "fantastika" and keep hoping it will catch on.

    One more thing -- I haven't yet read any of his works but Vernor Vinge appears to have formed something of a bridge between classic hard-sf and modern cyberpunk. His themes have covered "cyberspace" when that concept was just starting to solidify in the early 1980s, and the technological "singularity."
  8.  (1268.12)
    Yeah, I'm of the age where "sci-fi" is anathema. It seems to have, of late, been embraced as an indicator of populism/"dumb is okay" stance.

    I read one of Vinge's books and found it pretty painful going, but he seems to have a huge audience...
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    A few months back I found a copy of Murray Leinster's The Wailing Asteroid in a thrift shop. Leinster seemed to be immensely influential at one point, but little read today. I picked it up largely because the book was made into a wonderfully dreadful B-movie in the 1960s ("The Terrornauts") that scared the hell out of me as a kid.

    It's set at the very beginning of the Space Race, and follows the attempt by an engineer obsessed by implanted memories to investigate an asteroid that has begun transmitting a distress signal.

    Like a lot of SF novels before the 80s, it was rather slender, under 200 pages. A fast read, and pretty satisfying. A bit sexist and enamored of square-jawed cold war attitudes, but Leinster takes pains to turn a "engineer builds a spaceship in his garage" story into something plausible.

    * * *

    I really liked some of Robert Reed's early novels, and found his short story "Hybrid" wonderfully disturbing, but the last few of this I read, Marrow and Sister Alice, did nothing for me. Too much technology-as-magic and tiresome hereditary elites tropes.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    Rudy Rucker - from what I understand he's seems to be doing some of the most interesting "Hard SF" out there at the moment, taking his understanding of high math and all the crazy physics theories and using them to explore a radically different world.

    in fact I've got one of his 'Ware books on my To-Read pile. will have to take that away with me this Easter.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    i'd suggest anything by greg egan. he used to regularly break my head. and he has a new novel out this year, which is good news.
    kim stanley robinson's mars trilogy gets another vote from me.

    i expected more from alastair reynolds, when i finally got round to reading revelation space i was very unimpressed by it, though his shorts had suggested more.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    Neal Asher is good. Though I suppose he's more cyberpunky if you're genre obsessed. I really like the way he's thought out his biology though. And he has a trans universal transport device called a 'Runcible Spoon'. It's hard not to like that. If you're me anyway.
  9.  (1268.17)
    Warren said: No. If we're going to talk about this, let's do it right. Hard sf is sf about the physical, "hard" sciences. Soft sf is about the social sciences. Those are the definitions.

    Well, they are now. But that's because someone decided to define soft sf as the opposite of hard sf (which I think was already in circulation) in so far as the social sciences are supposed to be "softer" than the "hard" sciences.

    Before they did that, though, it seems to me that all SF that was speculation in a rigourous vein was hard sf; and looseygoosey stuff that just had space aliens and ray guns in it was the opposite of hard sf.

    From my POV, you can be just as rigourous and predictive in psychology, sociology and anthropology; and if you're not, you're not really doing science at all. So I think something's lost in the definition slide.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    Hmm, what else was in my read pile recently.

    Ken MacLeod stuff I've read over the last few years: The Stone Canal, and the trilogy Cosmonaut Keep / Dark Light / Engine City.

    There are some similarities between the two settings that made me wonder if MacLeod was running out of ideas, but they play out quite differently. Good, but not great. More space opera than Hard SF in any case.

    Lesse. Building Harlequin's Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper. Sort of. Cooper wrote it, based on ideas and notes by Niven. This is genuine hard SF. No FTL or handwaving to make things easy. There's nanotech and AI and such, but the characters have good reasons to keep them in check; they're fleeing a solar system where something like the Singularity may have occurred. As the title suggests, they build a moon, and populate it, as a repair base, which they eventually plan to abandon. It's slow to start and too damn long and low-key, but ultimately satisfying.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2008
    Bill Gibson's interesting, because one of the early labels attached to what became cyberpunk was "Radical Hard SF." The NEUROMANCER trilogy certainly falls within hard sf, but one of the points of cyberpunk was that it would also fall under the rubric of social science fiction.

    I would imagine that most cyberpunk novels fall within hard sf, mostly because they largely deal with IT, nanotechnology etc. A lot of them are certainly more social in scope and a major factor for that is that the technologies concerned were more immediate, with the result that those novels ended up exploring and almost describing what would come a decade later. Novels like Snow Crash or Neuromancer do not engage with the social in the macrocosmic scope of The Dispossessed for example, which is more like a thought experiment, or some of Banks' Culture novels, but they focus on the more imminent social effects of technology.

    Inasmuch as sf explores the social effects of technological applications, the situation you mentioned above will apply anyway.
  10.  (1268.20)
    There's three books by a couple of fantasy writers that I'd consider Hard SF, even though they're notionally "soft" sf, and that's Connie Willis's Passages and Belweather, and Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark.

    Passages deals with the physiology of near death experiences; even though it deals with the fantasy aspect of what we experience in NDEs, it's all about the hardwiring and the scientific discovery of the evolutionary point of NDEs. So that's hard, I think.

    Belweather's a bit sketchier, because it's dealing with something very like a pseudo-science in the statistical analysis of social trends, with the macguffin of a character who innately is just plain good at being one step ahead of the zeitgeist. Since the book is in part an investigation of how to make this statistical analysis more rigourous and create genuine predictions, that seems hard SF to me.

    And The Speed of Dark is mostly an investigation of what it's like to be autistic. That's the soft science of psychology in the soft method of humanist imagination. But at the same time, it's very much about the physiology and the possibilities of physiological alteration leading to psychological alteration.

    So that's where I think Hard and Soft SF blur into each other; with the idea that Hard SF is, as it were, an attitude, where rigorous scientific method and prediction, and a technological approach to the soft sciences, is what counts, rather than the subject matter.

    All three of the above are very well written, too; which is quite probably more important.