1. Lone Wanderer
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    Lone Wanderer Member

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    Hard or Soft Science Fiction?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Lone Wanderer, Aug 26, 2013.

    Which do you prefer?

    Soft: The science and future setting is secondary and serves to compliment the main plot (Star Wars)

    Hard: The narrative focuses on the technical and scientific detail and is much more plausible (Foundation series)
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I like them both, but I don't think Star Wars is soft science fiction. I think it is fantasy in space. To me, soft science fiction are works that deal primarily with social aspects of science and how it affects humans. Science and technology are part of the theme, but the scientific detail isn't great. That said, it doesn't run counter to known scientific principles without explanation.

    I view hard science fiction as having a much greater reliance on the technical details, often but not always dealing with principles of physics or astronomy (see Robert Forward's "The Dragon's Egg"). Again, the works adhere to what is known about science, or extrapolate from it, or if they deviate from it they provide a good theoretical basis for doing so.

    Of course, there is a lot of overlap between the two and the boundaries get blurry, but if Star Wars can be science fiction just because it is set in space, then the boundary between science fiction and fantasy is pretty much non-existent.
     
  3. Lone Wanderer
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    Lone Wanderer Member

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    I suppose a better example than Star Wars would have been Star Trek or maybe Ender's Game (but I think Ender's Game is more middle-ground)?

    From my experience, both Hard and Soft deal with the social implications of technology but Soft tends to focus on it in greater detail but that just may be the fact that, as I said, the focus of hard science fiction is the technical detail.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that Star Wars is fantasy not sci fi. I prefer it on the soft side, simply because I find hard sci fi to be usually written in a wooden, almost autistic manner, where a writer can go on about particulars of an engine for several pages, and character development usually suffers. If they can moderate their fascination with describing technology, I like hard sci fi better, because I enjoy science quite a bit. So my all time favourites in this genre are books like 'Mars Trilogy' 'Dune' and 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'.
     
  5. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Well the series I'm currently writing is soft sci-fi, and I think that's the style I prefer to read as well.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I just want to point out that, like just about everything else, sci-fi isn't a binary, hard-or-soft thing. There's a whole range in between the hardest of the hard and pure fantasy. (Maybe there should be a Mohs scale of hardness for sci-fi ...)

    I agree that, at least traditionally, the hardest of hard sci-fi wasn't well-written and had little focus on character, and I think this was because it was usually written by scientists and engineers. They focused on their enthusiasms at the expense of what we now regard as the essentials of good fiction.

    I haven't read much current science fiction, though, but my impression is that the writing has gotten better, and perhaps that's led to a general softening of the genre. If the writers are concerned primarily with character, they're not as obsessed with hardware and technology. This is a good thing overall.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I prefer well-written science fiction. I'd rather write hard science fiction, but I'm not that picky over what I read, even if it's wild-ass off the wall fantasy.

    But if it's poorly written, I'm likely to drop it in favor of something more interesting.
     
  8. Kramitdfrog
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    Kramitdfrog Member

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    mmmmm I guess I'm just a book worm.... I mean my collection comprises of D&D books (forgotten realms) to Robin Hobb to King to Starwars novels.... then I read biology, physics, philosophy and psychology.... I guess I'm trying to say I love it all... I see no delineating line
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Soft sci-fi, but that's because I have no interest in technology and I despise long-winded detail (think Tolkien - not that he's a bad writer, but I just get bored of all his detail). I like the extraordinary in sci-fi, in the same way I like it in fantasy - the incredible, the out of this world, the supernatural, the fantastic, they take my breath away. But I do not need to know HOW it happens. It saps the magic for me. If I wanted realistic, I'd read general fiction or crime fiction or something else. I don't want realistic - it's why I'm looking at sci-fi and fantasy.
     
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  10. Uberwatch
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    Uberwatch Active Member

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    Well Soft-Scfi usually involves more about plot and characters, but happen to exist in a setting where it would be considered fictional in science. Hard Sc-fi is near-accurate "science eventuality" (Something Spielberg said about Jurassic Park). It's more about the science of the story and focuses on every aspect in detail.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    With good hard science fiction, plot and character are just as important as anywhere else, but the rigor of the science or extrapolation from known principles is much greater.
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I must echo Cog's words in that I like good science fiction. I don't care if it's hard (Niven-Ringworld) or soft (Herbert-Dune) or weird (M.J. Harrison-Light). It just has to be intriguing and compelling. It has to tell me a good story and compel some good questions from me.
     
  13. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry if this is a dumb question, but where exactly does Heinlein fall on the scale of hard-soft sci-fi? I remember a bit near the end of Friday where he went on about some space ship's mechanics for a few pages (that I mostly skipped/skimmed) although the book was mostly an easy read, but e.g. in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, if my memory serves me right, the focus was on characters and politics / social issues instead of tech-speak yet there's quite a bit of technical / military jargon in Starship Troopers, so... middle ground?
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Heinlein changed. Early in his career he wrote a lot of very hard sci-fi. Over time he began to include more discussions of politics and social systems, sexual identity, and so on. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is probably my favorite of his novels, and it kind of works both ways. But later on he wrote things like I Will Fear No Evil that held no interest for me at all (at the time; I was a preteen kid when I read it; I might be more interested today.)

    It seems, for all his bluster, Heinlein was easily influenced by the women in his life, almost to the point of being a pushover. His second wife was a left-leaning liberal, and Heinlein's early works reflected that to some degree. Later on he married his third wife, Virginia, who was a staunch conservative libertarian, and suddenly he became one, too. Most of his hardass be-smart-and-brave-or-die work comes from that period. Isaac Asimov (a liberal) wrote that, while he always considered Heinlein a friend, he became harder to get along with after marrying Virginia, because he became so vocal about right-wing politics.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This surprises me, because I'm a great lover of emotional writing in fiction ...but I actually prefer 'hard' sci-fi. I like reading about (and thinking about) what the future might actually be like. I'm no scientist myself, which maybe increases my fascination with this genre. But I do love stories about technology, space travel and potential interaction with alien species and environments! Of course, it helps if these are presented with human characters who also garner my interest, but I love visiting the future, in books at least. I love historical fiction too, which is probably weird for a hard sci-fi lover. The present ...nah, not so much...
     
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  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know how you feel. I like sci-fi, too, but I also like historical fiction, fantasy, and just about anything I would term "exotic." What I dislike reading about (usually) is the here-and-now. I get enough of the here-and-now every time I turn on the news or open the front door. When I read, I want to be taken somewhere else, somewhere dazzling, fascinating, challenging. Not somewhere blah. I'm not interested in blah.
     
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  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Hard science fiction does not mean you don't create emotional depth. It simply means you do your due diligence on your setting to make it scientifically plausible. That's really no different than a mystery writer researching the cities, cultures, and professions that appear in the novel.

    Hard science fiction couples more of the story to the science of the setting, whereas soft science fiction couples it more to the society, politics, religions, etc that might arise in a differnt environment. But the story is still about people interacting with the setting and each other.

    When it comes to writing good fiction, the fundamentals remain true regardless of the genre.
     
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  18. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I wrote a short story science fiction story around a theoretic test of Relativity. I found that the readers generally disliked the sections dealing with scientific information, and really liked the scene descriptions and characters. One of the comments I got regarding the scientific passages was, "bad science," even though the information came directly from Einstein's theories.
    One thing I learned from this beta reading was that the science in a story doesn't need explanation, it can just be there within the fabric of the story. If it interrupts the readers experience of the characters and the world of the story, then it is "Bad Science" even if it is factual.

    One of my least favourite science fiction stories was "Destination Void," which is odd because the other books in that universe, "The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect and The Ascension Factor," were excellent IMO.
    I only read "Destination Void" because I had already read "The Jesus Incident."
    In Destination Void there are reams of jargon involved around constructing an artificial intelligence, a lot of which had to be rewritten by Bill Ransom because the scientific assumptions of 1966 were proved to be wrong. I think he needn't have bothered, the technical crap just ruined this novel.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2013
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Destination: Void was an awful read, but the technical discussion was closely tied to the (rather tiresome) central premise of the story. It was my least favorite of all Frank Herbert stories I've read.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm reading James Corey's The Leviathan Wakes. It is space opera, I guess. So far, quite entertaining. I think Corey is the same person as fantasy writer Daniel Abraham, so if you like him as Abraham, you might check him out as Corey as well.
     
  21. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    Really, when I think about it Destination: Void, was a kind of technocratic retelling of Frankenstein. But it's dry and verbose by comparison.
    Despite the revisions, the novel’s far-future technology is dated, obsolescent… and pretty dull, given Herbert’s rigorous technical approach. Maybe if I were more of a Hard SF kind of guy, or had a stronger grasp of ’70s computer hardware I might have appreciated it more.
    The Monster in this case was the AI, the machine mind. But Frankenstein was about the nature of man and creation. I heard that Frankenstein has been called the first real science fiction story, even though it has horror elements.
    Would it be classified as hard or soft Science Fiction? Anything written now in that genre and time frame would be called Steam Punk I guess?
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2013

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