How hard do you want it?
Posted October 4, 2012on:
or, random thoughts on hard science fiction.
How hard is too hard? How much science do you really want in your science fiction? According to wikipedia, hard scifi is defined as
“a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.”
It goes on to say that hard scifi should have accurate science and lots of scientific details. To simplify greatly, in hard scifi the science is an important part of the worldbuilding. the soft scifi story says they boarded a ship and went to another planet, the hard scifi story offers information regarding the type and design of the ship, how it manages to travel faster than light, and what it’s fuel is made of, and all of these details are important to plot development and characterization.
I’ve always had a soft spot for hard scifi because I love knowing how things work. Doesn’t matter if the author mentions elements or fuels or technology that doesn’t currently exist (that’s the fiction part), because I’m still getting a plausable scientific foundation for the technologies mentioned. Many books that I’d categorize as hard scifi can easily fall into other categories as well – space opera, military scifi, first contact, etc.
Titles that come to mind when I think hard scifi include Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Faith, by John Love, Clockwork Rocket, by Greg Egan, and plenty of Peter Watts, Gregory Benford, Larry Niven and A.E. Van Vogt. It’s the type of stuff where accurate science trumps all, and it’s usually pretty damn awesome.
as readers and fans of hard scifi, how hard do we really want it?
I bring this up because I recently survived Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan. Egan is a bit of a mystery man, and this was my first taste of his style. Egan dumps his reader on an alien planet (sounds good so far!), and the story mostly follows a scientist who learns of the danger her planet is it (still sounds great!). The physics work a little different in this solar system (sweet!) so we get all sorts of charts (cool, i guess) and academic discussions (when did I sign up for SCI302 Astrophysics II?) about the physics and how basically time and light and spacetime is completely different here. And then there are more charts, to put everything in 4 dimensions, more academic discussions (when did I sign up for SCI515 Non-real Relativity??), and then, well, I started to feel a bit stupid. What happened to the cool aliens and interesting plot?
If the heavy science in the book bores me to tears, can I still call myself a fan of hard scifi?
I freely admit I’m not the smartest person in the world, I’ve always loved math and science, even if it didn’t love me back. But when a hard scifi book makes me feel like I flunked 10th grade geometry, the hard scifi just got too hard for me.