Hard science fiction

From Academic Kids

Hard science fiction, or hard SF, is a subgenre of science fiction characterized by an interest in scientific detail or accuracy. However, there is a great deal of disagreement among readers and writers over what exactly constitutes an interest in scientific detail. Many hard SF stories focus on the natural sciences and technological developments, but many others leave technology in the background.

Some authors scrupulously eschew such implausibilities as faster-than-light travel, while others accept such plot devices but focus on realistically depicting the worlds that such a technology might make accessible; the hard SF writer is permitted to foresee the automobile provided that he also foresees the traffic jam.

Character development is often secondary to explorations of astronomical or physical phenomena, but some authors foreground the human condition. Even in such cases, a common trope of hard SF hinges the resolution of the plot on a technological point.

Writers usually attempt to make their stories consistent with known science at the time of publication. Even when writing hard SF set in alternate universes where different physical laws apply, authors still attempt to create an internally consistent set of physical laws.

See the article on Hal Clement for a description of how one hard science fiction author viewed his craft.


Hard science fiction in the media

Hard science fiction used to be largely a literary genre, as the complexities of physics were initially perceived to be poorly suited to other media. This perception has been somewhat modified in the latter parts of the 20th century and early 21st century.

One notable early exception is 2001: A Space Odyssey, though the movie still left out much of the physics, computer science, and other scientific analyses present in the novel.


One science-fiction television show which has consciously attempted to portray physics correctly is J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5, albeit inconsistently especially in later seasons of its half-decade run. The sequel series, Crusade, went so far as to formally enter into a working partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to ensure scientific accuracy. Certain dramatic elements such as sounds in space, visible lasers in a vacuum, etc., are probably to be expected or even demanded by the casual viewer not deeply familiar with the real science involved, and any television or film SF producer must tread a gray line between pleasing the lowest and highest common denominators in his audience. However, even in these cases, the producers came up with explanations which attempted to produce a consistent physics (i.e. the sounds in space were background music and the lasers were not lasers but plasma bolts).


Masamune Shirow is a manga artist who works in the hard SF genre. His works often examine the impact of advanced future technology in society, particularly cybernetics and information networks. He is known for going into great technical and scientific detail, to the point of using numerous captions and footnotes to explain technical aspects to the reader or even suggest possible theories/implementations for fictional technology. This extends to his drawings, where he will sometimes make a note to explain the function of a stylistic feature of a weapon or robot. He has also created the Neurohard project, a world in the hard science fiction style to be used by him and other artists. Shirow's work is unique in that it develops in equally great depth the social/cultural aspects in a 'hard' style, again providing notes on ideas, philosophy, etc. and using a somewhat technical approach in discussing ethics and social issues. The Ghost in the Shell manga (but not the anime) is a good example of his serious work. Appleseed is another story featuring heavy use of advanced technology.


Also in anime, Mobile Suit Gundam marked the maturation of the giant robot genre. Giant warrior robots were initially depicted as colossal superheroic metal giants with inexplicable (sometimes campy) superscience that bordered on magic. Gundam turned these robots into high-tech military hardware that were later given background stories based on a modern understanding of robotics, hydraulics, and military hardware. This gave rise to the real robot subgenre (known in English outside Japan as mecha) which also spawned classics such as Votoms, Macross, and Robotech. (The creators of the first Macross series do note that this robotic mecha story is not hard science fiction, but a combination of elements from hard science fiction and other science fiction sub-genres.)


An example of a web-based hard science fiction project (where many people contribute different pieces of what becomes a coherent story) is Orion's Arm.

A fan organization that has grown up around Hard Science Fiction is General Technics, populated by scientists, technical folks, and others with a specific interest in this area. General Technics' name is taken from the organization that created a global-scale computer in John Brunner's novel, Stand on Zanzibar. General Technics, though concentrated in the American Midwest, has a global membership.

Well known authors often said to be practitioners of hard SF include

See also

External link



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