Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy. The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell's Islands of Space in the November issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The complementary term soft science fiction, formed by analogy to hard science fiction, first appeared in the late 1970s. The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences. Science fiction critic Gary Westfahl argues that neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy; instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.
Stories revolving around scientific and technical consistency were written as early as the 1870s with the publication of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870 and Around the World in Eighty Days in 1873, among other stories. The attention to detail in Verne's work became an inspiration for many future scientists and explorers, although Verne himself denied writing as a scientist or seriously predicting machines and technology of the future.
Hugo Gernsback believed from the beginning of his involvement with science fiction in the 1920s that the stories should be instructive, although it was not long before he found it necessary to print fantastical and unscientific fiction in Amazing Stories to attract readers. During Gernsback's long absence from SF publishing, from 1936 to 1953, the field evolved away from his focus on facts and education. The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally considered to have started in the late 1930s and lasted until the mid-1940s, bringing with it "a quantum jump in quality, perhaps the greatest in the history of the genre", according to science fiction historians Peter Nicholls and Mike Ashley. However, Gernsback's views were unchanged. In his editorial in the first issue of Science-Fiction Plus, he gave his view of the modern sf story: "the fairy tale brand, the weird or fantastic type of what mistakenly masquerades under the name of Science-Fiction today!" and he stated his preference for "truly scientific, prophetic Science-Fiction with the full accent on SCIENCE". In the same editorial, Gernsback called for patent reform to give science fiction authors the right to create patents for ideas without having patent models because many of their ideas predated the technical progress needed to develop specifications for their ideas. The introduction referenced the numerous prescient technologies described throughout Ralph 124C 41+.
The heart of the "hard SF" designation is the relationship of the science content and attitude to the rest of the narrative, and (for some readers, at least) the "hardness" or rigor of the science itself. One requirement for hard SF is procedural or intentional: a story should try to be accurate, logical, credible and rigorous in its use of current scientific and technical knowledge about which technology, phenomena, scenarios and situations that are practically and/or theoretically possible. For example, the development of concrete proposals for spaceships, space stations, space missions, and a US space program in the 1950s and 1960s influenced a widespread proliferation of "hard" space stories. Later discoveries do not necessarily invalidate the label of hard SF, as evidenced by P. Schuyler Miller, who called Arthur C. Clarke's 1961 novel A Fall of Moondust hard SF, and the designation remains valid even though a crucial plot element, the existence of deep pockets of "moondust" in lunar craters, is now known to be incorrect.
There is a degree of flexibility in how far from "real science" a story can stray before it leaves the realm of hard SF. HSF authors scrupulously avoid such technology as faster-than-light travel (of which there are alternatives endorsed by nasa), while authors writing softer SF accept such notions (sometimes referred to as "enabling devices", since they allow the story to take place)
Readers of "hard SF" often try to find inaccuracies in stories. For example, a group at MIT concluded that the planet Mesklin in Hal Clement's 1953 novel Mission of Gravity would have had a sharp edge at the equator, and a Florida high-school class calculated that in Larry Niven's 1970 novel Ringworld the topsoil would have slid into the seas in a few thousand years. The same book featured another inaccuracy: the eponymous Ringworld is not in a stable orbit and would crash into the sun without active stabilization. Niven fixed these errors in his sequel The Ringworld Engineers, and noted them in the foreword.
Arranged chronologically by publication year.
Earliest cite: P. Schuyler Miller in Astounding Science Fiction ... he called A Fall of Moondust "hard" science fiction
hard science fiction ... the term was first used by P. Schuyler Miller in 1957
Soft science fiction, probably a back-formation from Hard Science Fiction)
A Fall of Moondust is a hard science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1961. It was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel, and was the first science fiction novel selected to become a Reader's Digest Condensed Book.A World Out of Time
A World Out of Time is a science fiction novel by Larry Niven and published in 1976. It is set outside the Known Space universe of many of Niven's stories, but is otherwise fairly representative of his 1970s hard science fiction novels. The main part of the novel was originally serialized in Galaxy magazine as "Children of the State"; another part was originally published as the short story "Rammer". A World Out of Time placed fifth in the annual Locus Poll in 1977.Ark (novel)
Ark is a 2009 hard science fiction novel by English author Stephen Baxter. It is a sequel to his 2008 novel Flood. Ark deals with the journey of the starship Ark One, and the continuing human struggle for survival on Earth after the catastrophic events of Flood. The series continues in three pendant stories, which are described in the plot summary below.
Being hard SF, Ark contains many references to unrealised or hypothesised technology (Project Orion, the Alcubierre drive), physics (antimatter), and hypotheses about extraterrestrial life. Baxter credits several books and academic works in an afterword: See Scientific background below.Dragon's Egg
Dragon's Egg is a 1980 hard science fiction novel by Robert L. Forward. In the story, Dragon's Egg is a neutron star with a surface gravity 67 billion times that of Earth, and inhabited by cheela, intelligent creatures the size of a sesame seed who live, think and develop a million times faster than humans. Most of the novel, from May to June 2050, chronicles the cheela civilization beginning with its discovery of agriculture to advanced technology and its first face-to-face contact with humans, who are observing the hyper-rapid evolution of the cheela civilization from orbit around Dragon's Egg.
The novel is regarded as a landmark in hard science fiction. As is typical of the genre, Dragon's Egg attempts to communicate unfamiliar ideas and imaginative scenes while giving adequate attention to the known scientific principles involved.Flood (Baxter novel)
Flood is a 2008 work of hard science fiction by English author Stephen Baxter. It describes a near future world where deep submarine seismic activity leads to seabed fragmentation, and the opening of deep subterranean reservoirs of water. Human civilisation is almost destroyed by the rising inundation, which covers Mount Everest in 2052. Baxter issued a sequel to this work, entitled Ark, in 2009.
Flood was nominated for the British Science Fiction Award in 2008.Hard fantasy
Hard fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literature that strives to present stories set in (and often centered on) a rational and knowable world. Hard fantasy is similar to hard science fiction, from which it draws its name, and hard magic, in that they all aim to build their respective worlds in a rigorous and logical manner. Where hard science fiction uses real scientific principles as its starting point, hard fantasy postulates starting conditions that do not, and often cannot, exist according to current scientific understanding.Unlike that of its sister genre, the definition of hard fantasy is amorphous in practice. Some instances of the genre feature alternative geography and cultures without the presence of magic or supernatural creatures (such as dragons and elves), typically found in other fantasy settings. Other hard-fantasy settings may feature those elements but with a detailed and plausible explanation for their existence.
The hard aspect of hard fantasy can refer to different elements. It can refer to a consistent history and folklore, as seen in Lord of the Rings, well-defined magic systems as seen in Mistborn or The Name of the Wind, and is sometimes also applied to A Song of Ice and Fire for its detailed political setting, and hard consequences for protagonists' mistakes.Iron Sunrise
Iron Sunrise is a 2004 hard science fiction novel by author Charles Stross, which follows the events in Singularity Sky. The book was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 2005.Singularity Sky depicts a future where human societies have been involuntarily taken from Earth and widely distributed across the Milky Way galaxy, seemingly at random, in the wake of a technological singularity which has led to the onset of strong AI, in the form of the Eschaton.
The events in both novels take place consecutively some time after the immediate aftermath of the singularity.Mundane science fiction
Mundane science fiction is a subgenre of hard science fiction which is characterized by its setting on Earth or within the solar system, and a lack of interstellar travel, intergalactic travel or human contact with extraterrestrials.Raft (novel)
Raft is a 1991 hard science fiction book by British writer Stephen Baxter. Raft is both Baxter's first novel and first book in the Xeelee Sequence, although the Xeelee are not present. Raft was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1992.Ring (Baxter novel)
Ring is a 1994 science fiction novel by British author Stephen Baxter. The novel tells the story of the end of the universe and the saving of mankind from its destruction. Two parallel plots are followed throughout the novel: that of Lieserl, an AI exploring the interior of the sun, and that of the Great Northern, a generation ship on a five-million-year journey.Ringworld series
The Ringworld series is a series of science fiction novels written by American author Larry Niven. It is part of his Known Space set of stories. Its backdrop is the Ringworld, a giant artifact 600 million miles in circumference around a star. The series is composed of five standalone science fiction novels, the original award-winning book and its four sequels:
1980: The Ringworld Engineers
1996: The Ringworld Throne
2004: Ringworld's Children
2012: Fate of Worlds (by Niven and Edward M. Lerner)Fate of Worlds is also a sequel to the four books of the Fleet of Worlds series, set in the same "Known Space" universe and all written by Niven and Edward M. Lerner:
2007: Fleet of Worlds
2008: Juggler of Worlds
2009: Destroyer of Worlds
2010: Betrayer of WorldsRubber science
Rubber science is a science fiction term describing a quasi-scientific explanation for an aspect of a science fiction setting. Rubber science explanations are fictional but convincing enough to avoid upsetting the suspension of disbelief. Rubber science is a feature of most genres of science fiction, with the exception of hard science fiction. It is also frequently invoked in comic books.The term was coined by Norman Spinrad in an essay entitled "Rubber Sciences", in Reginald Bretnor's anthology The Craft of Science Fiction.Soft science fiction
Soft science fiction, or soft SF, is a category of science fiction with two different definitions. It either (1) explores the "soft" sciences, and especially the social sciences (for example, anthropology, sociology, or psychology), rather than engineering or the "hard" sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry), or (2) is not scientifically accurate. Soft science fiction of either type is often more concerned with character and speculative societies, rather than speculative science or engineering. It is the opposite of hard science fiction. The term first appeared in the late 1970s and is attributed to Australian literary scholar Peter Nicholls.Tau Zero
Tau Zero is a hard science fiction novel by American writer Poul Anderson. The novel was based upon the short story "To Outlive Eternity" appearing in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1967. It was first published in book form in 1970.
The book is regarded as a quintessential example of "hard sci-fi", as its plot is guided by technology until the dramatic conclusion. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1971.Techno-thriller
A techno-thriller (also known as technothrillers) is a hybrid genre drawing from science fiction, thrillers, spy fiction, action, and war novels. They include a disproportionate amount (relative to other genres) of technical details on their subject matter (typically military technology); only hard science fiction tends towards a comparable level of supporting detail on the technical side. The inner workings of technology and the mechanics of various disciplines (espionage, martial arts, politics) are thoroughly explored, and the plot often turns on the particulars of that exploration.The Invincible
The Invincible (Polish: Niezwyciężony) is a science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem, published in 1964.
The Invincible originally appeared as the title story in Lem's collection Niezwyciężony i inne opowiadania ("The Invincible and Other Stories"). A translation into German was published in 1967; an English translation by Wendayne Ackerman, based on the German one, was published in 1973. A direct translation into English from Polish, by Bill Johnston, was published in 2006.
It was one of the first novels to explore the ideas of microrobots/smartdust/etc., artificial swarm intelligence and "necroevolution", a term suggested by Lem for evolution of non-living matter.The World at the End of Time
World at the End of Time is a 1990 hard science fiction novel by American writer Frederik Pohl. It tells the parallel stories of a human and a plasma-based intelligence who manage to survive to the time near the heat death of the universe. The book is thus a combined work in speculative cosmology and space colonization.