Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

So you don’t like hard science fiction…?

November 14th, 2013

Over the past year or so I’ve read several disparaging comments about my favorite kind of science fiction — the hard stuff. So I thought I’d address some common misconceptions about the sub-genre in a post that published today at Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Posted on: Thursday, November 14th, 2013 at 10:43 am
Categories: Reading.
Tags: ,

8 Responses to “So you don’t like hard science fiction…?”

  1. Randy Stafford Says:

    I thought it was a valuable article.

    You dispensed with a couple of misconceptions: hard sf not having emotion and science fiction trying to be predictive instead of “just” extrapolative.

    I agree with Benford’s comparison of hard sf to formalist poetry. Other forms of fantastic fiction, like free verse, may be enjoyable to read and write, but, if you can pull off the successful hard sf story (with plausible science, interesting conflict and characters, and “read aloud” prose) you are operating at the highest level of skill. The hard sf writer structures their vision within the rhythms and bounds of the universe’s form. But the hard sf writer still has a great many forms to chose from amongst the theories, facts, and speculations of science.

    Though the Egan I’ve read does, sometimes, seem like you missed a prerequisite course. I think some of the late Charles Sheffield’s work tried to solve that problem — scientific appendices explaining the ideas of the story. Perhaps, eventually, self-publishing may lead to duets for the majority of authors who, unlike Sheffield, didn’t possess the assured knowledge he did. They can team up with a scientist or science writer to explain some of the more abstruse scientific ideas. In a sense, I think Analog and Baen books already try to do that with science columns. I’ve heard Egan does on his own website too.

  2. Linda Says:

    Thanks Randy. I was inspired to write the post after hearing several really negative comments about hard SF, generally from people who don’t read it — and I’d love to persuade more people to read it. I really like the definition you describe from Greg Benford, and agree with your assessment of the ideal story. That’s what we’re always aiming for — I hope!

  3. Robert Crookall Says:

    Hi Linda. Interesting article. Does “hard SF” always mean futuristic possibilities? One of the books that influenced me most was Harry Harrison’s “West of Eden” which I read when very young – about an alternative Earth in which the dinosaurs were never wiped out, and so go on to evolve into an intelligent species with advanced genetically engineered bio-technology. (The humans in this story are only hunter-gatherers). There is a very serious attempt at maintaining scientific accuracy in the story, particularly from a life sciences point of view. So I’ve always tended to regard it as “hard SF”, although there is absolutely nothing in it about futuristic speculations of the evolution of present technologies.

  4. Linda Says:

    Hi Robert,

    Sounds like alternate history to me! And I don’t see why hard SF and alternate history can’t overlap.

    It’s not the definition of hard SF that concerns me, though. What matters to me is when potential readers avoid the genre because of misconceptions about what hard SF is. Three or four times over the past year I’ve read comments or entire posts about how dull the stuff is, filled with cardboard characters, no relationships, etc. We need to counter those notions.

  5. Mark R Hunter Says:

    I love hard science fiction! Of course, I love almost all science fiction, but still …

  6. Linda Says:

    Thanks Mark! It’s those that think they don’t like hard SF that I’d love to lure into the field. 😉

  7. Kassie Kay Says:

    Hey, thanks for the perspective. I think I’m one of those people who stopped reading science fiction because I didn’t want to be classified as a nerd. I’m not anything close to a scientist, so I didn’t want others to think that I am.

    But you’re right! It’s not just about science. I like the part where you said that it’s about how science and technology AFFECT people, and that is for sure worth reading about. We’re all people. And we’re all immersed in a society of technology, especially here in the USA. We should be interested in this stuff.

    I think I’ll try to give “hard SF” a try again. Any suggestions of a good place to start? A favorite book to get me into the SF?


  8. Linda Says:

    But nerds rule! 😉

    For suggestions of where to start, from my own work I’d say my newest THE RED: FIRST LIGHT, or my very first THE BOHR MAKER. As mentioned in the post, a couple others to look at are Tobias Buckell’s ARCTIC RISING and MJ Locke’s UP AGAINST IT. I hope you find something you like!