"No less a critic than C. S. Lewis has described the ravenous addiction that these magazines inspired; the same phenomenon has led me to call science fiction the only genuine consciousness-expanding drug." Arthur C. Clarke

Hard Vs. Soft Science Fiction

There is always a big difference between hard and soft science fiction, and I have been writing about hard science fiction here and haven’t really explained it well.

Hard Science Fiction is science fiction that emphasizes the technical, the scientific, and it is this emphasis that drives nearly every aspect.  Many of the best hard science fiction writers are also scientists, and often many of the scientific hypotheses that they cannot publish in their academic field they use in their writing, so that the technical aspect of their stories are very realistic, or at least very possible.

Of the Big Three science fiction writers (Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein), all three either featured elements of hard science fiction, had brilliant flashes of it, or, in Asimov’s case, wrote it solely.  Other major writers of hard science fiction include Frederik Pohl, Hal Clement, Poul Anderson, Ben BovaL. Sprague de Camp, and, much earlier, H.G. Wells.

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov in 1944. All three worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard together during World War II.

Of these writers, Asimov had a doctorate in biochemistry, Clarke was Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, Clement had degrees in astronomy and chemistry, Anderson had a degree in physics, Bova was a technical writer for Project Vanguard, and de Camp had degrees in engineering.

This very academic-based scientific writing is the whole basis behind hard science fiction.  Every idea that comes out of this genre has some real, scientific hypothesis behind it, and often these hypotheses eventually come true.  Clarke described geostationary communications satellites in 1945, more than a decade before Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviet Union.  Asimov coined the term “robotics” in 1941.

Soft science fiction, on the other hand, deals with more speculative ideas and more ambiguous and conceptive sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, and political science.  In my opinion, these are much easier ideals to write under, being much more flexible and “soft,” making it much easier for certain works to fit inside.

Hard science fiction predicts the future, to put it simply.  Don’t go read scientist’s views on the future; read hard science fiction and see what will happen to us in the years to come.


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