At the end of my last blog about technology in speculative fiction, I said we'd be looking at three different levels of "hardness" with which authors treat the scientific premises behind their fiction.
These are essentially subgenres of speculative fiction, but I've come up with a threefold taxonomy of sorts that I use to make sense of things.
Here's why: subgenres come in all shapes and sizes. Best Science Fiction Books.com/Best Fantasy Books.com come up with 55 sci-fi subgenres and 57 fantasy subgenres!
Today's selection is Hard Science Fiction, so grab your chemistry manuals and physics books, cuz it's time for the Electric Didact!
The Mohs Scale
A lot of people get hung up on how "hard" sci-fi books, movies, TV shows, and (to a lesser extent) video games are written. How accurate is the science behind the tale?
For some (like myself), it's not incredibly important. For others (like some people I know), it makes or breaks the experience. Some have suggested using a hardness scale akin to Frederich Mohs's scale of mineral hardness.
Clearly, categorizing fiction is a far more slippery proposition than categorizing rocks.
"A character is shown a machine for traveling into the past and asks, 'How does it work?'
- In soft SF: 'You sit in this seat, set the date you want, and pull that lever.'
- In hard SF: 'A good question with an interesting answer. Please have a seat while I bring you up to speed on the latest ideas in quantum theory, after which I will spend a chapter detailing an elaborate, yet plausible-sounding connection between quantum states, the unified field theory, and the means by which the brain stores memory, all tied into theories from both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.'
- In really hard SF: 'It doesn't. Time travel to the past is impossible.'" ("Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness," tvtropes.org)
The radio show Science Friday recently interviewed debut novelist Andy Weir on his novel The Martian because he took an interesting approach to writing hard sci-fi. Weir's novel is in the near future (a common setting for hard sci-fi) and follows an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars when his mission fails and his compatriots return home.
Weir composed and published the novel online in serial installments, seeking peer and professional feedback as he went on the accuracy of his science and math. He wanted all the science to be founded firmly in theory. The results are pretty interesting. Listen to the interview on Science Friday's website.
This is just a recent example of many. For a lot of people, this is what you should be reading (or watching) rather than stuff like...I dunno...
okay-yes-I-do-know STAR WARS. Yes.
Love Star Wars.
Who am I preaching to here?
Well, I guess I'm trying to win myself over. Remember how I was skeptical of NASA's foray into sci-fi?
Bottom line: Hard science fiction is still "imaginary." Speculative fiction doesn't have to take itself too seriously. But when it does, the result can be pretty great.
Take the film Contact (1997). I just rewatched it recently for a piece of criticism I was working on, and it's probably one of my favorites for its exploration of real human dynamics in the face of a potential alien encounter (and I don't think it's quite as pro-atheist/anti-Christian as some say).
I'll always stand by this opinion: The best speculative fiction isn't really about science, magic, or technology; it's about human nature and human relationships.
Which brings us to the infographic! In researching this series of blogs, I decided it would be helpful to have a visual that could sum up what we've been talking about. Here's the piece for Hard Science Fiction, with some examples of books, TV shows/movies, and video games.
There will be a similar infographic for the other two subgenres as well, so stay tuned!
Do you have other examples not on the list? Tell me in the comments or on the Facebook page. And if you haven't yet "liked" it, go there and "like" it right now.
Click the infographic to view it full size.
You may download and share it, but please acknowledge that Jedd Cole/Electric Didact is the author.
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.