SF/F Genre Glossary

Hard & Soft Science Fiction

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

Futuristic Subway by Hideyoshi
Futuristic Subway by Hideyoshi

What is Hard Science Fiction?

Science fiction written with an eye towards scientific accuracy. The science featured in these stories must be theoretically possible, logical, and accurate, according to the science available at the time of writing.

Examples:

  • Heavy Planet by Hal Clement
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven

What is Soft Science Fiction?

Conversely, soft science fiction takes the emphasis away from the details of science. The mechanics behind the operation of future technology may not be explained. Characters are the central focus.

Examples:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Dune by Frank Herbert

Further Reading
10 Books that Prove Science Fiction Just Got Harder

Most science fiction seems to fall between the two extremes. Are you a science fiction reader? Do you have a preference?

P.S. As an unexpected result of these genre posts I’ve stumbled onto some amazing artist portfolios. Clicking any of these images will take you to the source. If you’re into illustration and artwork I highly recommend the click through.

3 Comments

  1. Pretty straight-forward to define but, as I understand it, Hard SF can be pretty difficult to write. All the old writer’s guidelines for magazines that publish Hard SF always mention that the Science element needs to be integral to the plot, such that if it were removed, the plot would cease to make sense. I could never figure how you could really do that, or even if it was necessarily desireable.

    1. I couldn’t write it simply because the science doesn’t hold my attention. I’ve read a few hard SF books, can see why people enjoy them, but they’re not my preference.

      1. The closest I’ve come is I started reading Asimov’s Foundation books. The books were borrowed, though, so I had to give them back before I got very far (more than a few pages, that is), but I still intend to read those at some point.

        Still, some define stories like Foundation as “soft” science fiction because the science involved is not one of the “hard” sciences but one of the “soft” sciences (i.e. psychology and sociology and anthropology, mostly, in Foundation’s case).

        So that’s one distinction the most hard-core fans will make between “hard” SF and “soft” SF. But that’s not really the generally accepted definition, I believe, but rather the one you suggest in your post.

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