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Hard Science Fiction

What is Hard Science Fiction?

To put it simply … well, it’s science fiction so we won’t really be able to put it simply; however, hard sci-fi is a science fiction subgenre that concentrates on relating stories from a correct scientific perspective and an attention to technological detail. Other common themes are well researched arguments that are tied to hard sciences and an inclination for militaristic masculine values.

This being said the subgenre has two major characteristics. The first is a varying degree of flexibility given to help the story make sense. Some speculative element of science, some technological advance that hasn’t happened in real life as of yet, something of that sort that represents the backbone of the story, an axiom that is unquestionable and if taken out or questioned makes the whole story collapse.

The second would be the rigorous attention to scientific detail and the logical repercussions of accepting the first characteristic. In other words, where some sci-fi stories can go on about dinosaurs with laser guns attached to their heads battling those pesky half shark people that flew from the Gladeron universe, hard science fiction will enable some sort of scientific gain like time travel or traveling with the speed of light; however, everything that follows will be a scrupulous, realistic description of what a world with those scientific gains would look like. It will explain every step in great detail and expand on the scientific gains with technical jargon.

Some famous books that you might have read without knowing they are hard science fiction are Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea” and Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” or Arthur C. Clark’s “Fountains of Paradise”, stories that aside from a slight stretch of science follow a credible and logical narrative thread.

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Other Features of Hard Science Fiction

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  • Level of Real Science

    Hard sci-fi is the science fiction subgenre that might contain the most realistic and credible view on science of them all. While some stories have an enabling element, all hard science fiction books concentrate on explaining things credibly and logically in the universe they are set in.

  • Level of Characterization

    Characters aren’t the main focus when it comes to hard science fiction. The focus is on story and on the logical and technological thread, keeping the story realistic and credible is far more important than focusing on character development. Also the high density of technological details and jargon turns the characters into some type of unrealistic super humans.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    The plot is highly complex with a huge number of details that don’t refer only to scientific explanations but are a scrupulous description of characters events and places.

  • Level of Violence

    The violence levels may vary, but are generally mild as the book focuses more on relaying correct, detailed technical aspects, especially in older titles like Arthur C. Clarks “A Fall of Moondust”

Related Science Fiction subgenres

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    Anything that touches on science and scientific innovation, or any type of fiction that has a well thought out rational and logical explanation for its plot is related to hard science fiction. Hard Fantasy, Interstellar Travel and even Time Travel themed fiction are also related to this subgenre. Cyberpunk is also tied to hard science fiction as it has important technological advancements at its core (see our 'Best Cyberpunk list").

  • While it is more closely related to the dystopian genre, Cyberpunk and hard science fiction share the attention to detail when it comes to explaining the science of the universe they inhabit. Another subgenre that is somehow related is soft science fiction, however, it’s their differences that tie them together more than anything else. Where hard science fiction concentrates of accurate science and logical threads of reason, soft science fiction is more about “soft” social sciences, and less precise in descriptions and narrative thread.

Hard Science Fiction isn’t for you if

If your view of highly detailed scientific facts is a pointy eared alien in a tight blue spandex suit explaining some incredible event in layman’s terms for his captain, then hard science fiction may not be for you.

Also if you prefer huge laser beams, teleportation devices and machines that miraculously heal the main characters to thorough well thought out realistic details that might take some time to explain and create a plausible string of events, this might not be the subgenre for you.

Popular Hard Science Books
  • 1 Ringworld


    By Larry Niven. One of the most famous books of the genre, that follows the pros and cons of living on a spinning ring instead of a round planet. The fact that makes this book so famous is that after the author’s ideas were proven impracticable, he wrote a sequel explaining the inadequacies.

  • 2 Foundation


    By Isaac Asimov. Another classic of the genre, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation has a fascinating concept of mathematics mixed with sociology to predict the actions of large numbers of people, an idea that influenced sociology as we see it today.

  • 3 The Mars Trilogy


    By Kim Stanley Robinson. Is a detailed packed series of books that takes us through the 200 year colonization of Mars. The attention to detail and to what characters experience in this unbelievably important adventure make this book a captivating read for any hard science aficionado.

  • 4 Dragon’s Egg


    By Robert Forward. Another great hard sci-fi epic, Forward’s book shows us the challenges humans face is they would live on a neutron star.

  • 5 Fountains of Paradise


    By Arthur C. Clarke. A legendary book from one of the most famous science fiction writers, “Fountains of Paradise” isn’t the first mention of space elevators, however, it is the first time anyone has looked at the math and science of trying to achieve something like this.

  • 6 Contact


    By Carl Sagan. Made even more famous by the successful 1997 movie, “Contact” is another must read when it comes to hard science fiction. This book probably made more young people want to become scientists than all the TV shows and movies put together.

  • 7 Downbelow Station


    By C.J. Cherryh A classic 80’s hard science fiction novel, C.J. Cherryh’s “Downbelow Station” is one of the first books to include a psychological and sociological aspect to the action, making the events that occur in his book, a lot more credible, and interesting.