26 August 2008

Hard SF according to the experts

We are starting to get busy putting the new Electric Spec issue together. One of the things I'm working on is an exciting new author interview (which I'll blog about more later). It has been said that the author in question writes hard SF, which prompted me to ask: What exactly is hard SF?.

SF readers might say, "You know, stuff in Analog." But editor Stanley Schmidt himself said, "I'd like the term 'Hard SF' to go away. ...My definition of science fiction is simply fiction in which some element of speculation plays such an essential and integral role that it can't be removed without making the story collapse, and in which the author has made a reasonable effort to make the speculative element as plausible as possible. Anything that doesn't meet those requirements is not science fiction at all, as far as I'm concerned, so there's no need for a separate term like 'Hard SF' to distinguish it from 'other' kinds of SF." Read more. Now, I'm more confused. :)

David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer edited an important book called The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard Science Fiction and have some opinions on the topic. Among other things, Mr. Hartwell said, "Hard sf is about the beauty of truth. It is a metaphorical or symbolic representation of the wonder at the perception of truth that is experienced at the moment of scientific discovery. ...Hard sf is, then, about the emotional experience of describing and confronting what is scientifically true." And additionally, hard SF involves 'scientific plausibility', 'expository prose', 'scientific knowledge external to the story', and 'didacticism'. Read more.

Ms. Cramer agreed with Mr. Hartwell's wonder of science/ensuing emotions, and even contended that "science and hard sf are very similar". Furthermore, "hard sf has an identifiable feel, a particular kind of narrative voice, the right attitude. This attitude is respectful of the principles underlying the practice of science... the literal facts of a situation are more important than any interpretation. The anti-mysticism of hard sf is a point of pride for sf writers ... who see science as a replacement for religion and superstition." In the end, she says, "Writing stories within the rules of the universe as we know it and yet discovering fantastic possibilities of new ways of life is the central endeavor of the hard sf writer. ...Sf represents what the future could be like, although we know that the actual future will look nothing like it and when we meet it we may not recognize it." Read more.

They're the experts, so I guess we have to go with what they think. What do you think?

No comments: