Hard SF, Or Something Softer?

Some time back, I made a decision as a writer.  That decision was whether I should try my hand at hard science fiction or not.

For those who don’t know, hard science fiction is basically fiction where the science plays an incredibly prominent role.  For example, The Martian is an example of hard SF because of the role the actual science involved in telling that story.

There are, of course, varying degrees of “hardness” for science fiction going all the way to space opera like Star Wars.

Now, I love hard SF.  There’s something cool about reading someone who really gets the science and can turn it into a compelling story, and some of the masters of the genre do just that.

Me, though?  Yeah…not going to happen.

I’d love to write hard SF, but I lack the science background and I lack the aptitude for it, to be honest.  Being ADHD and dyslexic, things get a little wonky when I try to force myself to learn stuff like that.

Besides, while I love hard SF, I also love the softer stuff.  My love for science fiction kicked off in a darkened movie theater before I was even old enough to read.

Space ships flying by from the top of the screen, blaster bolts smacking it, and a princess putting a message in an old R2 unit.  It was everything for me at that age, and I was obsessed.

Star Trek followed, as well as everything else, and I was hooked.  I’d watch bad science fiction before I’d watch the most recent Oscar winner (still true today, to be honest).

I wasn’t much of a reader (see also: ADHD and dyslexia) for some time, though I did read the occasional novel here or there.  It wasn’t until I picked up Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers in the MCLB Albany exchange while on leave from boot camp that my love of reading really got fired up.

But then, it was almost nothing but science fiction and fantasy, and remarkably little of it was all that hard.

When I started writing, I figured a lot of my stuff would be fantasy because I know that kind of stuff better.  I might not be able to crank out a magic system like Brandon Sanderson–few can, to be honest–but I knew armor and weapons pretty well, and figured I could learn the rest.

But I really wanted to write science fiction.  I wanted to write about heroes and villains flying space ships and shooting each other on alien planets.  I wanted to do all of that.

Unfortunately, there was a story of an author who spent the night working out the math on orbital mechanics to make sure his story would work.  If that’s what was required, what hope did I have of making great science fiction stories?

However, I also figured out a short time later that there are a billion stories out there that don’t require that sort of thing.  There are a billion stories out there that I do understand the science enough to tell them.

Sometimes, writers get so wrapped up in their stories that they want something to work, even if it shouldn’t.  There’s one notorious author who wrote the most awful book I’ve ever even attempted to read but will not be mentioned because, frankly, the guy is nuts.  I and a friend spent two years trying to tell him about all the issues with his book–including issues of basic physics–only for him to deny the accuracy of any of it. He was so in love with his story that he just couldn’t grasp that he probably shouldn’t have written that scene in that manner because it was just too much.

I don’t pretend to be a scientist, an engineer, or even scientifically inclined.  I’m just a guy who loves the genre.

So what do I do?  Do I just write space fantasy like Star Wars?

The world doesn’t work in extremes, and the answers are often found somewhere in the middle.  For me, I think, the answer lies along an area where I do somewhat understand the science, but don’t write stories where the science needs the hand of someone who can teach college level classes on the subject.

I think it’s important for writers to understand their limits as individuals.  For example, if you’re not someone who can do more than basic algebra (like me), then you don’t need to be bothering to try and calculate orbital mechanics.  Leave those stories to people who know how to do that and tell the plethora of other stories out there that you can tell.

Just my two cents on the subject.



4 thoughts on “Hard SF, Or Something Softer?”

  1. I tend to describe my default approach to the Hard/soft spectrum as “Coloring inside the lines.” If I could do things like orbital mechanics, I’d be in astrophysics or astronomy instead of theology. (I can’t, so I’m in a field where I need to understand like six numbers, tops.1, 3, 7, 12, 40….) But I do love science, and have a decent grasp on how things in space work, as long as I don’t go into too much detail. (Transfer orbits, relativity, etc.) So my approach tends to be “stick with science as known and if you need something different, it’s okay to make a convincing future discovery that allows for FTL or reactionless drives or whathaveyou.”

    Ultimately, I guess, my default is probably slightly harder than Star Trek.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mine’s along those lines, though I’d probably say something along the lines of Firefly instead…

      But because that’s kind of my jam. 😉


  2. I know with my own SF, I try to avoid anything blatantly wrong. It helps to know some people who are knowledgeable about science matters. Also, I pay attention to what authors who do get their science right and I crib. 😉


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