Literary Hard Science Fiction

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Rosie Oliver, Oct 17, 2012.

  1. Rosie Oliver

    Rosie Oliver Registered User

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    I've gone into shock... I've just done a search on Duotrope for publishers of literary hard science fiction novels. The search came back with 0 (ZERO) primary choices.

    Surely there must be some literary hard science fiction novels out there? Suggestions, anyone?
     
  2. JimF

    JimF Registered User

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    People tend to use the Terms "literary" and "hard SF" to mean what they want it to mean rather than some objective definition. as for literary SF there is stuff like Farenhight 451 and 1984. Martian Chronicals may count as literary hard SF, but I read that about 30 years ago.

    Maybe you could post what you liked in the past and that might help with a suggestion or two.

    As for what is Hard SF there was an interesting post on the IO9 website today.

    https://midnightslair.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?47-Vanguard-City-Campaign-In-Character-Development

    Jim
     
  3. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Surely there must be some literary hard science fiction novels out there?

    Whence that "surely"?
     
  4. ian_sales

    ian_sales Registered User

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    No one writes it. Literary authors who write sf tend to use old-fashioned tropes for the heartland of the genre. A notable exception is Ascent by Jed Mercurio. And those sf authors that have the writing chops to be considered literary tend not to write hard sf, possibly because they look down on anything that smacks of science. To my mind, part of being literary is doing the research - and that includes the science and technology as much as it would history or geography in literary fiction. But that is apparently an unpopular position.

    But it's the lack of literary hard sf that prompted me to write my own - the Apollo Quartet, the first book of which is currently available. Reviews so far suggest I did what I set out to do :)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 20, 2012
  5. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    I think a huge part of why the two things are not often brought together has to do with the origins of science fiction itself.

    Science fiction in its origins combined science and speculation with pulp adventure. Verne used adventure stories to illuminate various areas of futuristic science and technology (If you call yourself a hard science fiction fan and have NOT read 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, get thee to a library). Wells used adventure stories to illuminate human society and history and explore concepts of the human future. Hrrrm. Those sound familiar, don't they. Both men made fairly accurate predictions - Verne designed a modern submarine, with his only error being that he overestimated the immediate possibilities of electricity and Wells got the date of the Second World War wrong by only four months.

    If one looks at modern definitions of hard versus soft SF, we can see that Verne and Wells were already on opposite sides of the divide. Burroughs, of course, invented the planetary romance, out of which developed two important things people don't often link together - space opera (Star Wars is, in part, a planetary romance) and Superman (thus strongly influencing the modern superhero genre). Both Verne and Wells are considered 'literary' these days, but that's not because of style, but rather because their books have stood the test of time. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea remains a great read despite not really being science fiction any more).

    'Literary' these days, however, doesn't have anything to do with quality. In a literary work the beauty and use of language are as important as the story...in some extremely experimental works they're more important than the story. Now, I can't vouch first hand for Verne's style because my French isn't that good and I've only read it in translation, but if the standard translations are accurate, his style was very clear (albeit with a tendency to go off into long lists of exposition that no modern writer would get away with). When you are explaining/inventing unknown science and technology, it pays to be clear. Now, if I ask most people 'Who is the greatest hard science fiction writer of all time' then most, at least most English speakers, are going to tug out one of three names - Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. Of the three, Clarke wrote in the most literary style overall. Heinlein crosses into literary science fiction with Stranger In A Strange Land, but Stranger is SOFT science fiction and borders in places on fantasy. The bulk of Heinlein's work, much of it what we would now call 'Young Adult', is also written in a straightforward style. And Asimov is as far from the ideal of 'literary' as you can get - a popular science writer as well as a fiction writer he had a gift for explaining difficult concepts in a way ordinary people could understand. I would argue that the majority of the next generation of writers of hard science fiction wanted to be Heinlein or Asimov rather than, say, Frederick Pohl (who did write in a more literary style). And, of course, the exemplifiers of literary science fiction in general - Ursula K. LeGuin, Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood did not write hard science fiction (Margaret Atwood continues to insist she does not write science fiction but, I'm sorry, The Handmaid's Tale is soft science fiction...and literary soft science fiction at that).

    I think what it really boils down to is that people have developed an expectation that hard science fiction be written in a sparser style. Many hard science fiction writers strive for a style of writing that is often called 'transparent', which Asimov exemplifies in almost all of his work - where the only thing the reader notices is the story and the language choices fade into the background. Transparent is the opposite of literary.

    I think there IS a certain amount of looking down on science fiction in literary quarters...heck, my high school English teacher demanded that my parents take away all my science fiction books and replace them with Dickens and Austen (Needless to say they smiled, nodded, then laughed when she was out of earshot). Margaret Atwood's continued insistence that her work isn't science fiction proves that it exists. But I also think that the *reverse* is true...that hard science fiction writers, especially those old enough to have cut their teeth on Asimov and Heinlein, look down on literary work as a style and see it as rambling and pointless.

    And that was WAY too long.

    Good luck with your venture, by the way, Ian. It does seem like there's a market for it.
     
  6. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    while I think that more or less everyone understands and accepts what literary means in this context, I think the issue is what hard-sf means; eg if Verne is one's idea of hard sf (not mine for sure, Verne which i love and read almost all his work is adventure books for boys by and large and the forerunner of today's thrillers more than of today's sf which descends from Gernsback and then Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein) then for example, Adam Roberts who writes the best literary sf of today (and arguably of ever) is hard sf; same with various books by Andrew Crumey (like Mobius Dick) or Toby Litt (Journey into space) or Chris beckett (Dark Eden, short stories)
     
  7. Rosie Oliver

    Rosie Oliver Registered User

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    Many thanks to all who have replied to my query and for the interesting discussion that is going apace. I look forward to seeing how it progresses...

    I also think Jennifer has made an interesting point about hard science fiction being usually in a sparser style. I wonder if it's because the writer wants to explain his world building ideas as clearly as possible, which leaves little room for moulding the words to induce a mood swing in the reader.

    One of the things I've noticed in my writing is that every once in a while I come across the need for a word that does not exist in English (e.g. look up how many synonyms and slight variations there are on the word 'cold' and you'll see what I mean). So when I invent a word to fill the gap, I have to explain it. Could it be that the true hard science fiction writers have to explain their ideas so much so that there is no room for literaturfying it?
     
  8. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    LIBRARY !?!?!?

    How 19th century!

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/164/164-h/164-h.htm

    Don't you have a tablet?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vykHuzNOd9U

    This is a science fiction reality. GET WITH THE PROGRAM!

    Whether or not it is science fiction should be determined by the date it was written because that says what the author could know at the time.

    psik
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2012
  9. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    How many hard science fiction readers do not care about literary style? Are the hard SF writers and hard SF readers on the same wavelength and the literary stuff is just a bore that gets in the way of the story, if there is a story.

    Are we dealing with two different mentalities here? I have never finished a Margaret Atwood book. Didn't even get very far into them in fact.

    psik
     
  10. Rosie Oliver

    Rosie Oliver Registered User

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    Literary style is supposed to in some way resonate with the story being told, so that the reader experiences a little more in depth what the protagonists are going through. This would lead to the reader having more empathy with what has been written and therefore leave a longer lasting impression. Well that's the theory anyway.

    The problem with a significant proportion of what are called literary works is that they try to delve into the psychological state by writing about minute details and how they affect the protagonist, so much so that the writing becomes boring for the reader.

    So going by the theory the hard science fiction writers and readers should care enough to get the more in depth experiences from the story.

    According to my tutors, my novel is literary hard science fiction. At least I know now why I haven't yet been able to get an agent... there is NO market for literary hard science fiction.

    By the way _ i've never read Margaret Atwood... I thought her pretentious for trying to deny she had written science fiction and therefore could not respect her as an author.
     
  11. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    So what is your novel? Are there sample chapters available?

    Mack Reynolds is sufficiently bad as a writer that I have sometimes noticed it as I was reading. But his stories were sufficiently good that I really didn't care. Andre Norton is probably a better writer than than Reynolds but I outgrew her stories in early high school. They were just nice bland adventure stories with nothing really to say or think about.

    That incident with your English teacher is really funny. I started reading SF years before I ever took an English Lit course. To me they never provided anything interesting to read and tried to make us focus on the most uninteresting aspects of what they did have us read. I think they had us read 4 sci-fi stories in 4 years. One was Clarke's Rescue Party which I had already read.

    psik
     
  12. Pennarin

    Pennarin Registered User

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    Martian Chronicles? That book is as soft as they get. Other genres also bleed into its science fiction. Really soft. Beautiful, but far from a typical SF novel.
     
  13. ian_sales

    ian_sales Registered User

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    I must admit I've not seen any actual hard sf authors or books mentioned so far. Clarke, possibly, but Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury certainly don't qualify. The grandaddy of them all is Hal Clement, but then you've got Robert L Forward, Greg Benford, Geoffrey Landis, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Peter Watts, Greg Egan... and I'm running out of names. Looking at the contents list for The Hard SF Renaissance, edited by David G Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, I noticed that most of the authors in the book are not hard sf. But then most of the authors in their The Space Opera Renaissance weren't space opera...

    There are two definitions of hard sf currently in use - 1) sf based around the "hard sciences", eg, physics, chemistry, etc; 2) treats science realistically and with complete rigour. The latter is, if you think about it, also a definition of Mundane sf, and many hard sf classics include at least one element that is not true science, usually FTL. The second definition seems more applicable to space fiction than it does actual science fiction, though I suppose recent books like Heaven's Shadow might qualify. Unfortunately, Heaven's Shadow reads like a technothriller and is not very good. Leviathan Wakes, another so-called hard sf novel, is nothing of the sort - it's a regressive space opera, with nothing to recommend it at all.
     
  14. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    Today the two top names (by far) in hard sf are Greg Egan and Alastair Reynolds and what they write is what I think as the standard of hard-sf - books that use cutting edge knowledge about the universe even if they go beyond and speculate; the Orthogonal series of Greg Egan is arguably the best hard sf of the century to date, while his novelization of General Relativity in Incandescence is also brilliant. There is also the sprit of the fiction and again Greg Egan's words encompass what i think as the essence of hard-sf:

    "Onesto said, “Imagine the time, a dozen generations from now, when wave mechanics powers every machine and everyone takes it for granted. Do you really want them thinking that it fell from the sky, fully formed, when the truth is that they owe their good fortune to the most powerful engine of change in history: people arguing about science.”"

    Here I fully agree with a poster above with the caveat that to qualify today as hard sf, you gotta argue about String theory, quantum gravity and such not about Newtonian mechanics or how to make a skyscraper

    I had high hopes for Hannu Rajaniemi's fiction but The Quantum Thief was more fantasy than sf, though the second seems to be better and will try to read in time for the US publication.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2012
  15. Rosie Oliver

    Rosie Oliver Registered User

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    My novel is literary hard science fiction... yes there is a sample half a chapter available on the internet, which was put there for a specific purpose and to be honest is one of the quieter sections of the novel... had to be for good reasons. However, I have since edited it when I went through the whole novel, so it really isn't a fair reflection.

    But because (occasionally) I like to tease, here's the first two paragraphs...


    ‘Dust to dust, void to void, ice to ice,’ Priest Kylone intoned over the spacesuit comms, bending his staff to form an L.

    He positioned its horizontal bar inside the open grave above Raoul Larsson’s head. A fine spray of holy water spurted, some vaporising towards the blue-green orb of Uranus and some jetting down onto the shrink-wrapped body. With the ease of a native Mirandan, he skim-walked along the side of the grave, covering the body with a sheet of whitened ice.

    PS I've assumed that additives have been mixed in with the water to stop it from freezing long enough.
     
  16. ian_sales

    ian_sales Registered User

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    Everything in the book is definitely science. Hannu has a PhD in String Theory and is a founding member of a mathematical thinktank, and all of that finds its way into his fiction. The one thing The Quantum Thief is not is fantasy. Having said that, I didn't enjoy it that much and thought it over-hyped.
     
  17. Hitmouse

    Hitmouse Registered User

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    Depends on your definitions. Mileage may vary.


    Dune is reasonably literary and hard.

    Iain M Banks produces hard SF of a high quality. Enjoying his latest.

    Can't beat Jack Vance for general literary brilliance. Does not spend too much time getting anal over the technological aspects, but still hard SF in my view. Supreme prose stylist.
     
  18. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    But what experimental evidence is there to support anything in string theory?

    Mathematics is not physics.

    psik
     
  19. Zeratul

    Zeratul Registered User

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    There's Stanislaw Lem. Some of his works are definitely hard science fiction (the Pirx stories and His Master's Voice, for example) yet he could really write well too. Though his most impressive stylistic accomplishments are in his less serious and very far from hard sci-fi works like "The Cyberiad".
     
  20. ian_sales

    ian_sales Registered User

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    Er, no. Dune is neither literary nor hard sf. Banks writes new space opera. Vance - a fine prose stylist, but also a writer of space opera and not hard sf.