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November 10th, 2010, 06:46 PM #1
io9 article: Is Bujold "hard sci-fi"?
Does Lois McMaster Bujold count as a hard science fiction writer?
Does Lois McMaster Bujold count as a hard science fiction writer?Is Lois McMaster Bujold really a hard science-fiction author? Her work doesn't appear, at first glance, to revolve around scientific concepts. But, suggests one blogger, that's just because she's rather more subtle about writing about hard science than some authors.
James Nicoll asked on his blog for people to name women who write hard science fiction, and Martin Wisse suggested the Miles Vorkosigan series:
Bujold writes hard science fiction you don't notice, as it's all hidden in plain view in the background.
This drew objections from some other posters, who were under the impression that the science in Bujold's writing is shunted to the background and not really central to the story. Over on his own blog, Wisse responds:
At first glance it does look like a standard mil-sf series, but the genius of Bujold is that she writes stories that revolve around science, technology and the sociological and cultural impact of these, without you realising she is doing this.
Much hard science fiction suffers from technofetishism, where the characters go around lovingly describing each type of ship taking part in a space battle or go into the finer details of the ammunition they're using in the midst of a firefight. Even when the focus is less militaristic, it can sometimes seem the future is entirely populated by geeks. This is not the case with Bujold: her characters are people comfortable with using futuretech, without particularly noticing it or how it influences their society, but this influence is still there. As a reader it means you yourself have to work harder to notice things too, as they're not pointed out to you.
He goes on to point out one example of a future technology that's central to the stories in Bujold's universe: the uterine replicator, which allows women to avoid suffering the "dangers and side effects of pregnancy." You see this technology introduced to Barrayar, and you witness how it changes society.
So what do you think? Is "technofetishism" a crucial part of hard science fiction writing, or just something it's prone to sometimes? [Wis[s]e Words]
November 11th, 2010, 03:19 AM #2
there's also a lot of detail about cloning and about genetically enhanced humans [bodyguards] . I would argue they are central to the stories and not just background noise.
November 11th, 2010, 03:41 AM #3
I agree with Algernoninc, I'm reading Cryoburn at the moment, cryonics is central to the story and hugely impacts the world Miles is visiting, and Miles himself. A lot of the tech is in the background but some of it makes a special guest appearance at the forefront of the story.
November 11th, 2010, 08:33 AM #4
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It's all in semantics, but I would ask is Honor Harrington with all the info-dumps hard sf? The last article on starship armor was so detailed with diagrams, specs, timeline that you could see it in a "real" journal like pop-science, though of course all is made up. I still would say no, HH is mil-space opera first.
Same with Bujold, Miles is military (and later) detective adventure in a space opera context, first and foremost. Hard sf is something different for me.
November 11th, 2010, 10:59 AM #5
I would say that Falling Free and Komarr are hard SF in the conventional sense.
Bujold weaves science and technology into her stories more subtly than just about any other writer. It is very unobtrusive but totally central to the stories.
"A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content." - Theodore Sturgeon
Miles Vorkosigan would not exist without the uterine replicator. It is probably necessary for any radical human genetic engineering. How many women would want to give birth to a mutant? But Falling Free and Komarr are the only stories that do much with plain old physics though Komarr exercises "scientific" imagination with 5-space physics.
November 11th, 2010, 01:45 PM #6
I used to like James Nicoll.
November 11th, 2010, 02:21 PM #7
I haven't read a lot of Bujold yet (got a ton in the pile), but isn't her thing to write in a different sub-genre every time? I know she's written are military SF books, SF romance books. social commentary SF, etc. Is this such a surprise that a highly versitile author eventually gets to hard sf?
Anyway, and I bumped Falling Free to the top of the list last night, after finishing SS/GB.
November 11th, 2010, 06:27 PM #8
Falling Free is social commentary & genetic engineering & mechanical engineering
It has genetically engineered people being made technologically obsolete. The uterine replicator that made the genetic engineering economically feasible and the artificial gravity that made them obsolete both came from Beta Colony.
Shards of Honor is military & romance & social commentary
The social engineering that is dons on Beta Colony is put in a very bad light. But it does make you wonder what is done here in the REAL WORLD.
Barrayar is politics and culture conflict but it also shows different reactions to new technology. It really gives a great feel for Barrayaran culture even though it is so antiquated for 500 years in the future. LOL The Vagaan character doesn't show up a lot but he is very important to the story. Like Steve Wozniak to the computer industry.
The Warriors Apprentice is Military SF and brings in many long term characters.
The Vor Game is Military SF with political psychology
Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos are kind of techno-cultural. How we decide to use technology affects what kind of culture gets created in the future. I think we are at a crossroads with all of these computers now. We have to decide what kind of cyber-culture we will create. But how are we going about it? Who is specifying the options? Some people freak out when I suggest mandatory accounting in the schools. Didn't big corporations start using computers to do accounting in the 60s. Aren't these netbooks more powerful than 60s mainframes? What is the problem.
It is about POWER! How we use computing power matters. Why give a damn about which operating system?
Brothers in Arms is cloning and politics.
Mirror Dance is cloning, cryonics, sophisticated bio-medicine and techno-corporate capitalism.
Memory is neuro-cybernetics and detective story. This story changes the direction of the Vorkosigan series.
Komarr is Newtonian and 5-space physics and detective story and romance.
A Civil Campaign is genetic engineering and bio-medicine and politics and romance in a comedy.
Diplomatic Immunity is genetic engineering and bio-weapons almost military SF and detective story. It helps to have read Cetaganda to make sense of this.
The problem is that right here right now in the REAL WORLD most people are not involved in how this technology is shaping and constricting our future. Why wasn't a big deal being made about planned obsolescence of cars in the 60s. I think that is more important than civil rights but how many people would look at it that way today because they don't know about planned obsolescence now?
We can't figure out how to use cheap super computers for education but we put up with Macro$cam selling us 4 different versions of Windows 7.
Last edited by psikeyhackr; November 15th, 2010 at 01:42 PM.
November 12th, 2010, 02:25 AM #9
if we're getting into strict definition of hard sci-fi, then I would have to admit that Vorkosigan is not in the same ballpark as Rama, Ringworld or Eon. More like a cross-over, mash-up that incorporates hard sci-fi in the stew.
November 14th, 2010, 09:25 PM #10
I think I agree with the point that Bujold works in the technology so smoothly, that we don't notice it. But it definitely has a big impact on the stories.
As others have mentioned, the uterine replicators, cloning, genetic engineering, etc all play a big part and she does a great job in showing how cultures have to adapt with the technology.
November 14th, 2010, 09:49 PM #11
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ahh, what?.. Ringworld as hard sf?
There is almost nothing in Ringworld that could possibly exist in our Universe, least of all an artificial ring a million miles wide. Not to mention spaceship hulls that are impervious to anything except antimatter, stepping disks that allow instant point-to-point travel, FTL travel, and drugs that allow you to live hundreds and even thousands of years... not hard sf.
And the Miles Vorkosigan series is not hard sf.
Last edited by Sparrow; November 14th, 2010 at 09:52 PM.
November 15th, 2010, 12:42 PM #12
I don't think the science has to be 'actual' to be hard SF but does have to be treated in a certain way. It's not enough to depict a huge space station (that's no moon!), there has to be a feel for the rules of physics that allow the station to function in the way described.
My personal benchmark for what is and is not hard SF is Stephen Baxter. He wrote Flux, an entire book about people constructed to live in/on a neutron star and move around via manipulation of magnetic fields. He also wrote Ark (sequel to Flood) which uses the Alcubierre theory to produce FTL flight and describes planets that are so depressingly unearthlike that it only increases the realism (ok, a little bit of fudging on the Alcubierre bubble but hey, how's an author to know how to create one?).
So.... based on the one book and one short story I've read of the Vorkosigan series I would say 'no'. It's nowhere near hard SF. I do vaguely remember Falling Free with the quaddies. What I can remember is far closer to hard SF so I'd give that a tentative 'yes'.
November 15th, 2010, 01:28 PM #13
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the other thing to consider is why does it matter if the Miles series or Falling Free is hard sf?
Personally i think that today hard sf is dead for various reasons; our society is increasingly sfnal in many respects, while on the space travel/fundamental physics, the last 30 years of no major progress in fundamental physics puts a clear limit on 'new stuff" and requires hand-wavium whatever speculations the authors embrace (eg string theory, dark matter - all are speculations as of today with no workable theory that can be mined by sf authors) and conversely the huge advances in at least describing very complex systems (from climate to societies to ecosystems) put a huge span in any 'space pioneers/arkships' and the like as "hard sf' - they are fine as adventure sf or space opera, but hard to take seriously as hard sf, when say the Biosphere experiments show how hard is to do complex artificial ecologies
So in many ways hard sf is now basically near-future sf and that has been more and more colonized by other genres with the differences being in who writes the book - it's a sf author, we call it sf, it's a thriller author we call it thriller and so on...
Only new fundamental discoveries in our understanding of the Universe or new fundamental technologies (eg energy) will revive the subgenre
November 16th, 2010, 06:48 AM #14
Fundamental Physics is NEW to children. How do you expect them to learn it?
The Golden Age of science fiction is 12. There is a new batch of 12 year olds every year. Sci-fi is just entertainment for people ofer 30 so whether or not it is hard is irrelevant. But for kids just learning how the universe works not being able to distinguish the impossible from the improbable from the probable is a problem.
College graduates don't know Fundamental Physics:
Millions of people with computers and most can't explain what an electron is. DUH!
Last edited by psikeyhackr; November 16th, 2010 at 07:22 AM.
November 16th, 2010, 08:09 AM #15
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As for "golden age of sf" is 12, well that may have been true once upon a time, but now visit a well stocked children library or a big BN children's section (which i do almost daily since my almost 9 year old son has a huge appetite for books and prefers sff to 'realistic" by and large) and you will see that sff dominates; there is still more fantasy than pure sf , but fantasy is the natural continuation of "fairy tales" so that's no wonder; there is a lot of what in the 50's and 60's would have counted as "adult sf" except that now it is in its right literary space where it is not laughable any more.
So the 12 year olds now have a ton of sff books to read and there is a market wholly devoted to them - which of course limits the adult sff market to well, books for adults...