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  1. #31
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rosie Oliver View Post
    If Ian means Justina Robson when he quotes Robson, then definitely not hard sf... her quantum gravity books had elves , demons and the like, ... if you mean her earlier works... sorry not even then.
    No, not the Quantum Gravity books. But Silver Screen and Mappa Mundi both qualify as hard sf.

  2. #32
    Registered User odo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    Lee Smolin was in my PhD thesis committee long ago (as an outside member as my thesis was in math)
    Lee Smolin? Wow! Just wow!

    And always nice to know a fellow mathematician

  3. #33
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    True, but we are talking hard-sf here; sure space opera has lots of fantasy-like elements - Dune and the Spice, Night's Dawn and the souls of the dead etc. And of course if you are believer in the "we are knowing almost everything, only details need to be filled in" or its close cousin, "TOE is just around the corner" that to my astonishment still prevails in some physicist circles - the ST people are guiltiest of that - lots of stuff like FTL is fantasy
    But you said the plot of The Quantum Thief is why you classified it as fantasy. Not sf, fantasy. Dune is science fiction, but it's not hard sf. And it's certainly not fantasy. FTL may well be fantastical in as much as it's not real world physics as we currently understand it, but that doesn't mean it's not sf. It's an established trope, lack of scientific grounding notwithstanding. Just like the Singularity. Or cyberspace, which makes a metaphor of a metaphor and does it badly.

    There are a lot of acknowledged hard sf novels which fail the "real science" test. Like Mission of Gravity - which features FTL, aliens, and life on a neutron star.

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by ian_sales View Post
    But you said the plot of The Quantum Thief is why you classified it as fantasy. Not sf, fantasy. Dune is science fiction, but it's not hard sf. And it's certainly not fantasy. FTL may well be fantastical in as much as it's not real world physics as we currently understand it, but that doesn't mean it's not sf. It's an established trope, lack of scientific grounding notwithstanding. Just like the Singularity. Or cyberspace, which makes a metaphor of a metaphor and does it badly.

    There are a lot of acknowledged hard sf novels which fail the "real science" test. Like Mission of Gravity - which features FTL, aliens, and life on a neutron star.
    There are a few issues here - The quantum Thief is sf sure, but it is very fantasy-like in many ways, so my original "more fantasy than sf" should have been thought of as in the way it reads rather than in a strict genre taxonomy sense; hard-sf (and more generally what I look as sf-nality) has some ingredients in addition to tropes - limits on the possible, modern thought, scientific outlook on the universe etc; again I am sure we can find counterexamples, but (for me) hard-sf is hard-sf precisely because of these ingredients in addition to the tropes.

    The Quantum Thief for example extends the limits of possible to almost the breaking point (the q-fight where effectively anything can go as far as we know and the heroes use weapons as my magic is bigger than yours; in sf we should have at least some sense of what is possible under the corresponding universe's laws of nature - and as an aside, the universe needs not to be what we believe ours is from that point of view as long as a consistent evolution path within its state space is possible - Neal Stephenson's Anathem deals with those issues and it is much harder sf than TQT imho), has a very pre-modern outlook in parts (the destined boy story) etc.

    One may argue using the well known Clarke law with advanced tech and magic, but stuff like that is not hard-sf imho. So yes, the quantum Thief is sf not fantasy, but it is at least somewhat fantasy-like (quite fantasy-like for me but again one can see it differently) and it is quite far from what I consider hard-sf to be.

  5. #35
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    There are a few issues here - The quantum Thief is sf sure, but it is very fantasy-like in many ways, so my original "more fantasy than sf" should have been thought of as in the way it reads rather than in a strict genre taxonomy sense; hard-sf (and more generally what I look as sf-nality) has some ingredients in addition to tropes - limits on the possible, modern thought, scientific outlook on the universe etc; again I am sure we can find counterexamples, but (for me) hard-sf is hard-sf precisely because of these ingredients in addition to the tropes.
    I agree to some extent, but I don't think plot can be used as defining characteristic. Blue Remembered Earth is very much sf, and hard sf at that, but it also features a generic quest plot. And definition of hard sf, unfortunately, has been muddied by abuse of the term - just look at some of the examples quote in this thread - that I sometimes wonder how useful a label it's become. For example, some of the criteria you mention apply equally well to Mundane sf, and "scientific outlook on the universe" applies to all forms of sf.

    Greg Benford is generally considered a doyen of US hard sf, and while Timescape certainly fits with most definitions of hard sf (and Mundane sf), The Galactic Cluster series is often labelled hard sf despite including all manner of fanciful sf tropes...

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Iain M. Banks is a bit of a toss-up. Some people would argue that his work involves hard SF, others that he's mainly sociological SF focused on cultural issues.
    If people are calling the Culture series hard SF, the term has become meaningless. Some parts of it may be fairly hard, but the Culture couldn't exist without violating numerous laws of physics.

  7. #37
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward M. Grant View Post
    If people are calling the Culture series hard SF, the term has become meaningless.
    MegaLOL

    psik

  8. #38
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rosie Oliver
    The main difference is whether the hard science fiction includes the social sciences or not.
    Not really. If you're going to include the sociological SF, together with the hard science SF, that's most of the field. The split is usually between stories that concentrate on cultural, political and social issues with hard science aspects in the background or as an engine to exploring a psychological or cultural issue (sociological SF, post-apocalypse SF, space opera, etc. and those that concentrate on hard science issues as the main aspect of their plot -- physics, astronomy, biology, mathematics and chemistry.

    The big arguments you are witnessing concern: A) whether quantum physics counts as part of the hard sciences or not. Most actual scientists would say that it does, but there is a contingent of SF fans who believe that quantum physics is mostly hooey and therefore stories featuring it are not hard SF stories; B) whether nanotechnology counts as hard sciences or not. We are already using nanotechnology to a degree, so obviously it is part of the hard sciences, but it is often used in far future speculation scenarios in the same way as FTL travel is used, (and yet no one ever seems anymore to object to FTL travel devices as fantasy that makes a story no longer hard SF; ) C) whether cyberpunk stories are hard SF or not. Cyberpunk uses technology, computer science, and related things such as nanotechnology, quantum physics, A.I., etc. to do suspense stories about tech issues and great sociological change. Early on, cyberpunk was seen as a threat and reviled by many hard SF fans. Over the years, since it deals with engineering, biology, etc., it has been absorbed in its presentation often to being called hard SF. The Quantum Thief is a cyberpunk thriller, quite a good one, that uses nanotechnology, quantum physics, actual physics, and computer tech to explore the sort of thematic territory that interested writers like Robert Silverberg and Larry Niven in the 1970's -- if you can control matter in the universe to your will, how do you shape your world. The tech and the hard science elements are part of the engine and the background, but the main issues of the story are political and sociological. But of course, there's a lot of overlap. Clarke's fascination with religious faith and social issues, for instance, is clearly there in his SF. Kim Stanley Robinson is far more concerned with political and social issues in his Red Mars stories than he is with the actual terraforming, but that terraforming is the central issue of the series.

    And then there are aliens. For some, hard SF stories may involve alien races. For others, aliens don't count and are strictly sociological SF. And alternative history SF, which involves speculative notions from quantum physics, is usually not considered to be hard SF. Time travel is not considered to be hard SF. If you want to include sociological SF, there are obviously many writers that can be further included -- Connie Willis, Maureen McHugh, Patricia Anthony, Adam Roberts, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, Walter Miller, James Tiptree Jr., Harlan Ellison, M. John Harrison, etc. But that's not usually what folk mean when they talk about hard SF.
    Last edited by KatG; October 21st, 2012 at 05:17 PM.

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward M. Grant View Post
    If people are calling the Culture series hard SF, the term has become meaningless. Some parts of it may be fairly hard, but the Culture couldn't exist without violating numerous laws of physics.
    I wouldn't be so fast about that as you can have hard sf set in an universe with different laws of nature than ours (see Orthogonal); the Culture is not hard sf because of the goals of the stories, the ways of telling them etc; the laws of the universe (Multiverse) are scattered by Banks here and there and they are consistent as far as i can see as is the path of his universe in the full state space in so far we see it in books; Banks is closer to hard sf than many other authors, but his interests lie generally elsewhere true

    Same with Blue Remembered earth - everything that AR writes has some cool cutting edge science so there will be some hard sf element sure, but here the book is closer to planetary adventure in a space opera context than anything else

    again it is a matter of definitions, but hard sf needs a hefty dose of didacticism imho, of explaining science or how science is done; like with everything, you know it when you see it and abstract talk like this is generally pointless except for reminding one of great sf, hard or not

  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    I wouldn't be so fast about that as you can have hard sf set in an universe with different laws of nature than ours (see Orthogonal); the Culture is not hard sf because of the goals of the stories, the ways of telling them etc
    The Culture isn't hard SF because, to give one obvious example, there's no known method of travelling 100,000 times the speed of light and we can be fairly sure it's never going to happen. It's set in this universe (State of the Art takes place on contemporary Earth), so there's no option of using Vinge-style hand-waving to adjust the speed of light elsewhere.

    If 'hard SF' just means consistent laws, I'd say it's a meaningless term. You could argue that Star Wars is hard SF by that definition, and pretty much all but the worst pulp SF would qualify.

  11. #41
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Against a Dark Background and The Algebraist (and possibly even Transition, if you go in for the Many Worlds) are Banks titles that are harder, if not hard boiled. Banks overall is certainly a more literary writer, though, but generally his concern has more to do with the sociological side than with the technological/scientific side.

    Transition is an interesting one, I think, since if we take it at face value, it's SF, and as far as adhering to theory goes, it's fairly hard. But if we assume the narrator is insane, then it's something different (do we call it "slipstream"?). Arguably one of Banks' best in a long time, IMO.

  12. #42
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Against a Dark Background and The Algebraist (and possibly even Transition, if you go in for the Many Worlds) are Banks titles that are harder, if not hard boiled. Banks overall is certainly a more literary writer, though, but generally his concern has more to do with the sociological side than with the technological/scientific side.

    Transition is an interesting one, I think, since if we take it at face value, it's SF, and as far as adhering to theory goes, it's fairly hard. But if we assume the narrator is insane, then it's something different (do we call it "slipstream"?). Arguably one of Banks' best in a long time, IMO.

  13. #43
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward M. Grant
    The Culture isn't hard SF because, to give one obvious example, there's no known method of travelling 100,000 times the speed of light and we can be fairly sure it's never going to happen.
    But then where do we put Isaac Asimov's Foundation books? Asimov himself stated that he believed there would be no way faster than the speed of light, yet he used it as a device himself and did not condemn other hard SF writers using it in their works which we have traditionally called hard SF. If we're going to throw out FTL travel as speculatively possible but highly unlikely, we're throwing out an awful lot of books and books that use other similar devices that we have again traditionally called hard SF and that deal with questions of physics, biology and chemistry, etc. Do we throw out Clarke's aliens? Or Robert L. Forwards' ones? Who do you have left? I'm not championing Banks as hard SF. I said people debated about his works as hard SF or not, including The Algebraist, etc. For me, I would not call him a hard SF writer. But for me that definition is more of the traditional one -- stories dealing with hard SF questions, not necessarily only stories that have nothing speculative and unproven scientifically -- a definition that essentially means mundane SF, not what we've called hard SF. And then it gets even harder because something like Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is mundane SF technically, but it's not really hard SF in my mind and I think in most people's minds.

  14. #44
    Quote Originally Posted by odo View Post
    And always nice to know a fellow mathematician
    And me too! Chartered Mathematician in the UK! Nice to e-meet you both...

  15. #45
    It's interesting that this debate has focussed on what is hard science fiction, rather than what is literary hard science fiction.

    I also find it interesting that everyone's view of what constitutes hard science fiction is dependent (as KatG says) on what science they believe to be credible. My experience of science is that when young you are taught this can happen, that can't happen. You grow older, and perhaps a little wiser, and you nibble away at the limits of what you were taught can't happen. Then if you grow ancient like me, you suddenly realise that what science can attain is not limited by the laws of physics or whatever, but by the willingness of humans to believe they can make things happen.

    Which brings me to why science fiction is so important for our society. It makes us hope that we can do things better (faster, farther, whatever) in the future. Look at Star Trek's tricorder.... DARPA are busy trying to develop one, or at least one that goes some way towards being a Star Trek tricorder. The Romans could have had a steam engine - they had all the components, just never put them together for lack of imagination. And this is where hard science fiction should score with the public. Only it appears not to be. So why doesn't it? Well we have all these dystopias, steampunk, cyberpunk, spacepunk (sorry, a name coined for Ian Sales's stories by his friends... or is it enemies?) and military SF. Hard SF is finding it difficult to get a look in. And the reason has to be lack of imagination on the part of the hard science fiction writers.

    Why, you may well ask? Part of it is because of the lack of understanding of the philosophy that drives science. But another part is the acceptance of the apparent inevitable. The science that says it can't be done has been ingrained into our psyches. We writers need to question those assumptions, see where they fall down and write what could be there.

    But there is a catch. Because the worlds we write about are so weird in comparison to our own, we have to use every tool available to us, and that includes any literary device that helps to get reader buy-in. And remember words can describe things that no film or picture can transmit, which is why there will always be novels to be bought and avidly read. So to me the lack of literary hard science fiction is a symptom of the lack of imagination about we can do in the future.

    I find this very very sad.

    On one final note before I get off my soapbox... As for not being able to travel faster than light in the future, all I'm going to say is: "Your faith little is. Happen it will."

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