Why I Bounce Between Soft Sci-Fi and Hard Sci-Fi

This is a response post to Louise’s Why I Prefer Soft Sci-Fi

photo of galassia star. Let’s start this conversation off with some quick definitions.

Hard sci-fi is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on hard sciences like physics, math, chemistry, or astronomy that ask and answer objective questions.

That is to say, there is only one correct answer if someone asks you what the square root of nine is.

Soft sci-fi is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on soft sciences like sociology, anthropology, or psychology. They include a mixture of objective and subjective questions.

For example,

Some science fiction fans have a strong preference for one of these sub-genres over the other. I prefer to bounce around between them and nearly every other type of science fiction that doesn’t include romance for the following reasons:

The Lines Between Them Are Blurry

Many sci-fi stories include elements of both hard and soft science fiction. They might start out describing how scientists in that universe discovered a safe, fast, and effective way to travel between solar systems only to switch over to describing how that technology changed every facet of human culture over the next few millennia.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having strong preferences on either side of the spectrum, but I’ve discovered so many amazing books and authors that I would have otherwise overlooked if I’d been strict about only wanting to read hard or soft science fiction.

I Need Variety

While sci-fi is the genre where I spend most of my reading time, I also enjoy reading fantasy, horror, mysteries, historical fiction, non-fiction, and many other genres.

I’m happiest when I can bounce around between different types of storytelling no matter which genre I’m currently reading. After finishing a hard science fiction adventure, I might be in the mood for a memoir, a light fantasy adventure, or a book of poetry next.

It’s even better when the same book can smoothly move between different genres and maybe even mash up some themes that aren’t normally woven together.

Each Story Has Unique Needs

Some sci-fi stories really do need to have the science behind them explained in detail in order for anything else that follows to make sense to readers who aren’t already well-versed in the branch or branches of science that are being explored there.

Other sci-fi stories use spaceships, aliens, or new inventions as a backdrop but can share the meat of their plot with the audience even if no one knows the details of how alien physiology is different from human physiology or how that new invention came into being.

I definitely do agree with Louise’s point about hard science fiction being something that often works better in film or TV show form. While I enjoy reading about new technologies or inventions, it’s amazing to see them come to life in a scene.

Do all of you have preferences for hard versus soft science fiction? If so, what are they?



Filed under Science Fiction and Fantasy

5 Responses to Why I Bounce Between Soft Sci-Fi and Hard Sci-Fi

  1. My favorite SF is near-future SF: think Daniel Suarez’ line of work. That makes the line between “SF” and technical thriller very fuzzy. I usually read SF for the concept, not so much the details, so I suppose I tend toward softer stuff in general. However, some things are so soft I don’t consider them SF at all: most Star Trek novels, for instance, with the exception of those by Christopher L Bennett.

  2. I completely agree, I like a mix of hard and soft sci-fi. There are some topics that just fit one style or the other better. There are also some topics that I understand better than others, and that also makes a difference in whether I prefer a hard or soft style.

  3. I’ve found that soft Sci-fi uses technology and skips the science that makes it possible. Warp drive, lasers, teleportation, etc.
    Hard science encounters what Isaac Asimov calls the Frankenstein reaction. Mad scientists trying to take over the world or the science wreaks havoc. It’s rare to find hard science with a positive approach, but there are some good books out there that do that.

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