Hard and Soft Science Fiction | #booktubeSFF

Is your science fiction a solid, liquid or gas? Exploring the terms hard and soft and what they mean (and what that implies).

You can learn more about the history of science fiction including pulp fiction, the golden age, and John W. Campbell’s in my Science Fiction History series – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZ8YtehN3ATCnFLMXondkO9rbG-UB3D3U.

Books mentioned:
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord.
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov.
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin.

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Blog: http://thebooksandpieces.com/
Channel art by Luke Oram – http://lukeoram.com/


time to read! says:


Spectacular says:

I think this is why I find classic Sci-Fi so hard to get into. My favourite Sci Fi novels are The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Children of Time, as they manage to combine both hard and soft science principles with character, emotion and plot. Rigidly hard sci fi seems more interested in the science than characters and plot, which to me are more important for a story. If I want cold science told to me I’ll pick up a text book.

David Jerome says:

Aha! I certainly had that wrong. This makes better sense.

LMuse9 says:

I’m less than a minute in and am screaming, “YES!”

TheShadesofOrange Booktube Channel says:

I always love when you do these more education SFF videos becuase I always learn something. I’ve often found myself struggling if I should label something as hard science ficiton when I review a book so I really appreciated hearing your thoughts and definitions.

Patrícia Vaz says:

Great video!

tortoise dreams says:

Interesting discussion, tho I’m not really interested in a bunch of trolls debating — some of those internet discussions are just so laughably pitiful that I want to open a vein. Close minded people talking to other close minded people, I can’t be bothered to worry about it. In SF, as in most fiction, I want more developed, well-rounded characters that are capable of change & have (some) capacity for verisimilitude. In old J Campbell SF many characters were cardboard cutouts & so thin as to be capable of passing though some scientific machine that only lets electrons through it. I wasn’t so interested in discussions of all kinds scientific & maths principles, I wanted to know what the people were doing (corporate law v. criminal law springs to mind). This led me to more anthropological & sociological SF: languages, communication, interactions, customs — people stuff. Which I think, living on a planet with many different cultures, is much more valuable & useful in interacting in real life than a bunch of non-scientists (sure, some are, but …) writing fiction about scientific principles. Ooh, if this sounds angry I’m really not, I just think soft SF is higher on the hierarchy, people are more important to me than calculus & thermodynamic laws which I’ll never understand or apply. But I *will* be talking to people tomorrow …

Lyn Webster says:

Another interesting video. For myself, I’ve always thought those labels were a bit of nonsense. Any really good novel transcends them. To take your “hard science” example, I see way more psychology and sociology than mathematics in the Foundation series. And there are “hard scienc-y” books that also have magic in them, so how can you classify those? Or the ones that start out like hard science (Children of Time, I’m looking at you) and then turn out to be about relationships and understanding and communication between individuals and species. I ignore the labels and see if the synopsis sounds interesting. That way, I get to read many more very cool books.

Mel's Bookland Adventures says:

Yep, gate keeping. Thanks for talking about this.

SFF180 says:

It’s funny also to think that Campbell is held as some standard bearer of hard science when in real life, he was a sucker for a lot of pseudoscience. He actually helped L. Ron Hubbard establish Dianetics, after all.

Nichola Millen says:

Such a great video!

Spine Breakers says:

I love this discussion and couldn’t agree with you more about gate keeping!

Musicbookoholic says:

Love the dead white dude, wonderful.

James Worrad says:

The hard/soft binary is where science fiction intersects with that other love of my life; cheese.

Butterfly Elephant Books says:

This discussion is fantastic – I’ve been reading scifi for years now but still feel like I’m on the outside looking in, perhaps because of the gate-keeping I’ve come across. Also thank you for the 10 Things scenes – I had a bit of a giggle 😀

unmanaged mischief says:

I really liked your discussion! I have definitely felt this used as a mechanism for gatekeeping and how it has affected my perceptions of what I can or should read in the genre. I’m often intimidated by hard SF, which is a feeling that I think is tangled up with the gender biased opinions about how girls aren’t good at math that ruined my confidence in the subject when I was in school. Still trying to overcome, but I read The Three Body Problem last month and my brain didn’t explode, so I’m calling that progress.

Musicbookoholic says:

I think one thing that helps when we read hard and soft is how much we have to prepare ourselves. If one is not particularly into science they might have a tough time getting through a book which centers around the more science part of science fiction. While hearing it’s soft science or a genre such as space opera tells them that this book is much easier to understand. A book/series that has seemingly done this and divides people between those that love it for the science and those that don’t is the Machineries of Empire trilogy.

Beautifully Bookish Bethany says:

I love this discussion! I also think some gendering really happens as well with the hard science-fiction being treated as more “masculine”

JuRodrigues says:

Another great video about concepts and history of the genre. Thanks!!

actual spinster says:

love this!! also i think another problem is how its like definitely more common that something considered ‘real’ and ‘hard sci fi would b authored by a man, and what is considered ‘soft’ + ‘not rlly sci fi’ would be written by a woman. both because of ppls bias at even recognising women’s scientific knowledge & work as well as the fact women are always encouraged to do the ‘softer’ sciences more than men are, women are supported, and funnelled even into sociology, anthropology & i guess sometimes biology over that of physics and chemistry etc!!! anyway just some words!! i rlly wanna read ammonite soon it sounds v Cool

Sam says:

I loved your discussion! And bonus points for using 10 Things I Hate About You. Never gets old 😉

njdinostar says:

Cool discussion! I personally like soft-sci-fi most, likely specifically because I am a researcher in chemistry and physics, and I don’t want to feel like I’m reviewing or finding gaps in the science while I’m relaxing with a book, while the social aspect of changing something minor in how the world works fascinates me.

Another discussion idea: utopian and dystopian fiction. I feel like a lot of books are labeled dystopian, while I would call them utopian, and the label utopian is rarely used at all. For example the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, and even Hunger Games. These worlds are utopian – everything is designed, and designed to work well, to be efficient, to have a happy population. Obviously the utopia does not fit the personality of our protagonist – else it would be a really boring story – but the world design is utopian, not dystopian. I would argue to label post-apocalyptic books as dystopian, or books where there is clearly suffering for most people such as The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

1book1review says:

great video. I have clearly not enough knowledge about the genre to even know about this.

Politics and Geekery says:

Excellent video! I agree with a lot of your points, and its frustrating that it’s become an argument at all. Hard and soft science could be useful markers for what to expect and what kind of story it is, as you mentioned hard science tends to be very chem/physics orientated usually to the detriment of the characters. It’s just frustrating that it also tends to lead to a male/female divide in writers, even more than fiction in general.

Edward Giordano says:

Another great video! I love when you explore these sub-genres with both great examples and interesting nuanced insights!

unfabgirl says:

Yay! A new video! With a 10 Things I Hate About You clip! (I’ve been debating Taming of the Shrew with a few people recently and the movie has come up a lot as a result.) Also, I got The Three Body Problem for Cyber Monday on Amazon and am planning on reading it soon (right now, I’m working my way through three different versions of The Nutcracker.)

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