What is ‘hard’ science fiction

Over on io9 Linda Nagata talks about hard science fiction. In it, she asks what makes a story ‘hard’. As Nagata says, everyone involved has an opinion. Her definition is:

Hard SF is science fiction that extrapolates future technologies while trying to adhere to rules of known or plausible science.

Linda Nagata, It’s time to start reading hard science fiction again

The audience came up with some good definitions too.  SamuraiMujuru’s was pretty close to Linda’s

I’ve always interpreted “Hard Science Fiction” as Sci-Fi that just tends to actually stick closer to science fact, or at least semi-logical progressions thereof. Not harder to read or from any particular perspective, just more grounded in “reality”.

while Aplacere said

I always thought “hard science fiction” was sci-fi you couldn’t take the science element out of without the story completely falling apart.

As some of the readers commented, hard science fiction can be more difficult to read, and often the story takes second place to the science. That is, the author spends so much time on the science that their characters suffer.

That doesn’t have to happen. There is some excellent hard SF out there, with some truly great characters. One of my all-time favourites is Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Real Time (1987). This is one of those stories as defined by Aplacere, which wouldn’t exist if you took the science out of it.

It’s a wonderful book. I highly recommend it.

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