Hard science fiction

Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by concern for scientific accuracy and logic.[1][2][3] The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell's Islands of Space in the November issue of Astounding Science Fiction.[4][5][1] The complementary term soft science fiction, formed by analogy to hard science fiction,[6] first appeared in the late 1970s. The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences. Science fiction critic Gary Westfahl argues that neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy; instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.[7]

Stories revolving around scientific and technical consistency were written as early as the 1870s with the publication of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870, among other stories. The attention to detail in Verne's work became an inspiration for many future scientists and explorers, although Verne himself denied writing as a scientist or seriously predicting machines and technology of the future.

Scientific rigor

Hugo Gernsback believed from the beginning of his involvement with science fiction in the 1920s that the stories should be instructive,[9] although it was not long before he found it necessary to print fantastical and unscientific fiction in Amazing Stories to attract readers.[10] During Gernsback's long absence from SF publishing, from 1936 to 1953, the field evolved away from his focus on facts and education.[11][12] The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally considered to have started in the late 1930s and lasted until the mid-1940s, bringing with it "a quantum jump in quality, perhaps the greatest in the history of the genre", according to science fiction historians Peter Nicholls and Mike Ashley.[13] However, Gernsback's views were unchanged. In his editorial in the first issue of Science-Fiction Plus, he gave his view of the modern sf story: "the fairy tale brand, the weird or fantastic type of what mistakenly masquerades under the name of Science-Fiction today!" and he stated his preference for "truly scientific, prophetic Science-Fiction with the full accent on SCIENCE".[12] In the same editorial, Gernsback called for patent reform to give science fiction authors the right to create patents for ideas without having patent models because many of their ideas predated the technical progress needed to develop specifications for their ideas. The introduction referenced the numerous prescient technologies described throughout Ralph 124C 41+.[14]

The heart of the "hard SF" designation is the relationship of the science content and attitude to the rest of the narrative, and (for some readers, at least) the "hardness" or rigor of the science itself.[15] One requirement for hard SF is procedural or intentional: a story should try to be accurate, logical, credible and rigorous in its use of current scientific and technical knowledge about which technology, phenomena, scenarios and situations that are practically and/or theoretically possible. For example, the development of concrete proposals for spaceships, space stations, space missions, and a US space program in the 1950s and 1960s influenced a widespread proliferation of "hard" space stories.[16] Later discoveries do not necessarily invalidate the label of hard SF, as evidenced by P. Schuyler Miller, who called Arthur C. Clarke's 1961 novel A Fall of Moondust hard SF,[4] and the designation remains valid even though a crucial plot element, the existence of deep pockets of "moondust" in lunar craters, is now known to be incorrect.

There is a degree of flexibility in how far from "real science" a story can stray before it leaves the realm of hard SF.[17] HSF authors scrupulously avoid such technology as faster-than-light travel (of which there are alternatives[18] endorsed by NASA), while authors writing softer SF accept such notions (sometimes referred to as "enabling devices", since they allow the story to take place).[19]

Readers of "hard SF" often try to find inaccuracies in stories. For example, a group at MIT concluded that the planet Mesklin in Hal Clement's 1953 novel Mission of Gravity would have had a sharp edge at the equator, and a Florida high-school class calculated that in Larry Niven's 1970 novel Ringworld the topsoil would have slid into the seas in a few thousand years.[7] The same book featured another inaccuracy: the eponymous Ringworld is not in a stable orbit and would crash into the sun without active stabilization. Niven fixed these errors in his sequel The Ringworld Engineers, and noted them in the foreword.

Films set in outer space that aspire to the hard SF label try to minimize the artistic liberties taken for the sake of practicality of effect. Factors include:

Representative works

Arranged chronologically by publication year.

Short stories




Anime / Manga

Visual novels

See also


  1. The short story "Surface Tension" has also been described as an exemplar of soft science fiction. (McGuirk, Carol (1992). "The 'New' Romancers". In Slusser, George Edgar; Shippey, T. A. (eds.). Fiction 2000. University of Georgia Press. pp. 109–125. ISBN 9780820314495.)


  1. Westfahl, Gary (1996). "Introduction". Cosmic Engineers: A Study of Hard Science Fiction. Greenwood Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-313-29727-4. hard science fiction ... the term was first used by P. Schuyler Miller in 1957
  2. Nicholls, Peter (1995). Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-13486-0.
  3. Wolfe, Gary K. (1986). Critical terms for science fiction and fantasy: a glossary and guide to scholarship. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-22981-7.
  4. "hard science fiction n." Science fiction citations. Jesse's word. 2005-07-25. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-10-07. Earliest cite: P. Schuyler Miller in Astounding Science Fiction ... he called A Fall of Moondust "hard" science fiction
  5. Hartwell, David G.; Cramer, Kathryn (2003). "Introduction: New People, New Places, New Politics". The Hard SF Renaissance: An Anthology. Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 978-1-4299-7517-9.
  6. "soft science fiction n." Science fiction citations. Jesse's word. 2005-07-25. Retrieved 2007-10-07. Soft science fiction, probably a back-formation from Hard Science Fiction)
  7. Westfahl, Gary (June 9, 2008). "Hard Science Fiction". In Seed, David (ed.). A Companion to Science Fiction. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 195–8. ISBN 978-0-470-79701-3.
  8. Ashley (2005), p. 381.
  9. Ashley (2000), p. 50.
  10. Ashley (2000), p. 54.
  11. Ashley (2004), p. 252.
  12. Lawler (1985), pp. 541–545.
  13. Nicholls, Peter; Ashley, Mike (April 9, 2015). "Golden Age of SF". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Gollancz. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  14. "Science Fiction Plus v01n01".
  15. Samuelson, David N. (July 1993). "Modes of Extrapolation: The Formulas of Hard Science Fiction". Science Fiction Studies. 20. part 2 (60). Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  16. Westfahl, Gary (July 1993). "The Closely Reasoned Technological Story: The Critical History of Hard Science Fiction". Science Fiction Studies. 20 (2): 141–142.
  17. Westfahl, G. (July 1993). "'The Closely Reasoned Technological Story': The Critical History of Hard Science Fiction". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH Inc. 20 (2): 157–175. JSTOR 4240246.
  18. "Methods of Interstellar Propulsion". Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  19. Chiang, T. (April 15, 2009). "Time travel is one of the trickiest SF/F tropes to use well". Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  20. Clayton, David (1986). "What Makes Hard Science Fiction "Hard"?". In Seiters, Dan (ed.). Hard Science Fiction. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 58-69. ISBN 0809312344.
  21. Hartwell, David G.; Cramer, Kathryn, eds. (1994). The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF. New York: Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. ISBN 978-0-312-85509-3. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09.
  22. Huntington, John (1986). "Hard-Core Science Fiction and the Illusion of Science". In Seiters, Dan (ed.). Hard Science Fiction. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 45-57. ISBN 0809312344.
  23. Benford, Gregory (1986). "Is There a Technological Fix for the Human Condition?". In Seiters, Dan (ed.). Hard Science Fiction. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 70-81. ISBN 0809312344.
  24. Gunn, James (1986). "The Readers of Hard Science Fiction". In Seiters, Dan (ed.). Hard Science Fiction. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 82-98. ISBN 0809312344.
  25. Hartwell, David G.; Cramer, Kathryn (2002). The Hard SF Renaissance. New York: Tor. ISBN 0-312-87635-1.
  26. Brin, David (1986). "Running Out of Speculative Niches: A Crisis for Hard SF?". In Seiters, Dan (ed.). Hard Science Fiction. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 8-13. ISBN 0809312344.
  27. Aylott, Chris. "The Humans Were Flat but the Cheela Were Charming in 'Dragon's Egg'". Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2009-01-27. Some editions also include a preface by Larry Niven, admitting that "I couldn't have written it; it required too much real physics"
  28. Alyott, Chris (2000-06-20). "The Vanishing Martian". SPACE.com. Archived from the original on 2000-08-18. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
  29. Horton, Richard R. (1997-02-21). "Blue Mars review". Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
  30. "Schild's Ladder".
  31. "Contemplate Your Place in the Universe with Hard Sci-Fi Film Classics!". 17 November 2014.
  32. "Colossus, the Forbin Project". SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011-2019 SFE Ltd. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  33. "23 Best Hard Science Fiction Books – The Best Science Fiction Books". 28 February 2015.
  34. Dilks, Andrew (2018-11-16). "15 Greatest Hard Science Fiction Movies Of All Time". WhatCulture.com. Retrieved 2019-06-21.

Further reading

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