A Conversation for Science Fiction - Some Hard, Some Soft

True Science Fiction

Post 1

Blat

This is an interesting subject and it always makes me think of the forword to one of John Wyndham's books of science fiction short stories.

He was very scathing about the new-wave of science fiction, which he said was simply fiction in a futuristic setting.

John Wyndham described science fiction as a story which is either entirely or intitially set in the present day and which involves some kind of occurrance, be it extra-terrestial or not, that has a technological or scientific connection.

For example, "The Day of the Triffids" in which a species of meat eating plants is allowed to dominate the world because the people are all blinded by watching a spectacular meteor shower.

Every thing else, says Wyndham, is merely fantasy fiction.

I rather like his definition, although I can see that it might be a little outdated. The movie "Bladerunner", for example, is clearly science fiction but is set some time in the future.

I suppose sci-fi fans could debate this subject for days.

Blat smiley - smiley


True Science Fiction

Post 2

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Blat, we discussed this violently for weeks in Peer Review. I hope these threads are still available somewhere.


True Science Fiction

Post 3

Blat

Marijn,
I'll follow the blood trail. Thanks smiley - smiley


True Science Fiction

Post 4

Dark Side of the Goon

Iain Banks, whilst wearing his contemporary literature author hat, once stated that Deus Ex Machinae were very tempting traps to fall into.

He lamented that he would, from time to time, write himself into a corner and then want to have the whole thing solved by one of the gargantuan Culture starships his alter ego (Iain M Banks) writes about.

Another definition of Hard sf, and I forget which author came up with this, goes as follows: the science in the story must be based on real (i.e. current) theory or principle and any technology should be an extrapolation of current capability. Some Hard sf authors have fallen on this idea with a will; it makes entertaining reading.
Check out "Blood Music" for a very Hard sf novel with a very human treatment.


True Science Fiction

Post 5

PaulBateman

Bob Shaw wrote an indepth analysis of what was and wasn't sf in his book "How to Write Science Fiction" which I'm sure, though not certain, has had an influence on the writing of this entry.

Is it possible to give a few examples of the genres in genre section? Eg Iain M. Banks for Space Opera, Jeff Noon and William Gibson for Cyberpunk and so on. It's just that this section isn't as verbose as the previous sections and so has a slight tacked on feel about it.

The number of sf writers with science backgrounds is growing. I was surprised by the absence of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (he did come up with the idea of satellites after all, making h2g2 possible), Stephen Baxter (who, possibly, like Tom Clancy, spends too much time with the technological detail rather than getting on with the story) and possibly Alaistair Reynolds and Paul McAuley. Though I'd imagine that the section would just become a list of names by the end of it.


True Science Fiction

Post 6

Steve K.

I go back a ways with this topic, generally feeling that ONLY hard SF is worthwhile. OK, "Star Wars" was great - especially the first time in the theater - but that's a Western. I even get irritated when I see the label that appears near the beginning of the entry, "Science Fiction and Fantasy". Why are these grouped? In the bookstore, it's really irritating to have to root through all the fantasy looking for SF. smiley - steam

For me, one of the best hard SF stories is Larry Niven's "Inconstant Moon" (the moon is a little TOO bright tonight ...). smiley - star It's conceivable that this plot could actually happen, no bending of any science.

More recently, I read an opinion that the terms should be replaced by the term "speculative fiction", since science tends to be outpacing the writer's imaginations. An example is Richard Powers' "Galatea 2.2" (plot info at Amazon), which I like a lot. There are elements of (hard) SciFi, but the overall work is hard to classify as SciFi.


True Science Fiction

Post 7

Mister Matty

Banks has also stressed that, strictly speaking, he writes Space Opera, not Science Fiction.


True Science Fiction

Post 8

Mister Matty

I feel that "soft" Sci-Fi allows for, ironically, more convincing novels to sometimes be written. Authors who concentrate on the hard facts of space travel or whatever are often very poor at writing convincing characters and at creating atmosphere. Arthur C Clarke's "Imperial Earth" is a good example of this. The science is all very convincing but the characters are two-dimensional and the basic plot daytime soap opera.

I feel it's better if the characters are flying through space and are disinterested in how the ship is flying or how the weapons work. This tendency has also produced the loathsome "nerd" aspect of sci-fi where every small detail of every item is so important. Most of the 80s/90s spinoffs of Star Trek reflect this, with characters tediously explaining the science and authenticy of warp-this and neutron-that (and despite all these nods to scientific believeablility, all the aliens still speak blimmin' English!)


True Science Fiction

Post 9

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

*We discussed this violently for weeks in Peer Review. I hope these threads are still available somewhere*

The PR threads are attached to the original draft copy of the article. The original can be found on the researcher's home space.


True Science Fiction

Post 10

Hoovooloo

This is going to be one of those long, long answers to several people, so please stick with it...

Gradient: I'm just getting into the Culture. I love it. Blood Music is also a killer, in the original short story and novel versions.

DMS: I've read a fair bit of Bob Shaw (starting with the Ragged Astronauts trilogy and working back) but I've never been able to find "How to write sf". So no influence is possible, I'm afraid - almost the whole thing just came from reading the stuff for over 25 years and needing to define it so that people who read my entry on Bussard ramjets (coming to the front page real soon now) know what I'm talking about when I call "Tau Zero" the ultimate hard sf novel (that's actually a review quote, my vote would be with... no, I'm not starting that debate smiley - winkeye). The "genre" section *is* tacked on, in response to a suggestion. Are the other sections that verbose? smiley - winkeye Example authors would probably have just caused more interminable debate (you know who you are! smiley - smiley )

Steve K: I like the idea of "speculative fiction" cos it means we can still call it sf. Good point, though, I've seen it called that too. Can't see it catching on though, "science fiction" is so firmly placed in the public imagination.

Zagreb - Larry Niven's early Known Space stuff and a lot of Jerry Pournelle and other author's tales of life among the asteroids tell very human stories in a completely realistic and convincing "hard" setting. Douglas Adams once admitted to failing to finish the Foundation trilogy, and was quoted as saying "fascinating ideas, but the writing! I would employ him to write junk mail!" I don't really know how to react to that, as when I was six I wanted to be Isaac Asimov, and when I was sixteen I wanted to be Douglas Adams. Tough call. Agree about the Trek technobabble, but as for all the aliens speaking English... bIjatlh 'e' yImev. yitlhutlh! smiley - ale (translation for non-Klingon speakers: Stop talking. Drink!)

Thanks for all the comments.
smiley - cheers
H.


True Science Fiction

Post 11

PaulBateman

In case you're wondering, I would Bob Shaw's "How To Write SF" in the non-fiction section of a library. The Dewy decimal number is somewhere in the region of 890 near the section on Russian literary criticism. I think the Encyclopaedia of SF is in that area as well I anyone's interested. This, of course, depends on how well the library you visit happens to be stocked.


True Science Fiction

Post 12

Steve K.

Hoovooloo -

I wasn't proposing to replace the term "science fiction" with the term "speculative fiction", but rather to suggest the two are related, and maybe the latter is a little broader term. I don't think anyione would label Richard Powers a sci-fi author, but his polymathic (I had to look it up) approach includes sci-fi elements. I enjoyed "Galatea 2.2" mostly for the those elements, but it is certainly not techno-babble. I even paid for the unabridged audio version, a first for me smiley - yikes


True Science Fiction

Post 13

Mister Matty

I might well do a Guide entry on the Foundation Trilogy. Watch my space!


True Science Fiction

Post 14

Dark Side of the Goon

I read the Foundation Trilogy so long ago that it would be good to see a Guide entry on it!

Given the way that the publishing market treats Genre fiction generally (i.e. badly) why not just refer to it as "fiction"?
That way we stop creating little niche market ghettos and some of the superb writers in the sf field would get a far wider market. Wider market means more sales means more demand for sf means a greater chance of some of us getting published!


True Science Fiction

Post 15

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Zagreb,
be carefull of what you start! Asimov mixed his different storylines so much that you may end up with writing about the complete works of Asimov!
Remember: R. Daneel Olivav (from 'The caves of steel') is in the end a one-robot third foundation, although it took a lot of foundation novels to reach that conclusion.


True Science Fiction

Post 16

Steve K.

Another Asimov fan here ...

And just to mention a recent discovery, "I, Robot" was adapted to a screenplay by Harlan Ellison (with Asimov's blessing). The book version I have is also illustrated by Mark Zug - great stuff. The back cover blurb is "The Greatest Science Fiction Movie Never Made!" Asimov explains this in an intro, "...Harlan's screenplay came after the movie 'Star Wars' ... Hollywood people are not exactly known for their ability to break out of a money-making mold ... Harlan was asked to make the robots 'cute' like R2D2 ... (and) make Susan Calvin young and pretty like Princess Leia ... Harlan is not known for his equanimity and pliability. When he is asked to do something stupid, he is quite likely to say 'This is stupid' with some ornamental additions of his own. And Hollywood executives are likely to take this amiss."


True Science Fiction

Post 17

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Yea, for me Susan looks more like Ann Robinson, not to be fooled with!


True Science Fiction

Post 18

Mister Matty

This reminds me, did anyone else who read the Foundation Trilogy and then read any of the later Foundation books Asimov wrote in the 1980s and early 1990s get thoroughly irritated by Asimov's apparent changing of events from the previous books. I have only read Foundation's Edge of these, and was irritated by his messing about with the origins of the Mule and the size of his empire. The second may be a minor quibble, but it seems odd that an author should care so little about the details of a work he created.

Talking of which (and this is sad of me, I know, but it bugs me), does anyone know what happens to the remains of the Galactic Empire (including poor old bust-up Trantor itself) that the Foundation people visit in Foundation and Empire? Does the Mule conquer them?


True Science Fiction

Post 19

PaulBateman

Dune (perhaps not hard SF - the book was better) was originally going to be made into a film in the 70s and it was almost never made, partly due to Star Wars. The odd thing being that when it was made and wasn't as successful as they thought it should have been was blamed on the success of the Return of the Jedi, which may be true, but David Lynch is not really the sort of director who makes things cute and child friendly.


True Science Fiction

Post 20

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

I think the problem with Dune the movie was, that it looked like the made it originally 24 hours long, including all the persons that appear in the book. After that they reduces it to its current lentgh, while keeping all the persons, even if they got left only a few seconds. This made it impossible to followsmiley - steam, unless you knew the book by heart. Alas, it could have been a great movie smiley - sadface.


Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more