In my first post on the cyberpunk genre, I mentioned that cyberpunk was a “softer” sub-genre of sci-fi. But what does “soft” sci-fi mean? In this chapter, I will answer this question and discuss the difference between hard and soft science fiction.
So, what is the difference between hard and soft science fiction? Well, hard science fiction tends to focus more on the science, while soft science fiction focuses more on the fiction. An example of hard sci-fi would be The Martian, because a lot of the science is very much grounded in reality, while an example of soft sci-fi would be the Star Wars series of books and movies, because they use a lot of space magic.
Early sci-fi, such as the works of H.G. Wells, were mostly soft sci-fi. One interesting exception to this is Jules Verne, who actually wrote very hard sci-fi. The pulp magazines of the ‘50s and ‘60s continued the trend of soft sci-fi, especially with the magazines of Hugo Gernsback. However, it should be noted that 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most influential pieces of hard sci-fi, was published in 1968. Then, in 1977, Star Wars came around, and that gave birth to just about all the off-brand soft sci-fi space operas. After that point, there was a mix of soft and hard sci-fi, though soft sci-fi was generally more read.
Now, I don’t really like one more than the other. I love Star Wars, which, as stated previously, is very soft, but some of my favorite books are those in the Expanse series, which is very hard. I like soft sci-fi because it can be used to explore interesting concepts without getting too bogged down with the scientific details. Some examples of sci-fi being used this way are William Gibson’s Neuromancer or H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. On the other hand, I like hard sci-fi because it creates a lot more of a believable world, with much more realistic science. Some great examples are James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes or Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
When it comes to writing, I prefer hard sci-fi. First of all, I find writing it very fun. I like to learn about all the little science bits, and the writing process teaches me a lot. Also, I prefer the way physics and such are still relevant in a hard sci-fi setting. It creates a lot more conflict, and as all good authors know, conflict is the lifeblood of a story.
Now that you know the difference between hard and soft sci-fi, pick up some reading! If you think soft sci-fi is cool, I recommend Frank Herbert's Dune. If you prefer your sci-fi hard, try Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Enjoy!