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dflower
04-27-2011, 01:49 PM
Need some help from Sci-fi book fans.
I just read The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle. Liked it very much. Seems to be a very early sci-fi book. Is it?
It was out in 1957. What other similar books, called hard sci-fi, if I understand it, would you recommend? Not into fantasy as much. Much prefer books based on real science.
I thank you

Elendil's Heir
04-27-2011, 02:17 PM
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is a fine hard-science sf novel set about a thousand years in the future, about humanity's first contact with sentient aliens. Highly recommended.

silenus
04-27-2011, 02:22 PM
The works of Larry Niven and Robert Forward are highly recommended.

Damfino
04-27-2011, 02:32 PM
Anything by Arthur C Clarke or Iain M Banks.

Tom Scud
04-27-2011, 02:33 PM
Greg Egan does some good stuff.

Malthus
04-27-2011, 02:39 PM
Mission of Gravity by Hal clement is a classic of hard SF.

dalej42
04-27-2011, 03:11 PM
Here is a thread on hard sci-fi I started a few years ago. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=417716) Some great suggestions on here.

Andy L
04-27-2011, 04:31 PM
Mission of Gravity by Hal clement is a classic of hard SF.

As is most of what Clement wrote - hard SF and very good.

Malthus
04-27-2011, 04:47 PM
As is most of what Clement wrote - hard SF and very good.

Agreed; I like his statement on what hard sf should look like:

"Writing a science fiction story is fun, not work. ... the fun... lies in treating the whole thing as a game. ... the rules must be quite simple. They are; for the reader of a science-fiction story, they consist of finding as many as possible of the author's statements or implications which conflict with the facts as science currently understands them. For the author, the rule is to make as few such slips as he possibly can ... Certain exceptions are made [e.g., to allow travel faster than the speed of light], but fair play demands that all such matters be mentioned as early as possible in the story..."

Ranchoth
04-27-2011, 05:52 PM
Dragon's Egg by Forward (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon%27s_Egg) comes to mind immediately, though I haven't read it myself yet.

Then there's The Forever War (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheForeverWar) by Joe Haldeman, which is hard-ish.

Actually, the TV tropes article Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MohsScaleOfScienceFictionHardness) might be of some help, though you'd have to sort through entries including film, television, etc, not just written works.

Canyon Surfer
04-27-2011, 06:18 PM
I've read Dragon's Egg and recommend it very highly.

If you can find it A for Andromeda (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_for_Andromeda) by Fred Hoyle is a bit like an early Contact (Carl Sagan).

RealityChuck
04-27-2011, 06:25 PM
Mission of Gravity by Hal clement is a classic of hard SF.Hal invented the hard SF genre; the only other person with a serious claim to the title was Jules Verne, and few followed in his footsteps until steampunk.

Hal's first story, "Proof," started the trend. Instead of making up alien worlds, Hal based them on what was known to scientists of his time. He wrote by finding some sort of interesting idea for a world from actual science and telling a story factoring it in.

Mission of Gravity is all about the science of a world he created where the gravity varied depending on where you were. It's all about how the gravity gradients affect things. The characters are so-so (Barlennan, the alien commander, stands out) and the story is pretty tame, but the science makes the book a classic. Hal calculated everything as accurately as he could, given the tools of the time (years later, they used a computer to find errors in his calculations, but they were pretty damn good for a slide rule and pencil).

Before Hal, there was no interest in hard SF. The science in the genre was just a method of telling the story. John W. Campbell started insisting that the science did not out-and-out contradict known fact (as he published E. E. "Doc" Smith, who refused to accept relativity in his stories) and Hal was taking that as far as it could go.

The issue today is that some people don't understand that hard SF is not the only form of SF, nor is the source of the best in the genre.

Peremensoe
04-27-2011, 06:57 PM
Agreed; I like his statement on what hard sf should look like...

I would add an additional element: that some essential element of the story must turn on an identifiable scientific idea. That is, it's not sufficient for a story to simply be plausibly set in the future/outer space/with aliens/whatever; something should happen which depends on real or consistently-extrapolated science.

For example, I really like some of Egan's short stories that take place in the present day (or a few years ago, or from now), on Earth (or an Earth very much like ours), and among humans. A couple may not even be initially recognizable as "science fiction"--but the science turns out to be the fulcrum of everything that happens.

Andy L
04-27-2011, 07:07 PM
I would add an additional element: that some essential element of the story must turn on an identifiable scientific idea. That is, it's not sufficient for a story to simply be plausibly set in the future/outer space/with aliens/whatever; something should happen which depends on real or consistently-extrapolated science.

For example, I really like some of Egan's short stories that take place in the present day (or a few years ago, or from now), on Earth (or an Earth very much like ours), and among humans. A couple may not even be initially recognizable as "science fiction"--but the science turns out to be the fulcrum of everything that happens.

Egan is a master of making the science of the story really matter to the person in the story, too.

Qadgop the Mercotan
04-27-2011, 07:28 PM
I enjoy Peter F. Hamilton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_F._Hamilton)'s stuff. Quite hard SF. Many interesting themes.

Left Hand of Dorkness
04-27-2011, 07:42 PM
Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars is decently hard science fiction: a tremendous amount of it consists of descriptions of the Arean landscape and geological history, and all the McGuffins in it come across as scientifically plausible. (The series continues fairly hard, but eventually cheap fusion and universal immortality destroy the possibility of a coherent narrative IMO).

My absolute favorite hard SF is Robert Wilson's Spin. Excellent fiction, what looked to me like very good science.

Andy L
04-27-2011, 07:59 PM
Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars is decently hard science fiction: a tremendous amount of it consists of descriptions of the Arean landscape and geological history, and all the McGuffins in it come across as scientifically plausible. (The series continues fairly hard, but eventually cheap fusion and universal immortality destroy the possibility of a coherent narrative IMO).

There's one basic thermodynamics error in "Red Mars" but it's a pretty solid book and Robinson is definitely trying to make it as hard as possible. Michael Swanwick's "Bones of the Earth" is another good one - some great paleontology (and some time travel, I'll admit).

pinguin
04-27-2011, 08:00 PM
Rainbows End of Vernor Vinge.

For me, it is the cleverest prediction of the near future I have found so far.
A world dominated by presential and ubiquous Internet, allied to virtual reality. For instance, people goes to a park and the name of the species of trees are proyected in theirs contact lenses! Or talk to a foreigner, and the translation appears simultaneously writen on the contact lenses, and so the captions can be read like in movies!

A must read.

Malthus
04-28-2011, 08:53 AM
Hal invented the hard SF genre; the only other person with a serious claim to the title was Jules Verne, and few followed in his footsteps until steampunk.

Hal's first story, "Proof," started the trend. Instead of making up alien worlds, Hal based them on what was known to scientists of his time. He wrote by finding some sort of interesting idea for a world from actual science and telling a story factoring it in.

Mission of Gravity is all about the science of a world he created where the gravity varied depending on where you were. It's all about how the gravity gradients affect things. The characters are so-so (Barlennan, the alien commander, stands out) and the story is pretty tame, but the science makes the book a classic. Hal calculated everything as accurately as he could, given the tools of the time (years later, they used a computer to find errors in his calculations, but they were pretty damn good for a slide rule and pencil).

Before Hal, there was no interest in hard SF. The science in the genre was just a method of telling the story. John W. Campbell started insisting that the science did not out-and-out contradict known fact (as he published E. E. "Doc" Smith, who refused to accept relativity in his stories) and Hal was taking that as far as it could go.

The issue today is that some people don't understand that hard SF is not the only form of SF, nor is the source of the best in the genre.

I dunno about the last bit - hard SF is a distinct (and pretty small) minority of all SF. Certainly it has rabid fans, but no moreso than other more popular sub-genres.

RealityChuck
04-28-2011, 09:04 AM
I think if you look at current SF, the two main threads are hard sf and cyberpunk-influenced space opera. About the only writer working in soft SF these days is Kit Reed (whose Thinner Than Thou and Enclave as two of the three best SF books of this century).

Malthus
04-28-2011, 09:16 AM
I think if you look at current SF, the two main threads are hard sf and cyberpunk-influenced space opera. About the only writer working in soft SF these days is Kit Reed (whose Thinner Than Thou and Enclave as two of the three best SF books of this century).

I think you are discounting the enormous and enduring popularity of various sorts of space opera - think of A Fire Upon the Deep, Pandora's Star, The Vorkosigan Saga, Hyperion, etc. not to mention such subgenres as military SF and spin-offs from popular SF in other media, like Star Trek, Babylon 5, Star Wars, etc. or SF with fantasy elements - all of which are, individually and collectively, more popular in terms of numbers that "true" hard SF (if sometimes and in some cases looked down upon by SF purists).

CalMeacham
04-28-2011, 09:29 AM
I find it odd that the OP calls Fred Hoyle's 1957 book "very early sf", as if there weren't almost a century (depending on where you set your aritrary pointer for the beginning) of science fiction preceding it. How you define "hard sf" is an issue, too, because much science fiction mixes hard sf with less likely things, and many writers tackle both hard and "softer" SF. Hoyle is a good choice, because excerpts from this very book showed up in one of my high school science texts as an example of rigorous scientific thinking. But would you call Hoyle's October the Third is Too Late "hard" science fiction, with different parts of the world cast into different historical epochs?


it seems pretty weird, too, that Robert heinlein isn't even mentioned so far in this thread, yet he's definitely among the great Hard SF writers. he himself describes doing voluminous orbital calculations for Space Cadet that weren't strictly necessary for the plot, but he wanted to get the details right. There are plenty of examples in his work of good science, engineering, and hardcore speculation.


As has been noted (and with some additions), a good list would include


Hal Clement
Isaac Asimov
Arthur C. Clarke
Jules Verne
H.G. Wells (yes, it's certainly defensible)
Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
Robert L. Forward




There are plenty of other, not-as-well known writers, too.

K364
04-28-2011, 09:44 AM
Poul Anderson's "Tau Zero" comes to mind as well.

Kim o the Concrete Jungle
04-28-2011, 09:53 AM
The Paradox Men by Charles L. Harness. It's pretty much a classic of the genre.

Tom Scud
04-28-2011, 09:56 AM
I enjoy Peter F. Hamilton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_F._Hamilton)'s stuff. Quite hard SF. Many interesting themes.

Doesn't he have, like, galactic zombie empires?

Malthus
04-28-2011, 10:17 AM
Doesn't he have, like, galactic zombie empires?

IMHO, he's clearly within the "space opera" camp. ;)

pinguin
04-28-2011, 10:18 AM
Let's remember than a lot of Hard SF is today published under the label Techno Triller.

Gray Ghost
04-28-2011, 10:30 AM
IMHO, he's clearly within the "space opera" camp. ;)

You can have space opera and still try to do hard Sci-Fi, IMHO. Take a look at Alastair Reynolds's stuff, for instance.

Part of the problem is that when the technology gets too advanced from our point of view, it starts to turn into magic, (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke). I personally think that magic is like omnipotent characters, in that both are too hard to handle rigorously in a plot; too many issues or conflicts disappear if the full implications of either are allowed to fully develop.

A lot of the fun for me in hard Sci-Fi is trying to see the implications of the technology or the setting and see what naturally develops from that. When characters start acting in contradiction to those natural developments---whether from plot forced stupidity, the author choosing not to explore those implications, what have you---it kills my immersion and enjoyment. (E.g. Reynolds's Absolution Gap: God, what a wasteful, terrible story.) I'll tolerate it more in something like Discworld, where the specifics of the mechanics of magic or of magical races, really aren't the point of the story.

pinguin
04-28-2011, 10:39 AM
I am interested in that science fiction driven by the technical-scientific idea. That's what I consider Hard Sci-Fi.

To read about children adventures, phantoms or vampires I better read the masters of fantasy, like Tolkien.

Malthus
04-28-2011, 10:43 AM
You can have space opera and still try to do hard Sci-Fi, IMHO. Take a look at Alastair Reynolds's stuff, for instance.

Part of the problem is that when the technology gets too advanced from our point of view, it starts to turn into magic, (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke). I personally think that magic is like omnipotent characters, in that both are too hard to handle rigorously in a plot; too many issues or conflicts disappear if the full implications of either are allowed to fully develop.

A lot of the fun for me in hard Sci-Fi is trying to see the implications of the technology or the setting and see what naturally develops from that. When characters start acting in contradiction to those natural developments---whether from plot forced stupidity, the author choosing not to explore those implications, what have you---it kills my immersion and enjoyment. (E.g. Reynolds's Absolution Gap: God, what a wasteful, terrible story.) I'll tolerate it more in something like Discworld, where the specifics of the mechanics of magic or of magical races, really aren't the point of the story.

Perhaps you can have hard SF that is also space opera, but however you slice it, Hamilton is not particularly "hard" SF. He deals with stuff that is clearly *not* an extrapolation of science, unless one twists the meaning until it breaks - like the afterlife.

When you have a galactic empire of zombies led by a reincarnated Al Capone, you are not dealing with "hard" SF. ;)

Thudlow Boink
04-28-2011, 10:49 AM
It seems pretty weird, too, that Robert heinlein isn't even mentioned so far in this thread, yet he's definitely among the great Hard SF writers. he himself describes doing voluminous orbital calculations for Space Cadet that weren't strictly necessary for the plot, but he wanted to get the details right.Well, by some definitions of "hard science fiction" the fact that they weren't necessary for the plot counts against it being hard science fiction.

I agree, though, Heinlein's works are a good example of the kind of science fiction that actually has science in it, the kind that could only be written by someone with substantial scientific knowledge, which is a necessary if not a sufficient condition for being considered "hard."

Gray Ghost
04-28-2011, 11:15 AM
Perhaps you can have hard SF that is also space opera, but however you slice it, Hamilton is not particularly "hard" SF. He deals with stuff that is clearly *not* an extrapolation of science, unless one twists the meaning until it breaks - like the afterlife.

When you have a galactic empire of zombies led by a reincarnated Al Capone, you are not dealing with "hard" SF. ;)

Without a doubt, and I haven't read anything from Peter Hamilton. I was just taking issue with the idea that space opera meant no hard science fiction. I probably just misread the earlier post.

I also disagree with the idea that the science fiction elements in a hard sci-fi story must be integral to advancing the plot. It seems to me that interpretation leads to Chekhov's Guns sprouting up all over the place. OTOH, if you do introduce a piece of tech, and that piece of tech would have resolved a plot conflict or issue, but doesn't, there'd better be a damn good explanation why not. Sometimes, I just like playing tourist within the author's playground, which probably explains a lot of my love for Niven's works.

Peremensoe
04-28-2011, 11:22 AM
Well, by some definitions of "hard science fiction" the fact that they weren't necessary for the plot counts against it being hard science fiction.

FTR, if this is based on my comment earlier--a scientific element's non-necessity to the plot doesn't count against a work's "hardness." I just mean to say that I think of hard SF as being stories that are really about real science, or speculative extrapolations from real science, as opposed to other kinds of stories using those elements as setting.

It's been a long time since I've read Heinlein, especially the "juveniles," but to my thinking all the important themes of something like Space Cadet could have been written in a book which nobody would identify as any kind of "science fiction" at all--for example a quasi-historical adventure in which the Space Patrol is replaced by the 19th-century British Empire.

Qadgop the Mercotan
04-28-2011, 11:22 AM
Perhaps you can have hard SF that is also space opera, but however you slice it, Hamilton is not particularly "hard" SF. He deals with stuff that is clearly *not* an extrapolation of science, unless one twists the meaning until it breaks - like the afterlife.

When you have a galactic empire of zombies led by a reincarnated Al Capone, you are not dealing with "hard" SF. ;)
Better discount Farmer's Riverworld stuff as *not* hard SF then too.

I found his novels grounded in scientific principles (observation, measurement, testing of hypotheses, etc) so didn't mind him moving into additional dimensions and transcendent intelligences. Same way I like Vinge's transcendent stuff.

Andy L
04-28-2011, 05:22 PM
Rainbows End of Vernor Vinge.

For me, it is the cleverest prediction of the near future I have found so far.
A world dominated by presential and ubiquous Internet, allied to virtual reality. For instance, people goes to a park and the name of the species of trees are proyected in theirs contact lenses! Or talk to a foreigner, and the translation appears simultaneously writen on the contact lenses, and so the captions can be read like in movies!

A must read.

I agree. Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky" is also very good and quite scientifically accurate (the other book in that series has less hard elements (but the planet-bound portion of the book is also quite hard)

Malthus
04-28-2011, 05:39 PM
Better discount Farmer's Riverworld stuff as *not* hard SF then too.

I found his novels grounded in scientific principles (observation, measurement, testing of hypotheses, etc) so didn't mind him moving into additional dimensions and transcendent intelligences. Same way I like Vinge's transcendent stuff.

I'd classify A Fire upon the Deep as "space opera", too.

Don't get me wrong - I love that stuff. I do not by any means equate "hard" with "good".

It is just a different genre, one that attempts to emphasize the "science" in "science fiction" - by making science a central part of the novel-writing process.

A Mission of Gravity is a classic of this genre, because the wierd planetary properties of Mesklin - the planet on which the action was set - were (a) important to the plot, and (b) as accurate to real science as Hal Clement could make them.

That does not make A Mission of Gravity necessarily better than A Fire Upon the deep, Riverworld, or Hamilton's Night's Dawn. It just makes it different. In these other books, the actual accuracy of the science is more or less irrelevant to the plots, the authors have no hesitation in just making stuff up to suit the plot (the "zones of thought" is a good example; even better, the quite literal deus ex machina that ends the Night's Dawn trilogy - a black hole that is also, well, God, and that sucks the souls of the damned possessed into something like hell).

In many ways, "hard" SF is very constraining. That's why it is, and has always been, a minority genre.

Andy L
04-28-2011, 05:53 PM
I'd classify A Fire upon the Deep as "space opera", too.

A galactic scope, casual destruction of whole solar systems, fate of vast swathes of space dependent on the actions of less than a dozen characters - sounds like 'space opera' to me (but loads of fun - and the planet bound plot thread is actually pretty hard SF, as I mentioned upthread)

vdgg81
04-28-2011, 06:17 PM
I'll second everyone who suggested Greg Egan (I'm partial to the short stories) and Arthur Clarke and also Vinge's Rainbow's End. I'll also side with those who believe Peter F. Hamilton doesn't write hard sf. I love his stuff and have read most of it, but it goes well beyond our current understanding of physical laws (souls and reincarnation, psychic powers, living star-ships that produce wormholes, etc.). My one recommendation that hasn't already been mentioned in this thread is Peter Watts, particularly Blindsight. His stuff is wildly imaginative, very well-writen and very, very grounded on science.

I'll be mildly heretical and suggest that most Asimov isn't actually hard sf. What fascinated Isaac were logical puzzles, not scientific ones. They're obviously related, but not at all the same.

pinguin
04-28-2011, 07:01 PM
It's been a long time since I've read Heinlein, especially the "juveniles," but to my thinking all the important themes of something like Space Cadet could have been written in a book which nobody would identify as any kind of "science fiction" at all--for example a quasi-historical adventure in which the Space Patrol is replaced by the 19th-century British Empire.

But Heinlein was careful in describing the science in his novels. I loved Spaceship Galileo for that.

pinguin
04-28-2011, 07:04 PM
I agree. Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky" is also very good and quite scientifically accurate (the other book in that series has less hard elements (but the planet-bound portion of the book is also quite hard)

Yes!! Vinge is one of the best in the ancient art of predicting the future through novels.

I think that Verne would have been proud of Michael Crichton, Vernor Vinge and Tom Clancy! :D (One Vinge, though is considered a SF writer)...

Daerlyn
04-28-2011, 07:56 PM
Charles Sheffield's McAndrew short stories are pretty hard sci-fi. Each of them was inspired by a new scientific development or theory at the time that caught the author's interest. Black holes, high-gee travel, super-dense matter, rogue planets, it's all in there.

I haven't read any of his other work yet, but the McAndrew stuff is great.

Andy L
04-29-2011, 05:20 PM
Yeah, McAndrew is a lot of fun. Sheffield's other stuff isn't quite so hard, but he wrote a very well-done non-fiction book called "Borderlands of Science" http://www.amazon.com/Borderlands-Science-Where-Sense-Nonsense/dp/0195143264

Tom Scud
04-29-2011, 07:11 PM
Better discount Farmer's Riverworld stuff as *not* hard SF then too.

Very much not. IIRC the resurrection machinery works by capturing the energy released by an author waving his hands back and forth very quickly.

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