Any good "hard" SF that isn't depressing?

Most modern SF seem to focus on the negative effects of technology and/or the dark side of human nature. Any recommendations for “hard” SF novels that are more uplifting? Of the books I’ve read in the past few years, The Martian may be the only one that qualifies. The “Bobiverse” series was OK, but played a bit too fast and loose with the laws of physics to enjoy as a “hard” SF.

p.s. Even better if a good audiobook version was available through Audible.

Dragon’s Egg and the sequel. Life on a neutron star - fantastically imaginative but grounded firmly in the real science.

Sounds like you are asking more specifically about “Mundane SF

Sounds like you’d like Alan Steele or Jack McDevitt.

Hard science/speculative ficiton tends to be “depressing” because it deals with changes to society driven by technology which are inherently stressing even if the result is positive. And certainly the changes we face, from the rise of artificial general intelligence to synthetic biology, will alter human experience beyond comprehension.

However, I’d suggest Alistair Reynold’s Blue Remembered Earth and sequels as being largely optimistic. Larry Niven’s short story, “Safe At Any Speed” is about the ability of future flying cars to protect an occupant against even the most extreme accidents, although being trapped in the belly of a giant flying bird for months is not a fate I would care to experience. Asimov’s Foundation series is actually pretty optimistic even if humans face a lot of challenges, as is most of Heinlein’s work. Even Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence, in which humanity faces a war against both a superior alien intelligence (the Xeelee) and an unstopable dark matter race dedicated to eliminating the unstable enegetic stars that gave rise to heavy metals and intelligent normal matter life features an optimistic ending in humanity escaping into a new universe that lacks dark matter.


Robert J. Sawyer is pretty good. I don’t know where he ranks on the Mohs scale, but he gets people right, which is always a plus.

Expanse series?

Spin is pretty hard, and I wouldn’t call it depressing. The Three-Body Problem is very hard (not saying I vouch for the science, but hard science is definitely the main character), and while there are grim moments in it, the first and second books in the series don’t on a whole comprise a depressing story. I highly recommend both of these novels.

I endorse this post. Good read. Didn’t know there was a sequel, though. Have to look that up.

I never thought of the “Foundation” series as depressing.

I was going to say — most of Asimov is hard SF and very little of it is depressing.

But also, with so much other great Asimov, I wouldn’t recommend the Foundation series to someone looking for hard SF. I could never get beyond how ridiculous I found the idea of psychohistory.

I preferred his robot stories.

C.J. Cherryh’s ‘Company Wars’ novels.

They are solid, hard SF. The characters are very real and human, and the endings are upbeat.

There is always a sense that basic physics matters. The only really new technology is the FTL drive, and even that is a complex technology with its own issues, hard on the physiology, and travel takes weeks of real time.

Even though there is the FTL drive, there is no artificial gravity, and ships and stations have to spin or they are in null-G. Life-support systems are always a background concern. They cannot be taken for granted. Maintenance of complex systems is ongoing. You have to buy flour and bake bread in ovens when the ship is not going to be in null-G. If you are 3 light minutes away, then you have to wait 6 minutes for a response to your message. Relativistic time-dilation due to travel can affect relationships. Etc.

Even villains are real people with limited vision just trying to get by, or trying make a quick buck, or power-hungry. There are no superheros. In the war, both sides have genuine, but incompatible, points of view. Both sides have political infighting, factions and parties.

The books all have characters you actually care about, and (mostly) they survive and do well by the end. The books can be gritty and harsh in places, but they are certainly not depressing.

Downbelow Station (1981) – Hugo winner, Locus SF Award nominee
Merchanter’s Luck (1982)
Rimrunners (1989) – Locus SF Award nominee
Heavy Time (1991)
Hellburner (1992) - sequel to Heavy Time
Tripoint (1994)
Finity’s End (1997) – Locus SF Award nominee
Alliance Rising - due to be published January 2019

To which I’d add

Cyteen (1988) – Hugo and Locus SF Award winner

(Cyteen is in the same universe, just not during the war. It covers the darker side of cloning, brainwashing, and an underclass of workers and soldiers, but looked at in a highly unconventional way. It is a bit claustrophobic and depressing, but still has a fairly positive ending.)

Downbelow Station sets up the universe, but you can read them in any order (except that Hellburner is the sequel to Heavy Time).

Hellburner is one of the best depictions of inefficient military bureaucracy I’ve ever come across - it’s also pretty funny.

Finity’s End focuses more on kids and young adults in a ‘merchanter’ family ship.

Tripoint is about bad parenting and rape, and - strangely enough for a book by a female author - though the book revolves around a disputed rape which happened 20 years earlier, by the end you feel that the guy actually has a valid point of view. The main character, who was born as a result of the ‘rape’, eventually has a choice of whether or not to stay on the borderline-illegal ship run by his somewhat dodgy father (no spoilers, but it’s remarkably interesting, with a very upbeat ending).

A good intro to Cherryh on Tor:

Space is wide and good friends are too few: Cherryh’s Merchanter novels

tries to think of upbeat Cyberpunk. Fails

It depends what you mean by “hard” and what you mean by “depressing”. If what you want is something with reasonably possible scientific advances and with reasonably optimistic outcomes, the following from my list of my twenty favorite science fiction novels seem to me to fit that description. Lots of things change in these futures, but humanity survives. I’m going to ignore the request for “modern” works, since again I don’t know what you mean by that term:

Olaf Stapledon First and Last Men and Starmaker
Philip José Farmer The Riverworld Series (To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat, The Dark Design, The Magic Labyrinth, and Gods of Riverworld)
Frank Herbert Dune
Alfred Bester The Stars My Destination
Ursula K. Le Guin The Left Hand of Darkness
Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night
Clifford Simak City

How about Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise? It has been a while but I don’t remember it being depressing. A lot about the Mandelbrot set thogh.


How about Niven & Pournelle’s Footfall? Sure, there’s a big war and lots of people die, but in general, humanity kicks righteous ass.

Yes, I like that one.