Is SF generally better the harder it is?

I think it depends. Personally, my main beef with a lot of sci fi is that it treats their magical technology as either a deux ex machine or presents it in such a way that the society that has adopted it is either a paradise or a dystopia.

IMO, the best sci fi is where, unless you are plucking a contemporary human into a future/alien world fish out of water story, the technology and society should be relatively mundane to the people living in it. As The Doctor said to Claire in a recent episode of Doctor Who, "no one calls it a “space restaurant”. It’s just a “restaurant”.

Now, to actually answer the OP, while I like hard sf there are vast numbers of soft sf stories far better than vast numbers of hard ones. What’s important is the goal of the writer, and if the hardness contributes to the goal. Exploring conditions on a strange planet, like in Mission of Gravity meant that working out conditions was important to the story. How they got there wasn’t. Flowers for Algernon would have have been improved at all if we had learned the details of how Charley became more intelligent.

Dammit … can you please warn a guy before you link to tvtropes? I now have over 30 tabs opened, and I’m blaming you for all of them. :stuck_out_tongue:

On the subject of the thread, I admit I’m a sucker for the harder SF, but I’m a geek like that. Modern SF that conflicts with modern science breaks my suspension of disbelief, though the older stuff doesn’t, even when I know it’s wrong. Maybe it’s similar to the uncanny valley, where more abstract things get a pass, but the almost-real-but-not-quite just seems wrong.

You have to keep in mind, of course, that the 1950’s were 60 years ago - the body of scientific knowledge was different then. Things like psi were being studied at universities and hadn’t been ruled out to the extent they are today, as an example. Heck, go back to the likes of Jules Verne - he got some stuff right and some stuff wrong, the latter in part because the world simply didn’t know as much about some stuff as we do now.

It’s a bit like reading stuff from that era that presumes the USSR would still be in existence in the 21st Century. Or reading Brave New World where they’re discussing engineering people in their society and realizing DNA hadn’t been discovered yet so the author was missing a chunk of what we know about genetics these days. Or reading City of Endless Night and realizing it was written prior to WWII which is why there’s a chunk of history and social/political changes missing - it’s an alternate history story now but wasn’t intended as such.

So some things we consider extremely squishy these days maybe weren’t seen as that soft several decades ago.

I’ve actually heard an explanation that the abbreviation SF doesn’t stand for Science Fiction or Science Fantasy but rather Somehow it Fits.

Well, FTL and aliens and time travel are still part of hard sf and they’re probably fantasy.

Hard sf is more about intentions than actuality. None of those books have moved out of hard sf because we know more about science. Any knowledgeable person in the 50s would consider them in the same category we see them today.

It’s not really Zeerust. What kayaker is thinking of is more Technology Marches On.

Personally, I think that, all else being equal, science fiction (or indeed, speculative fiction in general) is better the harder it is. But I also think that, all else being equal, it’s also better the softer it is. That is to say, I consider the hardness and softness of a story to be on two orthogonal axes, and how far along a work is on one has no bearing on how far along it is on the other. Hard science fiction adheres closely to natural laws of the Universe, or at least to its own consistent laws. Soft science fiction focuses on the people of the story, and how they react and relate to those laws. The very best science fiction stories (Niven’s Inconstant Moon is my favorite example) are thus both very hard and very soft.

Now, personally, I give more weight to the hardness axis than to the softness axis in my own preferences. But even so, I still prefer a story further along the softness axis, for any given level of hardness.

I also thought this was about San Francisco and expected a *waaaay *different thread.

I would disagree.

“Technology Marches On” seems to me more tech being trumpeted as the ‘next big thing’ in a book or movie when it is now, in hindsight, obsolete (the example they give is someone enthusing about a computer having "Twelve megabites of RAM!!!).

In the scenario kayaker is thinking of, there is a tech still ‘futuristic’ today (hologram projection), but delivered via what, in hindsight, appears as a hilariously inappropriate obsolete mechanism (movie projector).

It is more akin to ‘sliderulers in space-ships’ than 'look upon my mighty 12 megabites of RAM and despair". It is the juxtaposition of the future tech with the obsolete that makes it Zeerust.

Example provided:

… but bad SF is generally badder the softer it is. Because soap opera is by intent repetitive and un-original. And ''good SF" is, in my personal opinion, original.

I write “in my personal opinion”, because who am I to argue with the millions who love soap opera in one form or another?

It’s a good list for this thread because none of these books were ever hard sf (well, I haven’t read The Long Tomorrow, shame on me, but I’ve read the rest.) And science is not important to any of these books except in some cases to get the characters into the situation the story is developing.
Unless you consider jaunting having anything to do with science. Which Bester didn’t.
I bet that someone could rewrite Gravy Planet to bring it up to date without losing any of its satiric brilliance.

Soap opera and space opera are not inherently contradictory forms.
I’d say bad hard sf can be worse than bad soft sf. They could both have the same flaws in plotting and characterization, but only bad hard sf can make me throw the book across the room when it gets some basic fact of science wrong. I think this stems from the comment made earlier about it being harder to write.

I don’t know how you can say that aliens are probably fantasy.

Not that life doesn’t exist elsewhere, but that the stories of aliens and humans mixing with or without FTL drives are essentially Star Wars fantasy.

I’m writing an article on the Galaxy Novels line of paperbacks. They were almost all reprints, but I’m reading the few originals. One is The Alien, by Raymond F. Jones.

In the first chapter we learn that the asteroid belt was a planet that exploded about 500,000 years ago. It probably got about as much heat as the Earth because that was when the Sun was younger. Scientists find an artifact from the civilization on that planet buried under a coating of rock. They burn away the rock with an Atom Stream but it doesn’t even mark the artifact. They hope the heat didn’t affect it because, being in space, it’s at absolute zero. At the start of chapter 2 they plan to bombard it with radiation because they could “generate radiation through almost the complete spectrum from single cycle sound waves to hard cosmic rays.”

That’s exactly as hard today as it was then.

I can see some sorts of Psi being physically possible (the organic radios idea) but FTL is more impossible to physics as we know it. But I get the point. That wasn’t what I meant by “crutch”, though - I meant often FTL is just used but not really implications considered.

In that case, more like Douglas Adams and John Lloyd had the answer…

I don’t see anyone really answering an unequivocal “Yes” to the OP.

I meant SciFi in this case - although even in the Fantasy end of the SpecFic spectrum, you get your hards and softs (as opposed to your Highs and Lows), it’s just rules for magic/explanations for stuff rather than rules for physics.

'twas a joke about the use (and addictiveness) of TV Tropes already in play in this thread. Not a serious attribution.

As for psi, you should look at the power, receiving, and decoding requirements some day.
As for FTL, as I said someone ignoring physics is writing fantasy. Someone who invents an FTL method which doesn’t violate physics but does it through some interesting technique is writing something a bit plausible. That whatever technique it is won’t actually work is not the issue - it is that the writer is not ignoring physics as we know it.

In the type of hard science fiction which directly extrapolates from known science, yeah aliens would be fantasy. But in the type of hard science fiction that posits some unexpected breakthrough, like an alien generation ship showing up, it isn’t. And the world is more like the second case.

I think there are really two competing definitions of science fiction, and that’s the genesis of the question in the OP.

First, there’s the concept of science fiction as being stories that revolve around science, technology and its applicaitions. This can be through adding new tech to existing society, or merely by transporting the reader into a different or future world with new technology. All too often, these stories focus on the gee-whiz factor and the setting, and less on the characters and their conflicts.

The second example is the speculative or extrapolative fiction that RickJay describes. This doesn’t necessarily have to involve technology at all; in my science fiction literature course in college, one of the stories we read was “The Country of the Blind” by HG Wells. This story definitely fits into the speculative sci-fi mold, although there is NO advanced technology or science involved.

The better science fiction combines the two definitions, and uses the science or technology as a sort of “lever” to get the reader to consider some alternative point of view, or point out consequences, etc… The stories however, are fundamentally about people, not technology. As much as I didn’t really like “Left Hand of Darkness”, it’s a great example of this- it’s fundamentally a story about people and characters, and the technology/different humans are vehicles for setting up the story, not the point of the story itself.

So to the point that harder science in sci-fi advances the plot better, I’m all for it. But concentrating on having exact orbital mechanics, or in having totally consistent speculative technology to the detriment of the actual tale being told and the point the author is trying to make you think about, is a bad thing in almost every case.