Rock Hard Sci-Fi - Can it be done? Has it?

Just to go back to the OP, Loopydude, but are you sure you’re using the correct defintion of “hard sci-fi?” Rather than referring to “realistic” sci-fi, I’ve always heard the term “hard” used to refer to incredibly techy or conceptual sci-fi, as opposed to “space opera” type books. Something like “Dune” would be the original “hard sci-fi” novel, with its heavy reliance on (and explanation of) exotic and complicated technology and post-quantum physics ideas, while something like Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series would be a more modern equivalent (with the super-heavy concepts like the Time Tombs, the galactic web, and so on).

They also used the concept in their seminal work, Footfall, which may also fit the OP’s criteria. It has aliens, but they’re very plausable, and they travel to our solar system the hard way - on a century-long voyage using a Bussard Ramjet. In fact, neither the aliens nor the humans use any “impossible” technology.

Check out Alien Planet:

If you want a collection of stories:

The Ascent of Wonder

There’s plenty of “Rock” Hard Science Fiction in both literature form and the movies. The problem, especially with the movies, is that if it seems too realistic and plausible and not set in a never-never land, people don’t think it’s science fiction. John W. Campbell, when asked to name a hasrd SF movie, named Fail Safe. I’d suggest Panic in Year Zero. The TV series Men Into Space that aired circa 1959 was straightforward space exploration without artificial gravity, warp drives, or anything exotic. What is unrealistic in, say, The Andromeda Strain, aside from the imagined Strain itself?

How about Creator?
as I say, in literature there’s plenty of material. But how much extrapolation will you accept? A lot of Jules Verne’s stuff is set in his existing reality, but there’s a continuum from that to science fiction with nonexistent stuff (Verne invented the “tractor beam”, which we still don’t have). Is Lester Del FRey’s “Nerves” , about an accident i a nuclear power plant (but written well before anyone had nuclear power plants) acceptable? was it before plants were built? How about Ben Bova’s Chet Kinsman stories about settling the moon and planets (using standard science and extrapolated but realistic technology)?

Well, I think a “tractor beam” might get a disqualification.

However, writing about nuculear power before its practical invention or application is one of those hard sci-fi phenomena that gets me excited about the genre.

Which is not only what I said, but is point of that sentence.

I know. Just making a (rather lame, obviously) funny.

Sorry. It’s still early, and I’m tired.

To start out, let me say that I don’t think science fiction has to be particular scientific; expecting it so is misinterpreting the term (see Samuel R. Delany’s “red screamer” analogy in Triton – you’re mistaking the name for the thing itself).

In any case, it’s hard to find any SF that 100% accurate. However, some works that aspire to be include:

Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. Hal invented hard SF as we know it today, and this is still one of the best works in the genre. The actual numbers of the situation are incorrect, though it took the invention of computers to discover the error (Hal was working with a slide rule). It also assumes FTL travel, though that has little bearing on the story. But everything else starts with a scientific premise (a planet with variable gravity) and sticks strictly to the rules as set up, using only scientific facts.

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson is often cited. I’m not sure he’s absolutely correct in his treatment of relativity (it seems to me he assumes a privileged observer), but it does seem to stick to the rules quote closely.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke sticks very closely with scientific fact. It’s a book worth reading once, but there’s no point in rereading it. Clarke usually sticks closely to science in all his work.

For TV, there was the great and forgotten Star Cops. It stuck closely to scientific and technological fact to create a police procedural in space. I particularly liked the concept behind the episode “Conversations with the Dead,” where people were considered dead because their ship had had an unplanned burn and they were now unable to change course or be reached for rescue before they ran out of oxygen.

Very cool. Star Cops? I’ve never even heard of that. When was that released?

And I see you provided a link… :smack:

“Sci-Fi without the Fi”: would that be, like, Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff?

The Cold Equations is the classical example, of course.

A note:

Jurassic Park is _possible, if not probable, now.

There’s a huge number of possible SF works that are “hard” if you discount how you got into the situation or existing aliens (as in the Hal Clement Mission of Gravity above). Most of Clement’s works are hard SF. Most of Arthur C. Clarke’s output has been hard SF, as has a lot of Heinlein. What’s not hard about, say “Gentlemen, be Seated.”?

I really gotta disagree, but whatever.

It was British and only ran nine episodes in 1987. I saw the run on our local PBS station in the early 90s. There’s a DVD, but I suspect it’s only available in the UK.

The website ( gives a nice overview.

Pretty much anything by Niven’s likely to be moderately hard SF. There might be a bit of far-out stuff (Ringworld, Integral Trees) but he always explains it or gives a mechanism for part of it.
RAHeinlein’s *The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress almost doesn’t go past anything that could be done today, though it’d be expensive. It even includes an short, reasonable, and amusing evolution in language. The only unsure bit is Mike, an artifical intelligence that “wakes up” in the first few pages.

Cut yourself off after the first chapter, maybe the second. You find out the answer to the great mystery of the book about halfway through the second chapter, and then it’s never mentioned again. It very quickly becomes very apparent who wrote what, when a “masked man” turns into two completely different characters in even and odd chapters, and someone who died comes back without explanation to introduce a lecturer. Half of it is “long, drawn out sex & violence, interspersed with cameos from the real world that make no plot or historical sense” and the other half is desperately trying to clean up the plot and force it to advance in as little room as possible.

“Space Island One” is pretty much today (in fact, is set in 2005!), and features a space station very much like the ISS was intended to be, only owned by a private research corp. I seem to recall there was one or two “weird” Martian-pyramid episodes, but otherwise very much a realistic show, with, as one website claims, “Hour-long converstaions about Hydroponics”, and also dealing with real people in those situations. It also had pretty realistic helper robots, and occasionally featured guest appearances by the Shuttle.

Also, Indra Ové and Julia Bremermann… smokin’
I liked it, and apparently it was on PBS.


Hey leave it alone, I thought it was a pretty good book. Definitely worth reading once.