Throughout my reading life I’ve only discern which books I read by scanning the cover. Eventually I gravitated towards particular author. Only within the past month did I discover these definitions of science fiction. The variations exist within the level of technical detail and existing science fact to support the fictional work in question.
The hard version immerses readers in a world bristling with technological detail, much of which derives its logic from existing technology o r theories. Suspension of disbelief chokes on the chain of practical, understandable science. Surprises will come from the plot and characters. The ‘wow factor’ comes from technological teases from a reasonably imaginable future. ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’ offers a technologically optimistic hard science fiction view of what is now our underwhelming science fact past. Watching it now we see how much farther mundane technologies progressed while breath taking space travel and artificial intelligence continue to elude us. Star Trek lives on the harder side of Sci-Fi. Over time, as the originators of the franchise faded into memory, Trek became inundated with false hard sci-fi. Techno-babble out of left field saved the day faster than you can say ‘reroute power to the deflector dish’. The hard foundation that saw the advent of cell phones in the shadow of Kirk’s communicator grew soft around the edges.
Softer science fiction asks the reader to focus more on what’s happening and not get bogged down with how. Spaceships simply go. No one’s going to spend much exposition on the evolution of hyperdrive or what they’ll need to do to get a boost out of it. Push the green button and shove the stick forward. Blam, we’re screaming. Doctor Who fans can appreciate the ‘wibbly wobbly’ aspects of soft sci-fi. Star Wars ships whiz from space to planet-side and back with little regard for the havoc such actions threaten to wreak. While the upside is a wild ride, the slippery slope comes when the too much stuff makes too little sense. My tough spot comes from cross genre works filled with sci-fi and fantasy. Magic and ‘The Matrix’ don’t mix for me. Again techno-babble works against the audience. Since the science is soft any attempts to offer hard facts behind it comes across as irrelevant.
So if you like a wild ride and don’t expect the surroundings to make too much sense, go for soft science fiction. If you enjoy science fiction but only when it doesn’t fly completely in the face of science, hard science fiction is for you. Me? A good plot, engaging characters, and proper pacing go a long way for me in either.