Hard Science Fiction

Hard Science Fiction

Hard Science Fiction

Hard Science Fiction


These 16 essays from the fifth annual J. Lloyd Eaton Conference at the University of California, Riverside, seek to come to grips with science fiction's core, the core at which "science must ultimately seem to outweigh the fiction."

Never before has hard SF been the topic of such extended discussion by such qualified people. The dialogue constitutes new (and potentially shocking to a traditional literary critic) modes of literary criticism, modes that take into account the impact of scientific speculation and method on our culture and on the ways our culture invents stories and myths.

Essayists include writer/scientist professors Robert L. Forward, David Brin, and Gregory Benford. Noted critics and writers with scientific backgrounds or interests include: James Gunn, Frank McConnell, George Guffey, John Huntington, Paul Carter, Patricia Warrick, Paul Alkon, Robert M. Philmus, David Clayton, Eric S. Rabkin, Herbert Sussman, Michael Collings, and George E. Slusser.


Insofar as one can bestow geographical centers on literary genres, science fiction may be unique in having a hard core. When science fiction writers speak of "hard SF," they seem to be designating, more than a form, a place, solid literary ground on which to resist the shocks of literary fashion. Indeed, it may be a place which resists the temptation of fiction itself. For to create this sense of substantiality at the core, science must ultimately seem to outweigh the fiction. And to do so, that science must be the "hardest" possible. In a basic sense this means that both setting and dramatic situation must derive strictly from the rigorous postulation and working out of a concrete physical problem. The method then of the hard SF story is logical, the means technological, and the result -- the feel and texture of the fiction itself -- objective and cold. What hard SF purports to affirm, therefore, is not the universality of human aspirations, for these are more often than not the "soft" products of our desires. Instead it asserts the truth of natural law, an absolute, seemingly ahuman vision of things. Such a vision may seem to run counter to the humanist tradition, to the basically man-centered structures of Western literature itself. Hardness here becomes hardheartedness, and risks repelling even the most open-minded literary scholar who traditionally has drawn justification for his activity from that humanism. Yet, to the degree that it remains fiction, hard SF is still part of the larger system of narrative. And by asking storytelling to adopt the procedures and conclusions of modern scientific investigation, hard SF may not reject fictional narrative so much as reshape it. To get some sense of this shape of stories to come we must, at the very least, come to grips with science fiction's hard core.

Coming to grips is exactly what the sixteen essays in this volume strive to do. Written both by scholars with scientific backgrounds or interests and by prominent scientist-writers who practice hard SF . . .

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