Differences between hard and soft

First, let’s get the elephant that is in the room, out. Happy New Year. There I said it.

Now to more important things.

A friend and I got into a discussion about a story. Well, that on its own is nothing new. We talk all the time about some story, whether it is his or it is mine. He doesn’t write novels, he works in film. He has many projects on the go, just like me.

We are planning to co-write a project in the next few months. At the moment, I can’t tell much about it. But in the course of discussing the project in question, we got into a discussion about hard and soft science fiction. He was leaning towards more hard sci-fi and I did not.

That got me thinking. A dangerous proposition, I know.

But I thought about the differences between hard and soft Science Fiction. You can take any sci-fi story, and you can place it into one of those two categories. It doesn’t matter what the sub-genre is. You can have hard space opera as well as soft space opera. You can have hard military sci-fi and as well as soft.

But what is the difference?

The difference is how you talk about one of the most important parts of a science fiction story. The science.

Hard Sci-fi has to use all known rules and laws of science. It must take them into account. That means no FTL travel. No Lasers. No handwavium artificial gravity. You can only use something if there is good science that explains it. This is a limiting factor.

A very limiting factor.

It means that you must have a Ph.D. in some field of space science to get the science correct and even then you will still get things wrong. And when an author gets things wrong, the reader will let you know.

Many times.

In angry emails and bad reviews.

There are a couple main reasons that an author gets the science wrong.

The first is obvious. Most people only think that they understand the science of space. Most have incorrect ideas that they haven’t been corrected on yet. High schools don’t always teach the correct science and it takes years in college to get to the real science. There is also the problem with the media showing incorrect science. Like a bullet throwing the victim backward. So you can get the science correct and people will still send you that angry email.

Another is that the science of space is changing at a rapid pace as new things are discovered. Most times the scientists only have theories on the reasons why. And there are usually conflicting theories. They just discovered the Higgs boson particle and that changed things. They are also discovering new planets and moons. As well as new anomalies. Like the colors of plutos surface. Who saw that coming? Most sci-fi that I have seen always showed Puto as a dark brown rock. Not as brightly colored as it is.

The third is that space science is very complicated. There are many different aspects to take into account in just a simple trip to the moon. Motion doesn’t work like it does on earth. Neither does navigation. You can’t just aim at your ship at the destination and hit the go button.

Well… you can, but you will burn up a large amount of fuel. You see, in space, there is no standing still. Even if you are are not using a single thruster, you are still moving. You are in some type of orbit. Either around a planet, or a moon, or the sun. And that means that you are moving. Sideways, but still moving.

The gravity of that planet will also pull you back towards it as you lose momentum. And you won’t follow the same path as you did before. You will curve in some fashion. And if there is another large object, like a moon, in your way, that will change your orbit more.

And speeding up doesn’t necessarily catch a target that you are chasing. Cause you are in an orbit, as you speed up, it changes the orbit in relation to your target. Meaning that you may miss them completely. Or catch up, but have a ten-second window to shoot at them.

See what I mean, complicated.

Soft Sci-fi is where you take the rules that you want to talk about and then ignore the rest. ‘Cause honestly, no one cares. Not really. They want to read about the space marines shooting things up or sex in zero-g or plethra of topics and plots. Not astro-navigation and orbital mechanics. And that is the best way to go.

The first rule of novel writing is that the story comes first. Do not put something in it unless it enhances the story in some way. If you want a story about an alien invasion or the first trip to another solar system, then don’t worry that FTL travel isn’t possible. Decide on a make-believe method and just write it.

But if it is better to write soft sci-fi over hard sci-fi, then what about hard and soft magic?

Well. That will have to wait until next time.

Until them.

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