Pixel Scroll 7/2/17 Pixeldimethylaminotickaldescroll

(1) PREMIO MINOTAURO. Nieve en Marte (Snow on Mars), a science fiction novel written by Pablo Tébar, is the winner of the 2017 Minotauro Award, Spain’s literary award for the best unpublished SF, fantasy or horror novel. The prize is worth 6,000 Euros.

The novel earned the unanimous vote of the Minotauro Award Jury, this year composed of writers Javier Sierra and Manel Loureiro, the Director of the Sitges – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, Ángel Sala, movie producer Adrián Guerra and the editor in chief of Ediciones Minotauro publishing house, Marcela Serras.

This is the fourteenth year that the International Fantastic and Science Fiction Literature Award has been presented by Ediciones Minotauro. (Hat tip to Europa SF.)

(2) AT THE LANGUAGE FOUNDRY. Editor Joe Stech says from now on he’s calling what his magazine publishes “Plausible Science Fiction”.

I was at convention yesterday and heard a panel discussion about the old “hard vs. soft” science fiction debate. I realized while listening that there is a huge amount of baggage that people associate with the term “hard science fiction,” and that by using it when I describe the focus of Compelling Science Fiction I may be conveying something different than intended. Because of this, I’m going to start using a different term when talking about what sub-genre Compelling Science Fiction focuses on: “plausible science fiction.” The word “plausible” is still ambiguous, but I believe it doesn’t have all the semantic cruft that has built up over the decades around “hard.” We will no longer reference “hard science fiction” when describing our magazine, even though what we look for in stories is not changing.

“Plausible science fiction,” in this context, means “science fiction that tries not to disrupt suspension of disbelief for people that have knowledge of science and engineering.” This can mean not blatantly contradicting our current knowledge of the universe, and it can also mean not blatantly ignoring how humans generally behave. It also means internal self-consistency….

(3) STORY TIME. LeVar Burton reads to you — in the intro he says he’ll pick short stories from a lot of genres, including his favorite, science fiction — on the Levar Burton podcast.

LeVar Burton is an Actor, Director, Educator & Cofounder of the award-winning Skybrary App, host and Executive Producer of PBS’s Reading Rainbow and lifelong children’s literacy advocate.

(4) COMPLETELY MAD,  I TELL YOU. Dorothy Grant at Mad Genius Club lets a “friend” explain the best strategies for not selling books in  “How to Successfully not Market your Book: Or Doing it All Wrong (Almost) By Alma Boykin”

Alma Boykin here. I have been successfully getting in my own way and not marketing (fiction) books since December 2012. In the process, I’ve managed to make pretty much every mistake you can do as an indie author, bar one. Dorothy Grant, Cedar Sanderson, and others have written a lot about how to market your books and stories. So here’s a quick guide on how to successfully not market your book, thus ensuring that only the most selective, discriminating, or lucky readers will ever find it. …

  1. No social media presence ever. I did give in and start a blog, Cat Rotator’s Quarterly,(Alma! I added the blog name and link! You should promote it! -Ed.) in February 2014, but I have no Twitter, Facebook, G+, LiveJournal, Snapchat, Pinterest, or whatever other social media platforms are out there. This is another great way not to tell people about your books. What they don’t know about, then can’t find. HOWEVER! If used properly, social media can help not-sell your work. Some of the best ways are to overload anyone who follows you with near-daily announcements about “Only three years, two months, and a day and a half until the release of [book]!” or “Hey, boy my book! Buy my book!” The more often you remind people to buy your work, the more they will drop your feed and flee the company of your works. Think of it as the electronic version of the whiney 5-year-old in the back seat asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I gotta go. Are we there yet?”

(5) SUMMER READING. The Verge says “Here are 16 books coming out this month that you should also check out”, beginning with —

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

Greg Egan is known for some spectacular science fiction novels in recent years, and his latest looks pretty out there. It’s set in a strange universe where light can’t travel in every direction. Its inhabitants can only face and travel in one direction: east. Otherwise, they’ll get distorted across the landscape. A surveyor named Seth joins an expedition to the edge of inhabitable space, where they discover an unimaginable fissure in the world — one that will stop the ongoing migration of its inhabitants. The only way forward is down, to try and find a way to save everyone.

(6) THE WORST FORM OF GOVERNMENT, AFTER ALL THE REST. David Langford has made a belated addition to the July Ansible – a copy of “the tasty General Election campaign flyer from a candidate in our area.” Well worth a look.

(7) COME TO THE FAIR. Also thieved from Ansible, this item about Ken McLeod’s slate of events at the Edinburgh International Book Fair.

  • On Tuesday 15 August at 6:30 I’ll be talking with Stephen Baxter about his new novel The Massacre of Mankind,
  • On Wednesday 16 August 2017 at 7.15pm I’ll be chairing a discussion with Charles Stross and Jo Walton on ‘End Times, Crazy Years’, to ask: what happens when reality outdoes dystopia, let alone satire?
  • My own work comes up for discussion on Thursday 17 August at 2.30 pm, when I’m on with Charlie Fletcher, who, like me, has just completed a trilogy.
  • I’ve long been a proponent of the argument, which I first encountered in the work of Gary Westfahl, that informed and engaged criticism by active readers has shaped the SF genre perhaps more than any other, from the letter columns of Amazing Stories onward. Who better to test this contention with than two outstanding critics who are also outstanding writers? That’s what’s on offer on Thursday 17 August at 5.30 pm, when I chair a discussion between Adam Roberts and Jo Walton.
  • For this final event in the strand, Rockets to Utopia? on Friday 18 August at 6.30 pm, we have two truly exceptional writers. Nalo Hopkinson is a Guest of Honour at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, …Ada Palmer is a historian, who burst on the SF scene only last year with her acclaimed, complex novel Too Like the Lighting …Nalo and Ada are joined by me and Charlie, and we’re chaired by Pippa Goldschmidt. Pippa writes close to the edge of SF, has previously featured at the Book Festival, and in an earlier life held the Civil Service title ‘Chair of Outer Space’, so should have no difficulty chairing a panel.

(8) TODAY’S DAY

  • History of World UFO Day

World UFO Day was organized by WorldUFODay.com in 2001, and was put together to bring together enthusiasts of UFO’s and the evidence they’ve all gathered to support their existence. …Many of them believe they already have arrived, and anyone who knows anything about UFO’s is aware of the stories of abductions and what is seen as the seminal event in UFO history, the crash at Roswell. While they believe that the governments of the world are presently hiding this information from the populace, this in no way discourages believers from continuing to search for the truth they’re certain is out there.

(9) TALKING FOR DOLLARS. The truth may be out there, but the number of people looking for it seems to be declining. Consider this report from The Register, cleaning up after the latest mess: “Shock: NASA denies secret child sex slave cannibal colony on Mars”.

NASA has not enslaved a colony of children on Mars nor is it using them for vile orgies on the Red Planet nor feasting on them to harvest their precious bone marrow, officials have told The Register….

On Thursday, one of President Trump’s favorite talking heads, Alex Jones, interviewed ex-CIA officer Robert David Steele during his radio show. Steele made some astonishing – think nuttier than squirrel crap – allegations of NASA covering up that humankind already has an outpost on the Mars. And that the alien world was red not just with oxidized iron dust but with the spilled blood of innocent youngsters snatched off the street and shipped into outer space.

“We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride. So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony,” Steele claimed. How exactly they are still children after 20 years of space travel wasn’t, funnily enough, explained.

…”There are no humans on Mars yet,” NASA spokesman Guy Webster told El Reg last night, presumably restraining himself from adding” “I can’t believe I have to answer this kind of stuff.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • July 2, 1959 – Premiered on this date, Plan 9 From Outer Space.
  • July 2, 1992 — Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking breaks British publishing records on this day. His book A Brief History of Time has been on the nonfiction bestseller list for three and a half years, selling more than 3 million copies in 22 languages.

(11) SAVE THE BOOKS. History will be rewritten – if it’s not destroyed first. See The Guardian’s book review, “The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English review – how precious manuscripts were saved”.

For African historians, the realisation during the late 1990s of the full scale of Timbuktu’s intellectual heritage was the equivalent of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls for scholars of Judaism in the 1950s. When the African American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr visited Timbuktu in 1997 he actually burst into tears at the discovery of the extraordinary literary riches. He had always taught his Harvard students that “there was no written history in Africa, that it was all oral. Now that he had seen these manuscripts, everything had changed.”

Yet with the coming of al-Qaida, there was now a widespread fear that this huge treasure trove, the study of which had only just begun, could go the way of the Baghdad, Kabul or Palmyra museums, or the Bamiyan Buddhas. Before long, efforts began to smuggle the most important of the manuscripts out of Timbuktu and to somehow get them to safety in Bamako, the capital of Mali. The story of how this was done forms the narrative backbone of The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu, which consequently reads like a sort of Schindler’s list for medieval African manuscripts, “a modern day folk tale that proved irresistible, with such resonant, universal themes of good versus evil, books versus guns, fanatics versus moderates”.

(12) JUST THE FACTS. How well will you do on the Guardian’s twentieth anniversary “Harry Potter quiz: 20 years, 20 questions”?

It’s exactly two decades since the first of JK Rowling’s books was published. Try our Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test to see how much you have learned since then.

I got 8/20, which is better than I usually do on internet quizzes.

(13) NO JUSTICE. There’s a reason CBS never greenlighted its Justice League series, even if it did include the Green Lantern. ScreenRant says, actually, there are fifteen reaons why…. “15 Things The Unseen Justice League TV Pilot Got Wrong”.

You’d be hard pressed to find a comics or cinema fan not aware of the highly anticipated Justice League film due this November. What many of these fans might not know is that this is actually the second attempt at adapting DC Comics premiere super team – with the feature-length pilot for a CBS Justice League of America TV series pre-dating it by a whole decade!

The reason why most people are oblivious when it comes to the Justice League pilot is simple: it never aired in the United States (although it did see the light of day on some international networks). The rationale behind the CBS executives’ decision to bury the pilot is even simpler: it’s… uh, not very good (like, at all).

The worst of all was its –

  1. Mockumentary-style Interviews

Another “surprisingly ahead of its time” aspect of the Justice League pilot gone horribly wrong is its inclusion of mockumentary-style, to-camera interviews intercut through the episode.

Ever since The Office popularized the mockumentary format in TV comedy, there have been plenty of imitators with little interest in accurately simulating its “real-world” mechanics (looking at you, Modern Family). But way before any of these – heck, before The Office itself! – the Justice League pilot was completely throwing any sense of verisimilitude out the window entirely!

Think about it: who is filming these interviews? How come they know our heroes secret identities? Why isn’t the rest of the show shot like a documentary? These questions and more immediately come to mind as soon as the first interview cut-away rolls around, but those looking for answers shouldn’t get their hopes up.

(14) EVERY VOTE A SURPRISE. Tpi’s Reading Diary shares “My Hugo award votes 2017 part 1: novellas” and says Seanan McGuire’s story is in first place on his ballot.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire Young teenagers, mostly girls, have gone to alternative worlds where they felt at home. The alternative worlds are mostly different, some are fantasy lands, others are based on logic, some are based on some kind of horror motive, and so on. In the most cases, the youths felt at home on those worlds. For some reason, some of them have been cast out. Time has moved at a different rate for them in many cases. It might have been years in our world and their parents assumed that their children had been abducted/run out and are most likely dead. The relationships between the children and their parents are usually very strained – and usually they were strained even before the youths went away. The victims are gathered to a special school, which is run by an old woman who herself had the same fate as a teenager. She looks middle-aged but is possibly much older. A young girl goes to the school. Soon other pupils start to die – gruesomely. The other pupils naturally first have some suspicion toward the new pupil, especially as she comes from a world where death himself is an important figure. A pretty good story with a new look at what Alice in Wonderland and Narnia (according to the novella, Lewis didn’t really know anything, he just used stories he had heard – badly) might actually mean. A nice and interesting story, with unusual characters and excellent writing.

(15) WHATEVER. Two tweets make a post – is that a metric thing? John Scalzi and Dan Wells make merry on the last day of a con — “In Which I Trespass Against Dan Wells at Denver Comic Con, and He Exacts His Fitting Revenge, a Tale Told in Two Tweets”.

(16) BAD TO THE BONE. BBC Trending gleefully explains “Why coders are battling to be the… worst”

Why have computer programmers on Reddit been battling it out to make volume control as bad as possible?

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, Cheryl S., John King Tarpinian, Joe Stech, and David Langford for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kurt Busiek.]

73 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 7/2/17 Pixeldimethylaminotickaldescroll

  1. I know Dan got his “revenge”, but I did think it was kinda of tacky of Scalzi’s fans to ask him for an autograph at Dan’s signing. Especially given there weren’t people at his.

    I also saw that a fan gave Sam Sykes grief because the line for his signing was shorter than the line for a nearby author’s signing (which said fan was on)

  2. (11) For another account of this heroic episode, try The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, by Joshua Hammer, which I reviewed here

    Librarians rescued the manuscripts from crumbling into dust, and then librarians smuggled them out under the noses of al-Qaeda.

  3. (5) SUMMER READING.

    Just pointing out that this was actually written by Andrew Liptak, whose book reviews I have found to be generally spot-on. The “books coming out” posts he does are usually just synopses, but I recommend keeping an eye out for his reviews.

  4. 2) It’s a shame that plain ol’ “science fiction” doesn’t describe what he’s describing. Both “hard” and “plausible” should be redundant but c’est la marketing. I don’t think I’ll be adopting the new term unless it catches on to the point that effective communication makes it necessary but I absolutely see what he’s saying and, if it works to allay the fears or distaste some may have, based on historical connotations, then I’m all for it.

    His whole post is definitely worth reading. I especially like the paragraphs around “[Readers and writers of plausible SF] want to get excited about the future, and about how they can help bring that future about.”

  5. BTW, this is almost totally off-topic (except that it relates to word fashions like #2) but this is a good place place to ask. What is the currently acceptable term for someone who is of below-average intelligence? In a review/recommendation I posted today, regarding a story with such a protagonist, I didn’t want to use any particularly circuitous, clumsy phrase of extreme PC but I also didn’t want to use anything that might be taken as demeaning. I just wanted a current, technically accurate, factual term. Based on a wikipedia reference, I used “slow” (as printed, in quotes) but that’s hardly technical and I suspect it’s probably at least on the edge of problematic.

  6. (8) (9) (10): “Can you prove that it didn’t happen??”

    footnote:

    My friend, you have seen this incident based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn’t happen? Perhaps on your way home someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, for they will be from outer space. Many scientists believe that another world is watching us at this moment. We once laughed at the horseless carriage, the aeroplane, the telephone, the electric light, vitamins, radio, and even television. And now some of us laugh at outer space. God help us in the future.

  7. Jason: You ask, “What is the currently acceptable term for someone who is of below-average intelligence?”

    A few years ago it was “exceptional” but that may have changed again by now.

  8. (2) More and more I think the biggest difference between hard and “soft” SF is in the behavior of the characters in the story–not the science/technology itself. If they act the way we expect scientists and engineers to behave, then it’s hard SF (provided the science/technology is key to the plot). If not (especially if they’re not scientists or engineers at all), then it’s soft SF.

    So a story where someone discovers that the speed of light is changing could still be hard SF, even though we’re pretty sure that couldn’t really happen. (And would have lethal side-effects, most likely.)

    It’s also important to have a definition that makes it possible to have bad hard SF. I.e. the kind where the science is just bad and the plot doesn’t depend on it.

  9. Jason: I work in Special Education and the term used in my locale on legal documentation is “intellectual disability”, usually qualified with mild, moderate etc. If that seems too clinical, maybe “developmental disability” would work, although that is really a more general term.

    Somebody who has lower than average intelligence but not quite low enough to be considered as having a mild intellectual disability might me characterized as a “slow learner” though I don’t hear that term used as much now as I used to.

  10. I’ve gotten up to Novelettes in my Hugo roundup.

    Also, I saw Cars 3 today. I don’t know how SFFnal that would be considered, even with the sentient cars, but I thought it was pretty good. It had some very adult themes of knowing and recognizing your limits, and knowing when to pass the torch, and quite a few laugh-out-moments for the kids (or the young at heart). Stylistically, the film was gorgeous, and it was, in a way, a lovely tribute to Paul Newman, who voiced Doc Hudson in the first movie.

    But I needed something of a palate cleanser, because last night I watched the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. Good heavens. Major spoons required for that one, because the show does not flinch. Elisabeth Moss is fantastic–during a lot of the scenes, there is a tight focus on her face, and she conveys the horror and degradation of the story with just her eyes.

  11. I don’t know if it will catch on, but “plausible SF” is at least an interesting idea. And rather orthogonal to the idea of “hard” SF, so that’s fine.

    That Timbuktu thing is awesome!

  12. (10) @Kip W: Because the FUTURE is where we will spend the REST of our LIVES!

  13. @Jason: “It’s a shame that plain ol’ “science fiction” doesn’t describe what he’s describing. Both “hard” and “plausible” should be redundant but c’est la marketing.”

    Two words, Jason: Star Trek. Ain’t never been in the same star system as “hard” or “plausible,” but it’s certainly science fiction. (See also Doctor Who, Lost in Space, and plentiful other examples.) That style of SF may not be to your taste, but broccoli isn’t to mine, and I still have to accept that that exists…

    And yes, there is some confusion about “hard SF” as a term. I prefer the “one impossible thing, or none*” version of the definition, myself, but I have encountered the “physical sciences instead of social or psychological disciplines” version as well. I like the idea of choosing a new term like “plausible” to make the intended definition clear, mainly because I view clear communication as more important than holding onto overloaded terms.

    * For anyone unfamiliar, this amounts to the idea that a “hard SF” story is permitted at most one piece of technology, or one scientific breakthrough, that falls outside the current body of scientific knowledge. Heinlein’s “Shipstone” power units, any FTL drive, and Asimov’s psychohistory are solid examples. Hard SF by that definition allows the author one such impossibility, plus further gadgetry that could reasonably be derived from it, so long as the rest of the science fits our current understanding of the real world. Most space-based TV or film SF violates this definition right off the bat, just by combining an FTL drive with artificial gravity. Of course, they frequently make it worse by adding zap guns, universal translators capable of instantly understanding completely unknown languages, and even cross-species fertility. Doesn’t mean it’s bad or unenjoyable, just that it doesn’t fit a certain subgenre.

  14. @Rev. Bob: have you only eaten hard broccoli or have you tried soft broccoli too? 😉

    pixelscroll: gotta file ’em all

  15. I tend to think the term Hard SF implies something of a high-wire act as regards plausibility — a story set just a couple of years in the future with no unexpected tech developments could be very plausible, but so easily so that it wouldn’t seem quite the same thing as Hard SF.

  16. Think about it: who is filming these interviews? How come they know our heroes secret identities? Why isn’t the rest of the show shot like a documentary?

    I don’t think the documentary confessional always assumes a real documentary crew exists. The characters can just be speaking to the audience. It’s an odd storytelling device but one we’re all conversant in today because of reality TV.

    Modern Family has confessionals with no crew. It just gives the show an opportunity for character insights and more jokes.

    Deadpool broke the fourth wall in his movie to great success.

  17. Watched the Netflix film Okja (about a Korean girl and her pet superpig) and I was left with very mixed feelings. The movie was so intent on single-mindedly pursuing its agenda that once it had thoroughly won my heart, it proceeded to tase it, waterboard it, and carefully spit-roast it over a smouldering fire. And the movie’s decision to identify all pro-GMO stances with outright villainy made me wince.

    However, the film was very well-executed and it did feature great performances from most of the actors, especially Tilda Swinton and Giancarlo Esposito. I do think that Joaquin Phoenix’s hyper-effeminate bit was just too much. Serious triggers here, but Okja held me riveted to the end.

  18. Correction: Okja featured Jake Gyllenhaal, not Joaquin Phoenix. Beg pardon.

  19. Hokey tickboxes and ancient pixels are no match for a good filer at your side, kid.

  20. 2)

    I feel like there’s an aesthetic or an emotional tenor to the hard vs. soft debate that’s not often addressed. For example, A Door Into Ocean has an awful lot of real ecology and biology in it, along with some more hand-wavey parts(I’m focusing more on the first book here, haven’t gotten the others). Make it akin to the Codominium books by Niven-Redacted, which will have their >insert Warpdrive< but otherwise will nod towards actual science (long transit times, real thrust, rotation sections). Another example might be "The Cold Equations", which has a very serious feel, but the inconsistencies and Plot Science elements have been discussed here before.

    But I think that in general, Door Into Ocean will not be called hard sci-fi, whereas Niven-Redacted or Cold Equations would be, and that’s due to the emotional tenor of the works. The one has a message of cooperation and balance, so it’ll be waved off as the touch-y feel-y soft sci-fi. Whereas the Cold Equations and a lot of the Codominium stories are all about the stern manfeels of people who Do What Must Be Done, and practically glory in the necessity of not giving a damn about anyone outside that august circle (side from their properly grateful dependents…). These often get listed as hard sci-fi.

    An analysis of what precisely it is that makes one work with a lot of real science and a few carefully circumscribed rule-breaks hard sci-fi and and other’s soft sci-fi is beyond what I’m doing here, even if I have a few guesses. But if you go down the list, there’s a real feeling that to be hard sci-fi, it needs to adopt a suitably “hard” emotional tenor, for a kind of fan to call it the hard kind of sci-fi.

  21. @Rob Thornton:

    I was at a Q&A with Okja’s director Bong Joon Ho and Steven Yeun, and the former said he tried to portray the realities of GMO’s without directly condemning them, and he did so by having the characters on both sides of the political equation represent themselves, not cogs in a machine, which is why they establish character SUPER quickly. Man, Tilda Swindton and Jake Gyllenhaal did not hold back. First time I’ve heard the words “epic fail” used in a film before.

    I liked it a lot, but I liked his Korean films The Host and Memories of Murder better. The latter film manages to take multiple true crimes that involved murder vitcims and turn it into a very very dark comedy. Loved it.

  22. @TYP An analysis of what precisely it is that makes one work with a lot of real science and a few carefully circumscribed rule-breaks hard sci-fi and and other’s soft sci-fi is beyond what I’m doing here, even if I have a few guesses.

    The cynical answer is that it’s hard SF when men write it. The less cynical answer is that the ideal of hard SF is books of puzzle stories about physics written by men, with “hardness” judged by how close a work is to the ideal.

  23. Joseph and K.R.: thanks very much for your replies. “Exceptional” would make me think of the opposite (like “gifted”) and “mildly intellectually disabled” just seems like too much a mouthful in the context I’m going for. If “slow learner” is acceptable enough, I guess the “slow” that I used will work. I think it’s pretty clear from the context that I like the character so don’t mean anything derogatory, at least.

    Rev. Bob: I don’t really disagree with anything you say. I’ve also run into the ambiguity of “hard” and think that’s one of the biggest problems with it. To me, the primary definition is the “plausible” one and the “physics, etc. vs. biology, etc.” definition is secondary. But some people take it that way primarily. (And I also accept “get out of lightspeed jail free” cards.) As far as Star Trek Wars Etc. (which I love, but in a different way), I think we have terms like “space opera,” “technofantasy,” “sci-fi,” and so on (even “speculative fiction,” though that’s usually used differently), which could be used. It’s definitely not dragons-n-wizards fantasy but it’s actually about as distinct from Hal Clement as from that. Maybe “pseudo-SF” or “naive SF” – it uses the furniture of technology but not in a scientific way. Anyway, yeah, maybe “plausible SF” should gain currency. I just wish it had more pizazz. 🙂

  24. @Jeremy Szal

    Gyllenhaal was totally over the top in Okja, that’s for sure. That’s why I originally thought he was Joaquin Phoenix (who I imagined had to play that sort of character). As for Swinton, I thought she did a thoroughly savage parody of Gwyneth Paltrow–so good.

  25. 2. from the 60s and 70s, my understanding of the “difference” between Hard SF and Soft SF was related to the primary science(s) being considered in the story: physics and engineering was Hard (regardless of how it was revealed in the story), psychology, sociology and the branches of medicine related to drug effects on the mind and body, were Soft.

    This meant that you could have “pulpy” hard and soft SF stories and “literary” hard and soft SF stories.

    I still prefer these definitions (largely a take on the original usages) to whatever is being bandied about now. Definitions are supposed to be refined over time such that they create harder and brighter lines around the thing being defined, not a continued blurring of those lines.

  26. @Robert Whitaker Sirignano

    Is “I only watch it for the commercials” the new “I only read it for the articles”?

  27. @12: 5/20. Annoyed at a couple of misses, but I was never on the Potter bandwagon — at least partly because of the way fitting to an academic year Procrusteanized the stories; I like her subsequent work better, although I suspect some rightward Potter fans might be unhappy with the more … candid … politics (especially in Temporary Vacancy).

    @Rev Bob: how can you fit the Foundation into the one-exception rule, when it doesn’t work without FTL as well as psychohistory? Do you think the Roman, British, … Empires would have held together at all if communications, commerce, force movements, etc. had taken orders of magnitude more time?
    I tend not to bother with taxonomy, but what I see (from reading in the early 60’s onward) is that one of the larger divides is between stories about physical ~engineering (in the largest sense) and stories about people. (@TYP details a position close to mine, and @Oneiros is also relevant.) A sufficiently selective view can bolster the claims (quoted, e.g., in a recent Scroll) that character is SF’s great weakness.

    @Oneiros: hard broccoli is an abomination from cooks who want to look nutritious without doing the work ;-). (Well, maybe not — but I’ve never met raw broccoli that I found edible, separately or in whatever it was in.)

  28. A lot of the suggestions people are making about hard SF seem to imply that there is a body of work which is agreed to fit that term, and the puzzle is working out what the shared characteristics of that body of work are. I’m not convinced that this is true; I think the term is just used in disparate ways to stand for disparate things (though the various classes it applies to obviously overlap). Thus, Asimov said his work was mostly hard, which made perfect sense in terms of his definition of ‘hard’, in terms of centrality of scientific themes, but made some people laugh at him, ‘ha, ha, how can you possibly call that hard?’ because they were using a ‘science is accurate’ sense. On the other hand, I’ve seen some near-future works described both as ‘extremely hard science fiction’ (because everything in them is possible) and as ‘not really speculative at all’ (because they don’t actually introduce any content – and in particular not any scientific content – beyond what we already know).

    The ‘science is central’ and ‘science is accurate’ senses can sometimes overlap, but often pull in opposite directions – science is often central because it’s odd science; the easiest way to be scientifically accurate is not to bring in any scientific concepts. There’s also the ‘hard sciences’ sense, the ‘hard men making hard choices’ sense, and the amazingly broad sense in which it equates to ‘really science fiction, and not fantasy or AH or anything like that’.

  29. The original (and only good) Robocop movie included ads. Verhoeven tried the same thing in Starship Troopers with Nazi propaganda clips, but less successfully. Would you like to know more?

  30. @Chip: “how can you fit the Foundation into the one-exception rule, when it doesn’t work without FTL as well as psychohistory?”

    I don’t.

    I cited Asimov’s invention of psychohistory as an example of an exception, to illustrate the rule. I said nothing about the Foundation stories and in fact do not consider them “one-exception hard SF” for exactly the reason you note: they violate the requirement necessary for inclusion in that category.

  31. Chip Hitchcock: the way fitting to an academic year Procrusteanized the stories

    Ooh, I like that turn of phrase.

  32. The Locusmag site put up my May-issue review of Ian McDonald’s Luna: Wolf Moon, in which I maunder on a bit about what “hard SF” might be. It’s never been a particularly useful taxonomic term–perhaps best seen as weakly descriptive of one stream of the tradition. But it doesn’t stand up well to rigorous analysis–I have yet to see a definition or rule-set that stands up as well as, say, “sonnet” or even “romantic comedy.”

    The term comes to us lugging all manner of cultural baggage and intra-readership tensions, some of which also plague the definition of science fiction itself. (If you don’t believe me, read through the Talk pages of any number of SF-related Wikipedia entries.) It’s also useful to look at the “hard science fiction” page on the OED/jessesword.com “Science Fiction Citations” site.

  33. (15) Whatever

    I truly sympathize with Scalzi’s predicament. You have two mutually exclusive guidelines in that situation. #1 is “never be a dick to a fan” and #2 is “never be a dick to a colleague.” Even a relatively soft admonition to the fan to come back in some other context risks simply breaking both guidelines at once. And it’s not even really the fan’s fault — how could they know that Wells had been sitting there with nobody bringing books to sign?

    And yet…and yet…I will forever remember the Other Author at my second bookstore signing who came with a large posse of fans, and never acknowledged my existence or interacted with me in any fashion, much less encouraged their fans to do so. I will remember, and do my absolute best never to be That Author.

  34. I always thought of Hard Sf as somewhat realistic SF that focuses on one scientific aspect, usually extreme conditions or realist Settlement of a planet.
    This is not a sign of quality, I might add, as Ive read great and boring Hard Sf.
    Examples include Hal Clements Mission of gravity or most books by Kim Stanley Robinson. I would not describe Asimov as Hard Sf.
    But that’s me 🙂

  35. TV Tropes (linked above by Stoic Cynic under “Mohs Scale”) offers the term “One Big Lie” for the only-one-exception version. That’s right after “Physics Plus” which tries to get the physics as accurate as possible, but allows a few exceptions, but tries to keep them generally plausible.

    (Note that some of the words on their Mohs Scale page may have been written by yours truly, who frequently tries to expand and improve TVT’s literature coverage, while mostly ignoring the rest of the wiki. I believe that sometime-filer Paul A is also a troper (with similar interests).)

  36. I have always defined hard sf as stories in which the exploration of science-ish ideas are more important than plot or chatacter. Often, the characters behave implausibly because they are merely props to set the ideas in motion. This is why bad hard sf is full of wooden characters. Because the author is most interested in the ideas. Recent example to me was the first half of Seveneves. I found the first half compelling in spite of the characters, not because of them. This is also why I hated the end section. I found the ideas and characters uninteresting.

    Space opera is a subset of soft sf, because it cares about plot more than character or ideas, which is why bad space opera is full of stock characters and rarely cares about even having consistent internal science.

    I mostly avoid hard sf unless recommended by people I trust because the science concepts are harder to grasp than in the classic era. One of Niven’s stories revolved around the concept of tides, for example, not quantum mechanics. So if I don’t like the characters and feel stupid for not understanding the science, that is not a book that I can enjoy.

    Now, I heartily endorse the hatred of blanched vegetables, which in my experience leave the vegetables both chewier and more bitter than serving them raw. Cook the d*** things, or leave them alone!

  37. I like the term ‘pluasible’ SF. Maybe ‘realistic’ SF is to oxymoronic but I’d see stories about a nuclear war and its aftermath, for example, as fitting those terms e.g. the BBC’s Threads (1984) or ABC’s The Day After (1983). You would expect such examples to try and get major technical details right but the premise is still counterfactual (we didn’t actually have a nuclear war) and speculative.

  38. Re: 2 @Steve Davidson, Ghostbird et al.

    The thing that got me about the hard is if its physics and engineering, soft if it’s biology or social is that a ton of “hard” stories are anything but. I’m going to bring up the Niven and >redacted<, because it was recommended to me as hard sci-fi, and I feel like many people will list both of them as examples of sci-fi that is hard (and true). And I read a lot of it years ago when my tastes, in many things, were different.

    Bluntly, it's not about physics and engineering in these books. The Mote in God's Eye is all about societies and carrying capacity, the Legacy of Heorot is about biology, Oath of Fealty and "Hadley" are about the importance of hardening your heart against the takers, and most of the books have at some level (but especially Mote and the Codominium books a lot) are all about the vital importance of obeying traditional authority and hierarchy, and the nefarious motives of any who say otherwise.

    The stardrives and energy shields exist to create the setting where the real questions of the plot can be entertained. And those questions tend to be all about biology and society, not the engineering questions you'd find in Asimov or Clarke. I think that a good case can be made about a lot of military sci-fi that's currently called "hard" – the sci-fi tech exists for a story that is more social or cultural.

    This is something that been on my mind since i was drinking my way though Riding The Red Horse in the 2015 Hugo packet – a lot of the "hard" stories seem to be less about physics and engineering and more about aesthetic.

  39. TYP: Niven did write stuff with physics in it: Ringworld was horribly wrong, and Neutron Star very silly.

    Nearly as silly as the opening of Scalzi’s The Human Division which recently caused me to throw a book With Great Force for the first time in years.

  40. (11) yay, librarians!
    (12) 14/20, but I’m a small-focus reader (the second time through).

  41. @Nial

    All very true. Scalzi goes for a lot of magic physics tech, everything from the suits to the ships. Scalzi isn’t called hard sci-fi now, though I remember when he was. It was between the publication of Old Man’s War, and when enough people had read the Ghost Brigades to realize that the rah-rah “Kill The Aliens, Kill Them Faster” of the first book wasn’t the whole story.

    Throw in Last Colony’s “no, I really meant the ambiguities of Ghost Brigades”, and suddenly, Old Man’s War wasn’t hard sci-fi anymore, and Scalzi was public enemy number one in some circles that will proclaim their love of all things hard sci-fi quite loudly!

  42. @Steve

    IMHO, yes, because of its outward face of being about implacable laws of physics and the inevitable logic they lead to.

  43. Steve,

    I would also say yes, The Cold Equations is Hard SF, because it focuses so hard on the idea of the story that we don’t (or at least I didn’t) notice the complete implausibility of the entire situation. The entire story is designed to give the reader the thought problem, and the thought problem is so satisfying that you don’t notice that there aren’t any safeguards in place to prevent that situation from developing at all.

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