Talk:Soft science fiction

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Ca:n't everything be soft SciFi?[edit]

Every scifi book I read is character driven. Jurrasic Park, for example, is about the characters. It goes into some detail about the science, but the science itself is generally considered impossible. Terminal Man is another one. Books are character driven. You can't write a book (at least a popular one) that isn't character driven

"Soft science" doesn't mean that it's based less around science, it just means it's based around the social sciences as opposed to the natural sciences. Owen 19:52, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

Isaac Asimov? Really? Where has he been classified that way? MightCould

Hmm. It might be a good idea for Hard Science Fiction and Soft Science Fiction to not contain too names on both at the same time... Cimon avaro

Asimov wrote a huge number of novels and stories. I think that at least some of them could be considered soft sci-fi. For instance, his Foundation series has little to do with technology or science and a lot to do with history, politics, human nature, empire-building, etc.

Should Philip K. Dick be on this list?

You really should sign your posts.
Anyway, to point, I'm not clear as to what "soft" sci-fi really is. Why again is Asimov soft sci-fi? What's not scientific about it? I think that the editor who wrote this is just not really sure what s/he is trying to say. And I do mean what s/he is trying to say, because I've never seen this distinction in any literature on sci-fi.
And it does seem like this cockamamie definition would include Philip K. Dick, even such canonically sci-fi works as "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and "Minority Report."
Almondwine 19:22, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

Personally, I am skeptical of the entire notion of soft science fiction as a genre or even a useful term. Within science fiction fandom this seems to be mostly used as a term of insult. For a genre, the term is overtly broad, as you can also see from the writers mentioned as examples. Lois McMaster Bujold certainly does not belong on this list. The historical example of Jack London's Iron Heel belongs under Dystopia/utopia, etc. User:Martin Wisse

This is what makes this whole issue confusing. You see, pilitics, history and human nature ARE SUBJECTS OF DIFFERENT SCIENCES. SCIENCE IS NOT JUST TECHNOLOGY. Actually, I even dare to say that if there is a huge explanation on how a technology works, it falls into the category of "Engineering fiction" (it doesnt exist Im making it up). Science fiction should deal with something thats scientific, in a broader sense than just something empirical like astronomy or biology. It should be a broader term, going to sociology, human sciences, including philosophy (especially contemporary philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge).


Agreeing strongly with you here, Mailrobot. This is in itself an important SF concept I believe - the possibility of converging scientific paradigms and its consequenses - that is currently a blind spot in the majority of SF, that is stuck in the flow of mainstream science-technology representations, that are steered by dominant political discourses.

--Random scientist — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:42, 26 April 2017 (UTC)

It's a very useful term.[edit]

I don't like hard science fiction. I find it nerdy and boring. The more common this term becomes, the easier it will be for me to find Bradbury-like authors. I found this short article very retarded.

I find it helpful[edit]

There really does seem to be a wide gap between "hard" scifi writers and "soft". The fringe work can be hard to define, yes, but there are some where you tell plainly that the author is focusing on the characters, on what the situation is doing to them and how they react. And there are others where you can tell that the characters are mostly cursory, and there only to move along the action and the plot, while the technology is the real star.

Not to be insulting, because this is mostly personal preference, but for me the split is basically between good and bad science fiction. I just can't get into stories where the "characters" jet back and forth across the galaxy, getting into fights and using technology, but never really growing. How humans react in these situations, what they DO instead of what is done to them. That's what really great writing is about.

I think that what makes sci-fi what it is, is how the story is based on a logic surrounding a science, mostly an experimental science, and ow character development comes from there. Star Trek TNG is a good example in TV. The problem the characters faced, and how they grew, it was all dictated by the IDEA behind the show: the speculation of what the "final frontier" is and its mystery, humans reacting in fron tof that. From there, humans face aliens, the Qs and all these things that have the answers they seek. I also think that sociology is an important aspect in sci-fi, present in books like Brave New World, even in Star Trek.


Needs expansion[edit]

Personally, I find the term quite useful, but I don't think that's the issue here. The point is, the term exists, and it needs better explanation than this article provides. Both the Hard SF and Space opera articles are more in-depth and provide examples of the genre in many media. This article is heavy on its literary critique of Asimov, which, while interesting, seems slightly inappropriate to me. It's on my watchlist; if someone else sees fit to fix it up before I get around to it, that would also be nice. Grammar nazi 06:42, 3 January 2006 (UTC)

A few suggestions and ideas to keep in mind for revision: 1) Historically, the term plays off "hard SF"--it's a back formation--and cannot be understood outside that context. 2) The notion that in soft SF "plots and themes tend to focus on human characters and their relations and feelings, while de-emphasizing the details of technological hardware and physical laws" is tempting but does not hold up under examination--any more than the contrary proposition does for hard SF. I have made a similar argument in the Hard SF discussion area. 3) Neither term should be seen as operating as a logical definition or rigorous and reliable genre label--they evolved out of readers' impressions and reflect (and fossilize) the tastes and biases of particular historical segments of the readership. Some commentators have tried to turn them into rigorous definitions, but with very limited success. ("The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind.")
So it's probably best to do what lexicographers do and stick to the terms as they have been and continue to be used. There are authorities who have already done the heavy lifting on this--Gary K. Wolfe, the Clute-Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, among others. Much of the discussion here is engaged in re-inventing the wheel, and the bulk of the article itself is needlessly (and, if I understand Wiki culture correctly, inappropriately) dedicated to applying the label to this or that writer. If Bradbury is seem by a significant number of commentators to be a writer of soft SF, that, and not an argument supporting that proposition, is the point. RLetson 04:53, 6 April 2006 (UTC)

Knotting the Not[edit]

1) Really? Soft science? Hard Science? Trapped you are, should you fall into this mess. Many actual scientists (and armchair critics) fall into the habit of categorizing irrelevant distinctions. There is no such thing as "hard" or "soft" science. All science proceeds from the same set of basic assumptions. All science develops its truths from essentially similar motives and methods. Getting to better understandings, or approximations of a better understanding of phenomenon. 2) Getting lost in a false dichotomy of hard vs. soft science fiction is really an immature way to be critical of things you do not understand or care to explore. Reading without bias is unbelievably difficult. 3) Living without bias in next to impossible. Human bias is a treatable condition, up and to the point of individual tolerance for pain or fear. 4) Wake up humans! You will fall by way of your weaknesses: fear is the mind-killer! Fear is the little death (Herbert). 5) True Science Fiction afficianadoes savor every drop. Swim in the unfiltered brew.

Mostly a club to beat each other with[edit]

I don't think that hard vs. soft science fiction is a terribly useful distinction. Mostly it is used to denigrate the works someone doesn't like. Just because something is good doesn't make it "hard" science fiction, and just because something is bad doesn't make it "soft". There is a distinction that could be made, often, in hard science fiction, the story is about the science; while often in soft science fiction, the story is not about the science, and the science is the means to tell the story. But it is a rather peculiar distinction, as we rarely divide other types of literature in such a way. A war movie might be about a war, or the war might be a means to tell the story. We don't talk about hard and soft war stories.--RLent 21:12, 17 February 2006 (UTC)


Dune generally maintains scientific and technical plausibility

Now come on, magical spice, prescience, and all human memory written into every cell of the body ? Even Star Trek was more hard science fiction than that. Taw 23:02, 10 July 2006 (UTC)

I agree. The suggestion in that section that what is in Dune is conceivable in any scientific sense is ridiculous, especially the suggestion that Unified Field Theory would resolve it. I tried to see how I could rewrite it, but really I don't see scientific and technicial plausibility at all, so I deleted the entire section -- if someone wants to try again, feel free to look up the history, but current contents were garbage. --shoyer 00:14, 16 July 2006 (UTC)

All sci fi is speculative.[edit]

There's really no hard or soft science when you get right down to it. Sure, others use actual empirical facts to support the concepts in their stories, but they are all purely based on logic.

And ALL of modern science's concepts are derived from philosophy, so all science has a common background.

Im just asking whether this distinction actually exist, or if its just a Star Wars vs Star Trek kind of argument.

I do agree some science fiction are more scientifically accurate than others. But, I think the common assumption we can all agree with is that if you can have the exact same problem, and take out all the sci fi -ish elements, then its not sci fi (of "hard sci fi"). Thats the problem with the new Battlastar Galactica series, and arguably, Star Wars. I think there should be something about this in the articles of both hard and soft scifi. If there is already, I may have looked it up. I think it should be added because I think most editors would agree with this: if you can have the same story work in a different setting, it may not be sci-fi per se.



Seeing as this article makes no references to any literature on science fiction, nor does it seem to reflect any understanding of the genre beyond the original authors hazy distinctions between what appears to be Star Wars/Star Trek-type sci-fi and the far more critically celebrated everything else that gets lumped in "soft science fiction", I suggest that this article be nominated for deletion.

I've NEVER seen a such a distinction among critics of sci-fi, and the fact that the article has no references leads me to believe that such a distinction does not really exist.

Almondwine 19:17, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

I can assure Almondwine that the term "hard science fiction" has been around the critical/commentary literature on SF for a good fifty years, with the "soft" back-formation not far behind. (See my comments from April, above.) Since, like "space opera," it comes out of fandom, it's not really part of a rigorous critical vocabulary and thus makes for problems in a critical context. Still, both terms have been used by fans, reviewers, and even academic critics for decades. That said, I'm not sure that the term deserves an article all to itself--the concept might better be incorporated in the "Hard Science Fiction" article, since it's really part of a terminological dyad. RLetson 17:08, 13 November 2006 (UTC)

Well Orson Scott Card has used the both the term soft and hard science fiction in the way wikipedia refrences. Unfortunatly, his is the only book I have handy that possibly mentions the word. Adam Y 14:20, 13 December 2006 (UTC)

Major revision in order[edit]

The article as it stands is imprecise, unsourced, and much too long. Some of the points and examples are worth preserving, but it should be brought into line with the complementary article on hard science fiction (truth in advertising: current version edited my me) and the main article-in-progress on science fiction. The hard-soft pair really needs to be coordinated, and strong articles on those terms will also take some of the pressure off the science fiction article to cover every sub-term in detail. I will try to get to this sometime in the near future, but anyone else who feels up to it should pitch in. I strongly recommend starting with a look at the relevant articles in the Clute & Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Wolfe's Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the example citations at the Jessesword SF lexicography site ( RLetson 18:01, 26 January 2007 (UTC)

Proposed new lead paragraph[edit]

This is rough yet, but it does one thing I think is essential: to tie this article to the "hard SF" one.

Soft science fiction, or soft SF, like its complementary opposite hard science fiction, is a descriptive term that points to the role and nature of the science content in a science fiction story. The earliest sense of "soft SF" is SF based not on engineering or the "hard" sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry) but on the "soft" sciences, and especially the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and so on). (insert Jessesword/OED entry here as ref) Soft SF may also be less rigorous in its application of scientific ideas, for example allowing faster-than-light space travel in a setting that otherwise follows more conservative standards[clarification needed]. A later-developed sense is that soft SF is more concerned with character, society, or other matters[clarification needed] that are not centrally tied to scientific or engineering speculations,[citation needed] but this is not the sense in which the term is used by most critics and scholars.[citation needed]

I'd like to add some examples of actual uses (earlier the better) for both senses of the term and then a short list of exemplary works. RLetson 06:43, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

That's a lot better. :) It brings it into context with hard science fiction, and defines both its early and more mature forms. I've got a few suggestions, though... Perhaps use the phrase "physical, or 'hard' sciences"? I like the 'feelings/emotions' part of the current intro, but can't say it made it into here. Also like the telepathy thing, although, as was noted on Talk:Science fiction, there's sod all citations for it. Perhaps that could be reworded as being "The use of paranormal phenomena is also a literary device of the soft science fiction genre". Can't say I like the phrase 'points to', but I can't think of an alternative atm. alludes? Why is the FTL space travel thingie an example of soft SF? Is it because the only different thing in this setting would be the FTL travel? Have added a couple of tags to it where it confuses me/is vaguely worded/needs a reference, and put some minor grammar tweaks. -Malkinann 10:45, 27 January 2007 (UTC)
  • I'm not sure if it needs to be in the lede, but there needs to be some discussion of the fact that soft sf / hard sf has been a common refrain in discussing sf writing by men vs. women. I'm somewhat amazed that it's not there already. Will work on it when I get the chance. --lquilter 16:02, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

Actually, I've been considering an even more radical solution: to merge hard and soft SF articles (with appropriate redirects or whatever the Wiki term is). It would certainly simplify certain challenges to clear explanation to treat the pair as a pair (even though hard SF is the senior term). Of course, there are good reasons for retaining separate articles (people look up single terms, not pairs or families or whatever), but if I were doing a class prep to explain a bunch of critical and descriptive terms relating to SF, that's the way I would arrange it.

About FTL: that seems to me to be one of those SF enabling devices that is often allowed in stories that otherwise follow an "only real/plausible science or tech allowed" path. There are others--notably alien-intelligence designs that permit us to interact with them so there can be a story at all. My point would be that the issues addressed by the hard/soft labels are what are sometimes called decorum issues, and that they are by their nature flexible or variable or relative. Hard and soft SF are not subgenres of SF but an axis along which stories can be arranged, and given the variability of the rules that readers can apply, there is nothing universal or inevitable about any given arrangement. (How "hard" is Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations"? Poul Anderson's "Kyrie"? Nancy Kress's "Beggars in Spain"?) And if I were to continue to use the hard-soft axis metaphor, I would have to admit that it's not just one axis but an indeterminate number of them, which yields an N-dimensional descriptive space. But that's probably more than anyone wants to hear about my take on the problems of literary taxonomy.

About hard, soft, and gender: There have been discussions about such correlations, but those strike me as not particularly close to the heart of the problem of definition-and-example that I take to be Job One of an encyclopedia article. In fact, I take the issue to be a distraction from plain old taxonomy and an artifact of subcultural tensions (e.g., Real Men Don't Do Biology/Anthropology/Whatever) that are now or ought to be moot. But we can certainly talk about it. RLetson 17:32, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

I'm not sure what you mean by "plain old taxonomy" but I heartily agree that the terms were used -- invented, some would say -- as an "artifact of cultural tensions". The artifactual nature of the hard/soft distinction is one reason why it doesn't work very well as taxonomy -- and is in fact encyclopedic and part of the "definition". Lest we risk ahistoricity, we should surely explain why & how these terms were invented, used, and popularized, and gender dynamics was a significant part of that. I'll work on it ... next week after the job talk. --lquilter 00:54, 28 January 2007 (UTC)
(It's not even historical -- see, e.g., Joe Quirk's comment 1/19) --lquilter 19:46, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

Please don't merge hard and soft science fiction. They are very intertwined, but they are also interesting in their own right. Merging soft and social science fiction may be a start, though. - Malkinann 22:34, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

An actual draft proposal[edit]

I suggested a revision for this article a while back, and here is a more finished version of what I've come up with to replace the current first two paragraphs. I would also propose cutting nearly all of the long body of material that follows those paragraphs--it's not sourced and in fact sounds like someone's own working out of the issues. There is probably a place for a brief set of examples of writers and texts that exemplify the various senses of "soft SF," but this should be compiled from existing criticism and commentary rather than pulled out of one or more of our own heads. In any case, here's the draft--

Soft science fiction, or soft SF, like its complementary opposite hard science fiction, is a descriptive term that points to the role and nature of the science content in a science fiction story. The term first appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s and indicated SF based not on engineering or the "hard" sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry) but on the "soft" sciences, and especially the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and so on).REF HERE[1] Science Fiction Citations: Soft Science Fiction REF END A sense that may have developed from this hard/soft opposition is that soft SF is more concerned with character, society, or other speculative ideas and themes that are not centrally tied to scientific or engineering speculations. Soft SF may also be seen as less rigorous in its application of scientific ideas, for example allowing faster-than-light space travel in a setting that otherwise follows more conservative standards.
Peter Nicholls writes that soft SF is a "not very precise item of sf terminology" and that the contrast between hard and soft is "sometimes illogical."REF HERE "Soft SF," Encyclopedia of Science FictionREF END In fact, in all senses of the term, the boundaries between "hard" and "soft" are not definite or universally agreed-upon, and there is no single standard of scientific "hardness" or "softness." Some readers might consider any deviation from the possible or probable (for example, including faster-than-light travel or paranormal powers) to be a mark of "softness." Others might see an emphasis on character or the social implications of technological change (however possible or probable) as a departure from the science-engineering-technology issues that ought to be the focus of hard SF. Given this lack of objective and well-defined standards, "soft science fiction" is not a term for a genre or subgenre of SF but for a tendency or quality--one pole of an axis that has "hard science fiction" as the other pole.

Comments, questions, objections, clarifications, and so on encouraged. RLetson 03:22, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Posted rewrite. RLetson 22:42, 14 April 2007 (UTC)

Reverted examples[edit]

Because they were unsourced and not connected to the understanding of "soft science fiction" that is being developed in the article. Exemplars need to be drawn from authorities ("says who?" is always an appropriate question here) and ideally should illustrate the abstract definition--and, if appropriate, lead to a more refined and precise definition. (I suspect that this is not going to be easy, since there is no single, sharp-edged definition of the term. . . .) RLetson 03:26, 25 July 2007 (UTC)


I think the idea that soft science fiction is that which is based on social sciences isn't really true, despite what that one cited source may say. While science fiction based on social sciences is usually soft, not all science fiction based on physics or biology is "hard". Social science fiction is already a term, and it's just part of soft SF. Soft science fiction is simply used to denote works that aren't "hard" (i.e. works where the focus is on the technology itself, and the rigorous detail put into it, with usually little focus on traditional plot or character development). For example, Back To the Future isn't based on psychology or sociology, but it's very much soft science fiction. From what I've seen soft SF falls into three main categories: Social SF, Space Opera or Adventure/Pulp SF, and Literary SF focused more on character development than on the technology itself, all of which may or may not involve made up science, time-travel, or things such as psychic abilities. Brc2000 (talk) 12:46, 23 February 2013 (UTC)

I'm going to second this. The muddling of "soft" and "social" is definitely not in congruence with my experience of the science fiction community. I've always experienced it as a Cartesian plane where the axes are hardness and socialness (sic). Of course anecdotal evidence is blah blah etc. Winston Spencer (talk) 14:38, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

Need list of examples[edit]

I'll like to see a list of prominent examples of soft science fiction, like that in Hard science fiction#Representative works. Dough34 (talk) 19:00, 26 January 2014 (UTC)