Hard science is a particular science fiction genre in that, as its name seems to indicate (« pure and hard » science), its stories take place in a context with high scientific plausibility. Often, in this kind of story, the heroes are not characters but ideas.
Whether it be in the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, computing science, astronomy, linguistic, sociology… authors explore what the science can offer with innovative concepts, and extrapolate their more or less remote future. Or they use current knowledge of science for the plot to be as believable as possible.
For instance, in their novel Heart of the Comet, David Brin and Gregory Benford, for purposes of reality, they went so far as to calculate the trajectories of the Haley comet and the ship sent to its encounter. Likewise, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke used all his knowledge in astronautics at the service of a interesting novel. By the way, in hard science genre, Arthur C. Clarke is one of my favourite author.
We could think that a story respecting as many the scientific reality should be boring and out of range of ordinary people. If this is true for certain work – I’ll come back to this later – there are authors who manage to conceal perfectly the scientific side and the epic dimension of the story. It is enough to read Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity to be amazed by the author’s imagination et to be fascinated by those creatures’ adventures developing on a high rotation planet (which involve weird gravitational effects). Likewise, in their Turing Option, Marvin Minsky and Harry Harrison perfectly depict the awakening of an artificial intelligence while immersing us in a thrilling story.
Another example of perfection in this hard science domain: the Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. After a 17 years research work, the author imagined a plausible scenario for Mars conquest. Nothing had been left to chance: astronautics, engineering, chemistry, biology, planetary ecology… but also politics, interactions between very diversified social groups… Even is some part may seem a bit long, KSR wrote a real masterpiece which gives its letters of nobility to the hard science.
Unfortunately, I must admit that some novels turn to be beyond understanding or very hard to read for whom that wouldn’t be a specialist of the field. Thus, I had some difficulties to read The Embedding by Ian Watson, which concern the importance of language in the awakening of intelligence. Likewise, Greg Egan’s Quarantine left me an aftertaste of nonsense technobabble completely impenetrableIt’s just my opinion, of course. Greg Egan is a respected Australian author, but I have a lot of difficulties with his novels..
In conclusion, I’d say that to fully appreciate hard science – genre I am an unconditional fan – it’s better (even if it that’s not always enough) to have solid knowledge in the broached themes or, anyway, not to be afraid by subjects that may appear abstruse but that authors would have glorify.
Not exhaustive bibliography
- The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle
- 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
- Dragon’s Egg et The Flight of the Dragonfly, by Robert Forward
- Voyage, by Stephen Baxter
- Mars trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars., by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Mars and Return to Mars., by Ben Bova
- Ringworld, by Larry Niven
- Quarantine, by Greg Egan
- Mission Gravity, by Hal Clement
- Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson
- Inverted World, by Christopher Priest
- The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke
- Earth, by David Brin
- The Xeelees series Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux et Ring., by Stephen Baxter
- Heart of the Comet, by David Brin and Gregory Benford
- Bloodmusic, by Greg Bear
- I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
- Bloothirst (Star Trek serie), by J. M. Dillard
- Turing Option, by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky
- Destination: Void, by Frank Herbert
- Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
- Babel 17, by Samuel Delany
- The Embedding, by Ian Watson