soft science fiction n.

science fiction based on the soft sciences (as sociology, anthropology, etc.); (also) science fiction in which the scientific elements are relatively unimportant to the story

SF Encyclopedia

SF Criticism

  • 1977 Observer (Case Western Reserve University) 21 Jan. 20/1 page image

    For anyone who likes a bit of ‘soft’ science fiction (you will see no flying saucers, no men from Mars, nor even any mad scientist in this one), especially when mixed with a taste of humor and some hot flesh, this movie is for you.

  • 1978 G. S. Elrick Science Fiction Handbook 6

    Soft science fiction is basically based on sociology, anthropology, political science, theology, or mythology. Example: Brian Aldiss’s Galaxies Like Grains of Sand.

  • 1982 R. Schlobin Andre Norton in T. Staicar Feminine Eye (1982) iii. 30

    They all write what could be variously labeled as ‘social’, ‘humanistic’, or ‘soft’ science fiction. While all their works contain the extrapolated factual material characteristic of science fiction, they really focus on the future of humanity and its possible future traits and societies.

  • 1982 D. Hartwell The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve in Top of News (1982, issue number unknown) 14 David G. Hartwell

    This is a quick rundown of the main possibilities an omnivore might fix on: classic fantasy (ghost stories, legends, tales); supernatural horror (two categories: classic—from Le Fanu, Blackwood, and Machen to Stephen King and Rosemary’s Baby ; and Lovecraftian, the school of H. P. Lovecraft and his followers); Tolkienesque fantasy (in the manner of Lord of the Rings—carefully constructed fantasy worlds as the setting for a heroic quest); heroic fantasy (barely repressed sex fantasy in which a muscular, sword-bearing male beats monsters, magicians, racial inferiors, and effete snobs by brute force, then services every willing woman in sight—and they are all willing); Burroughsian science fantasy (adventure on another planet or thinly rationalized SF setting in which fantasy and anachronism—sword fighting among the stars—are essentials); space opera (the Western in space); hard science fiction (the SF idea is the center of attention, usually involving chemistry or physics or astronomy); soft science fiction (two alternate types: one in which the character is more important than the SF idea; the other focusing on any science other than physics or chemistry).

  • 1986 G. K. Wolfe Critical Terms for Science Fiction & Fantasy 120 Gary K. Wolfe bibliography

    Soft science fiction, probably a back-formation from Hard Science Fiction, and used sometimes to refer to science fiction based in the so-called soft sciences (anthropology, sociology, etc.), and sometimes to refer to science fiction in which there is little science or little awareness of science at all.

  • 1998 P. Anderson Ideas for Science Fiction in Writer Sept. 24/2 Poul Anderson

    In my opinion, two streams run through science fiction. The first traces back to Jules Verne. It is ‘the idea as hero’. His tales are mainly concerned with the concept—a submarine, a journey to the center of the planet, and so on. The second derives from H.G. Wells. His own ideas were brilliant, but he didn’t care how implausible they might be, an invisible man or a time machine or whatever. He concentrated on the characters, their emotions and interactions. Today, we usually speak of these two streams as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science fiction.

  • 2001 Science Fiction Chronicle July 46/1

    Nancy provided a definition of the difference between hard and soft science fiction which made sense to me at the time.


Research requirements

antedating 1977

Earliest cite

student newspaper

Research History
Matthew Hoyt submitted a 1978 citation from George Elrick's "Science Fiction Handbook".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1986 cite from Gary Wolfe's "Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1984 cite from David Hartwell's "Age of Wonders".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1986 cite from Gary Wolfe's "Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1998 cite from an article by Poul Anderson in The Writer.
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1990 cite from a review by Doug Fratz in Quantum.
Simon Koppel submitted a 1977 cite from the student newspaper of Case Western Reserve University.

Last modified 2021-04-02 14:52:37
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.