hard science fiction n.

science fiction which does not violate known scientific laws; science fiction based on the hard sciences

SF Encyclopedia

SF Criticism

  • 1957 P. S. Miller in Astounding Science Fiction Nov. 143/1 page image P. Schuyler Miller

    It is also very characteristic of the best ‘hard’ science fiction of its day.

  • 1961 Editorial in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Nov. 4 page image

    The speed with which hard science these last few years has threatened to outstrip…the hard science fiction of even a decade ago has perhaps done us all a greater favor than we realize in forcing us into this later area of human self-examination.

  • 1970 ‘W. Atheling’ More Issues at Hand 99 James Blish

    Wells used the term originally to cover what we would today call ‘hard’ science fiction, in which a conscientious attempt to be faithful to already known facts (as of the date of writing) was the substrate on which the story was to be built, and if the story was also to contain a miracle, it ought at least not to contain a whole arsenal of them.

  • 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 J. Gunn Readers of Hard Science Fiction in G. E. Slusser & E. S. Rabkin Hard Science Fiction 74 James E. Gunn

    By hard science fiction we mean that science fiction in which the story turns around a change in the environment that can be understood only scientifically and generally through what are known as the hard sciences, usually the laboratory sciences such as chemistry, physics, and biology, and the observational sciences such as astronomy, geology, and geography. Mathematics and computers are two of the tools used by all the hard sciences. These sciences are considered hard because they deal with objective data, and predictions can be made from these data that are verifiable.

  • 1988 S. McCrumb Bimbos of Death Sun v. 52 Sharyn McCrumb bibliography

    It’s a good book. For hard science fiction, that is. It’s scientifically sound.

  • 1989 Asimov’s Science Fiction Dec. 186/1

    Gregory Benford might take some issue with this notion…with his metaphor of all science fiction which is not hard science fiction being like ‘playing tennis with the net down’, meaning that hard science fiction is that science fiction which eschews violation of the presently known laws of the continuum.

  • 1990 C. Sheffield in Thrust Winter 18/3 Charles Sheffield

    Someone, to help me pass the time, handed me a copy of…Ringworld… I read it, and I said to myself, ‘Hey, hard science fiction is not dead.’

  • 1991 F. Pohl (back cover quote) in L. Niven Ringworld (back cover) Frederik Pohl

    Ringworld’ is the best of the newest wave, the return to classical hard-science fiction of the kind popular in the Golden Age. Niven’s imagination is 3-D and detailed, and his style is lucid and appealing.

  • 1993 Science-Fiction Studies July 158

    The term kept coming up in the 1960s and 1970s; he said that Clifford D. Simak’s ‘Limiting Factor’ ‘is a puzzle story…perhaps the closest to ‘hard’ science fiction in the anthology under review’ (9/62 155)…In December, 1963, he referred to ‘‘hard’ science fiction—the technical kind’ (86); in May, 1964, he said Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle’s Fifth Planet was ‘to a degree a ‘hard’-type story which might even stir some interest in Hal Clement, chief sculptor of that form’ (87); in the same issue he commented, ‘Maybe we're short of the ‘hard’ technical science fiction of the early years’ (89).

  • 1994 Interzone Oct. 64/1

    Its motifs have been plundered by these neighbouring genres to the extent that purists have been forced to designate a special category of ‘hard science fiction’ to distinguish the sf which aims for some kind of extrapolative rigour from that which simply uses the imagery of sf as window-dressing.

  • 1994 Interzone Sept. 59/1

    There was a time when genre fantasy was a mere annexe of the science-fiction marketplace. Nowadays, fantasy has the marketplace clout and the classic motifs of science fiction are increasingly being relegated to the status of stock ideas which can be deployed without discrimination alongside the traditional motifs of fantasy. It has been necessary to invent a special category of sf (‘hard science fiction’) to distinguish that fugitive enclave of the marketplace where some sense of intellectual responsibility supposedly still holds, while more or less anything goes outside its beleaguered walls.

  • 2011 J. E. Gunn Thought Experiments: Celebrating Isaac in Asimov’s Science Fiction Apr.–May 15/1 page image James E. Gunn bibliography

    [Isaac Asimov] is ranked among hard science fiction writers, which means that the fiction is based on real science or on new developments in science, but he was not the hard science fiction writer that Hal Clement was, or Larry Niven; Isaac’s fiction was more philosophical, based on concepts like psychohistory or robotics or the musings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Research requirements

antedating 1957

Earliest cite

P. Schuyler Miller in Astounding Science Fiction

Research History
Andy Ellam submitted a 1991 cite from a quote by Frederik Pohl on the back of an edition of Larry Niven's "Ringworld".
Matt Freestone submitted a cite from John Clute's 1988 book "Strokes"; Mike Christie verified the cite in the original 1982 magazine publication.
Lucius Sorrento submitted a cite from a 1996 book quoting a review by P. Schuyler Miller; Mike Christie verified it in the original 1957 magazine appearance.
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1997 cite from SF Studies.
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1989 cite from Norman Spinrad's book review column in Asimov's.
Mike Christie submitted a 2003 cite from John Cramer's column "The New Recycling Universe" in Analog.
Malcolm Farmer submitted a 1974 cite from a reprint of "William Atheling's" (James Blish's) 1970 "More Issues at Hand".

We are looking for cites for both "hard SF" and "hard science fiction".

Last modified 2020-12-16 04:08:47
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.