Soft Science Fiction vs. Hard Science Fiction

by Jessica

Question: What is the difference between soft science fiction and hard science fiction? How do I know which one my novel falls under?

Answer: In general terms, hard science fiction is based on speculation regarding current trends in the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) or technology and how they will affect the future. For instance, stories about humans colonizing other planets began as speculation on where the space programs of 20th century might lead. Genetic engineering, computer technology, and robotics are other new technologies that inspired many SF stories.

On the other hand, soft science fiction is based on speculation regarding the soft or social sciences (psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, etc.). In these stories, the emphasis is more on how human culture might evolve in the future. Some examples would be Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Always Coming Home.

Obviously, many science fiction stories include both hard and soft elements, since technology and society generally evolve together and affect each other. New technologies can change society. Cultural and political developments can affect research priorities and determine how technologies are developed.

When you try to classify a SF story as either hard or soft, you need to consider where the emphasis lies, where the key speculation or extrapolation is occurring.

For instance, while the world of The Hunger Games includes advances in technology, the primary emphasis is on changes in human society -- how a new form of totalitarianism that echoes the later stages of the Roman Empire might emerge in a world of post-apocalyptic scarcity. So I would call it soft SF.

On the other hand, I would call Larry Niven's book, The Integral Trees, hard SF because the story world is born from speculation on how the laws of physics might permit sustainable ecosystems to evolve somewhere other than on the surface of a planet.

Of course, Niven does speculate on how human society might adapt to such a strange environment, but it's the hard science aspect that makes the book interesting.

So you have to ask yourself what the most interesting aspect of your story world is. Is it the science and technology? Or is it the culture? Where are you making the most striking speculations? Which of these two areas stands out?

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Genre Invite.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero