Hard and soft SF: the matter-antimatter reaction

   Further Twitter conversations resulting from my previous post, and the original thread started by Linda Nagata, have led me to what might be a more useful way of approaching the whole problem of hard versus soft science fiction.

   When you take a step back and look at the universal picture, you quickly realize emotionless fiction is an absurdity. There is simply no such thing. Fiction, by its very nature, uses the emotions of the reader as its reference point. A reader who wants pure ideas untouched by emotion will pick up a textbook or a treatise. Someone who picks up a work of fiction does so from the outset expecting to be moved.

   To speak of emotionless writing, then, is as absurd as to speak of soundless music.

   What is at issue is the degree to which a work’s emotional response stems from the action and the characterisation, versus the novelty or the cleverness of its use of hard science (for want of a better word, “coolness”). Those who get their kicks from the former have, traditionally, been referred to as “soft,” while those who get it from the gear have been called “hard.”

   What we all need to remember is that these two sources of readerly emotional fulfillment are not mutually exclusive. The tired old meme about emotionless hard SF comes from the belief that character development, great story arcs and symbolism are matter, while “hard” technology is antimatter, and you can’t have both without destroying the work.

   Well, in SF, you can. And you should. They come together in some great new creation that causes a matter-antimatter reaction, propelling our minds at the speed of light.

   For the sake of enjoying that journey, let’s just call it “science fiction” and get on with it.