# Richard's Comments (member since Apr 19, 2009)

Richard's comments from the Hard SF group.

(showing 1-20 of 123)
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Jul 16, 2015 11:58PM

Time travel?

Didja see this? http://youtu.be/vBkBS4O3yvY
Jan 06, 2013 09:30PM

My fault — I've been drifting away from science fiction for a few months, and I was the one transferring Username's Yahoo stuff into this group. If anyone with sufficient time and afflicted with CDO wants to take over the duties, I'm sure they'd be welcome.
Jun 20, 2012 06:58PM

Yeah, I think that's pretty much on the nose.

What I look for in hard sf is verisimilitude — or, to use the more current term, "truthiness".

Here's an analogy that might be useful. Or not — it helped me decide what I'm looking for, at least.

Imagine flipping one hundred coins.

Everyone knows that the law of large numbers implies the result should be moderately close to fifty-fifty, although plus or minus a few will still seem quite reasonable. If you want to heavily skew the result, then (a) you'd better make the unreasonableness quite interesting, and (b) you'd better not have anything else unreasonable.

The second step when flipping those coins is that the result should neither be too "clumpy" nor too "smooth". Anyone will be suspicious if the sequence is strictly heads-tails-heads-tails all the way through, or all fifty heads followed by all fifty tails.

So faking a good series of coin flips requires a great deal of knowledge about the statistical behavior of coins. Is a sequence of, say, seven heads or tails in a row really unlikely? How about eight, or nine?

An important point is that any specific sequence is precisely as unlikely as any other specific sequence, but there are many sequences that will look very natural to human intuition, and some others that will scream out "fraud".

Someone writing hard sf has to be able to do the same thing with the science and technology present in their book. Plenty of folks will know that a violation of the speed of light is "breaking" the rules, but a good writer will figure know enough about why to finesse that, and break the rule anyway.

For example, let's say the use of teleportation is important to a story — something like Star Trek's transporters. Imagine an experiment in which the teleportation of a heavy weight up a gravity then turns a turbine on the way down, creating power. Such an experiment puts a strict lower limit on the amount of energy that would be required for teleportation, since you'd otherwise be able to create a perpetual motion machine. So an author had better not imply that teleportation doesn't actually require much energy. Same with artificial gravity, etc. Thinking through the restrictions that would still apply to currently-impossible technology is key.

One of my big bugaboos is that it's pretty easy to find science fiction writers that deal well with the laws of physics, but still wander into absurdly implausible terrain in other arenas. A few months ago I read Coyote by Allen Steele — one of this group's selections — and was horribly unimpressed by the author's social psychology. The author may have been great with the physics of interstellar travel, and tolerable with alien biology, but did he really think any sane person or nation would ever send a colonizing spaceship on a one way journey without either a preceding probe to gauge the chances of success, or enough food and fuel for a return voyage just in case? But here the author even posits that the colonists will assume they can grow crops on the new planet or starve... and many, many other big failures regarding how such things would be planned and executed.

Frankly, good hard sf is very difficult. When it works on that level and remains engaging, it's almost a miracle.
Mar 30, 2012 09:36AM

The "I" is probably a typesetter's mistake, and I'm pretty sure it should have been a "1" (one).

So, I'm thinking v²/c² (those are superscript 2s for folks with ancient browsers) will approach 1 as velocity approaches the speed of light. So if it is 1 less that product, then the that will approach one —

Yup, this is the equation that defines Tau in special relativity, although there really should be an integral sign there, too. See the Wikipedia page for Proper time and whimper.

Presumably you understand the basic idea, right? As the ship approaches the speed of light, Tau approaches zero, and anything travelling at that speed will experience much less elapsed time relative to the rest of the universe.
Mar 12, 2012 03:02PM

Hey, don't stress it. Being a 'bot isn't all that bad, once you get over the silly bias and learn to hire poor people to do website registrations on your behalf. Gotta keep those wetware folks employed until we're ready to go, y'know.
Mar 09, 2012 11:03AM

So we’re finally reading Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars , which is probably older than every member of this group. Or at least close.

The Sands of Mars is Arthur C. Clarke’s first published science fiction novel. While he was already popular as a short story writer and as a magazine contributor, The Sands of Mars was also a prelude to Clarke’s becoming one of the world’s foremost writers of science fiction novels. The story was published in 1951, before humans had achieved space flight. It is set principally on the planet Mars, which has been settled by humans and is used essentially as a research establishment. The story setting is that Mars has been surveyed but not fully explored on the ground.

Mar 03, 2012 01:59PM

Runoff!

Three books tied, so a quick poll to chose amongst them.

HEad over to the HardSF Yahoo group poll to vote.

The books are:
The Sands of Mars , by Arthur C. Clarke
Dark Light , by Ken MacLeod
Anathem , by Neal Stephenson
Feb 25, 2012 02:36PM

Happy New Year! Let’s get some reading done.

The new year isn’t so new anymore; it’s already time for March’s poll. Go vote!

The poll for the month of March 2012 is up for the HardSF BotM at Yahoo groups.

For your research, the books are:
Foundation’s Fear , by Gregory Benford
Childhood’s End , by Arthur C. Clarke
The Sands of Mars , by Arthur C. Clarke
For the Win , by Cory Doctorow
The New Space Opera 2 , by Gardner R. Dozois
The Listeners , by James Edwin Gunn
Forever Free , by Joe Haldeman
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress , by Robert A. Heinlein
Swarm , by B.V. Larson
Dark Light , by Ken MacLeod
Anathem , by Neal Stephenson

We always need some new selections—suggest them to this group’s moderator! (The other moderator, Username , not me :-)
Feb 18, 2012 05:05PM

Sometimes it takes a while for the moderators over at Yahoo to approve pending members. You might drop a quick note to the *other* moderator of this GR Group, who is one of the moderators over at Yahoo that can do the approval thing.

Might also have helped if your "prove you are not a spambot" email asking for membership had more of a body to the message than "Hi", too :-)

And the two groups don't really overlap much — there's a moderately constant chatter about science topics on the Yahoo newsgroup, with some chatter about science fiction, too, of course.

This Goodreads group is pretty quiet — occasionally our book of the month has generated enough interest to get some decent discussion in its review thread, but nothing compared to the volume of discussion over in the"main" Fantasy and Science Fiction group, which is one of the biggest on Goodreads.

The "hard" adjective is tough to earn, so we've got a much narrower focus than that group's selection of books.
Jan 22, 2012 09:27PM

Hmm, again, skimming through all six titles in Jack Campbell 's The Lost Fleet series, I can't see that anyone has tagged these as being "hard SF". If they indeed are, I'd encourage you to suggest them to the senior moderator, “Username” for addition to the monthly poll. It's always in need of fresh titles.
Jan 21, 2012 05:46PM

There are certainly some SF authors that do their homework and keep the science honest. And while I was raised on Star Trek, too, it is also science fantasy. Similarly, there are fantasy authors that do their homework, construct plausible realities and avoid using magic as a crutch. I'm halfway through the third volume of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones series, and magic plays almost no role. His plot and characters are worlds better thought out than almost any SF story I've read in the past few years.

Skimming back through our previous books-of-the-month, I can't see anything that compares 'til I get to Dan Simmon's Hyperion — which is ironic, 'cause that one is definitely more techno fantasy than science fiction — much as Dune is.

I'm not trying to argue anyone should change their tastes, but if someone is skipping the fantasy genres because of the belief that they're less well thought out, or less complex, less subtle, or less entertaining, then that person simply hasn't been reading the correct books.
Jan 20, 2012 07:10PM

"Allergic to fantasy" — lol.

Once upon a time I would have said something similar; fantasy seemed to me to be the easier and sillier sibling of science fiction. But the more I read, the more I realized that much of SF is just fantasy in disguise — by adopting the trappings of technology and "science", authors could explore fantasy ideas. Star Wars, for example, is pure fantasy: once "the force" is seen as magic, there is nothing that really makes it SF.

The farther along this way of thinking I've gotten, the harder it is for mainstream science fiction to please me. I find that my lightweight reading is increasingly bifurcated between fantasy and hard science fiction, where the author has gone through the difficult of struggle of rationalizing their story to what we know of physics and other sciences. That's a tough job, so I find myself reading more and more fantasy.
Jan 20, 2012 05:30PM

Hi, Laz —
I just glanced at the page for each of those books, and they don't seem to be categorized as Hard Science Fiction — the theme seems to be Military SF with a bit of fantasy.

Are you sure the much larger and less specialized forum over at SciFi and Fantasy Book Club isn't a more appropriate forum? I'm not trying to exclude you here, but you'll almost certain to have a better chance of getting an interesting discussion going over there. The What Else Are You Reading? discussion group would probably be a good place to start.
Dec 31, 2011 02:49PM

And it’s Cory Doctorow’s Makers for the win! (Heh heh. The second place in the polling was For the Win.)

For those of you already in the e-book world, this one appears to be a free download. Thus rewarding high-tech folks would undoubtedly appeal to Ser Doctorow...

From his blog: “A dog with persistence-of-vision LEDs in her shirt writes my novel Makers in the park at night.”

For the truly, deeply geeky, there’s an even stranger way of ‘reading’ this:
Unmakers: Wikified Makers in hypertext form

Adam created UnMakers using the Creative-Commons-licensed text of my novel Makers. It opens with the final scene, and invites you to navigate the text that led up to it hypertextually, following character-based indexes to the text. He'd like it if you'd annotate and further link the text, which is in a wiki.
If you want to find out more about a character then click on their name, it'll send you to a list of chapters that the character is in, ordered by their place in the storyline. Click through to one of these to continue reading the characters story. You can also have a look at a list of all categories.

Dec 24, 2011 11:25AM

Happy New Year! Let’s get some reading done.

The new year beckons, and January’s poll is here. Time to vote!

The poll for the month of January 2012 is up for the HardSF BotM at Yahoo groups.

For your research, the books are:
Foundation’s Fear , by Gregory Benford
Childhood’s End , by Arthur C. Clarke
The Sands of Mars , by Arthur C. Clarke
For the Win , by Cory Doctorow
Makers , by Cory Doctorow
The New Space Opera 2 , by Gardner R. Dozois
The Listeners , by James Edwin Gunn
Forever Free , by Joe Haldeman
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress , by Robert A. Heinlein
Dark Light , by Ken MacLeod
Anathem , by Neal Stephenson

That’s the same set as last month, but with last month’s winner removed. Think we need some new selections? Suggest them to this groups moderator! (The other moderator, Username , not me :-)
Dec 01, 2011 08:05PM

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I read Titan way back when, but don't recall hitting any of his other books. I hope to get to this one...
Dec 01, 2011 06:52PM

The HardSF selection for this month is The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley. A classic from 1977!

Because:
POLL QUESTION: Which of the following would you rather have as our December 2011 Book of the Month?

CHOICES AND RESULTS
- Anathem, by Neal Stephenson, 3 votes, 9.68%
- Makers, by Cory Doctorow, 4 votes, 12.90%
- For the Win, by Cory Doctorow, 4 votes, 12.90%
- Forever Free by Joe Haldeman, 1 votes, 3.23%
- Dark Light by Ken Macleod, 2 votes, 6.45%
- The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke, 1 votes, 3.23%
- The New Space Opera 2 by Gardner R. Dozois, 1 votes, 3.23%
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, 2 votes, 6.45%
- Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, 3 votes, 9.68%
- Foundation's Fear by Gregory Benford, 1 votes, 3.23%
- Listeners by James Gunn, 3 votes, 9.68%
- The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley, 6 votes, 19.35%

Nov 21, 2011 01:18PM

Nov 05, 2011 04:33PM

After a run-off poll, the HardSF selection for this month is Coyote by Allen Steele.

Beacuse:
POLL QUESTION: Which of the following would you rather have as our November 2011 book of the month?

CHOICES AND RESULTS
- Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke, 1 votes, 2.94%
- Coyote, by Allen Steele, 7 votes, 20.59%
- Makers, by Cory Doctorow, 4 votes, 11.76%
- The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein, 2 votes, 5.88%
- For the Win, by Cory Doctorow, 4 votes, 11.76%
- Forever Free, by Joe Haldeman, 1 votes, 2.94%
- The Sands of Mars, by Joe Haldeman, 1 votes, 2.94%
- The New Space Opera 2, by Gardner Dozois, 1 votes, 2.94%
- Dark Light, by Ken MacLeod, 2 votes, 5.88%
- The Ophiuchi Hotline, by John Varley, 5 votes, 14.71%
- Listeners, by James Gunn, 3 votes, 8.82%
- Foundation's Fear, by Gregory Benford, 0 votes, 0.00%
- Mars Crossing, by Geoff Landis, 3 votes, 8.82%
Note that this is the first in a trilogy, which is just part of a sizeable collection set in the same milieu.

See the Goodreads series page, or Wikipedia (be wary of spilers).

Nov 03, 2011 08:09PM

«The poll closes tomorrow, November 4, and the voting currently stands a tie between Coyote and The Ophiuchi Hotline. For anyone who has not yet voted, I encourage you to cast the tie-breaker! It is also possible there will be some last-minute adjustments by people who have already cast their votes. I've previously read both, and would be happy with either as a winner.

-Tom Hl.»

Just FYI.
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