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General Information > Looking for New Really Hard Sci-Fi

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message 1: by Rikhard (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments I've been trying to find some newer hard science fiction works but your average internet list is full of stuff that's:

1) Not all that scientific, in fact which isn't remotely plausible by any accepted or even credible alternative physics (i.e. the Culture series).
2) Decades old (i.e. Hal Clement's 'Mission of Gravity')
3) Both (i.e. 'The Demolished Man', which has nothing particularly sciencey-about it and is also 60+ years old).

I have already read some or all of the books by Alastair Reynolds, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Egan, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein and at least own quite a bit of stuff by Vernor Vinge, Greg Benford and so forth.

I am looking for something which is more recent (both in terms of publication and science, as a lot of the stuff in Clark, Niven, etc. is based on models of physics and space travel from the 1960s) and which is quite a bit harder than most of what gets called 'science fiction'. Something generally harder than most of Larry Niven, for example, something like 'Half-Life' by Hal Clement. It's very difficult to find science fiction without magic in it, and it seems like most of it that exists I've already read (along with quite a bit of the stuff that includes magic!).


message 2: by Outis (new)

Outis | 64 comments To my knowledge, there's not much out there that's as hard as Egan or even Reynolds, especially if you're looking for books as opposed to short fiction. Authors are evidently more willing to take chances when they're not writing actual books. And it doesn't look like there's much of a market for remotely plausible SF. Maybe The Martian's success is going to change that.
Would you prefer to settle for halfway plausible (Watts or Robinson for instance - nevermind that you're not a fan of the latter, I'm only talking about plausibility) or for the odd plausible story in a hard-flavored collection?

If you haven't read every Egan, there's at least that to look forwards to. His latest is possibly too weird for your taste but Clockwork Rocket ought to scratch your Clement/Vinge itch in spite of the fantasy physics.


message 3: by Pjotr (new)

Pjotr | 1 comments I find that Jack McDevitt scratches my A.C. Clarke itch quite well... It might not be the hard-as-nails scifi that you mean, but it also doesn't venture into fantasy territory and is pretty grounded...


message 4: by Michel (new)

Michel Meijer | 4 comments Hi,
If you like Egan/Reynolds I can recommend The Quantum Thief (and the 2 sequels) by Hannu Rajaniemi to you. Really the same type of books. Kind of interesting is also Blindsight by Peter Watts. Somewhat less hard but very good is all the work of Ian M Banks and Peter F. Hamilton (I didnt see them in your list) If you never looked at the latter two, you really should. Although Hamilton packs some magic in his books, Pandora’s Star is real sci-fi and a good starter. Finally there is The Expanse of SA Corey as a recent very good series.
Cheers


message 5: by Rikhard (last edited Apr 26, 2018 04:22PM) (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Outis wrote
I liked Watts' "Blindsight" quite a bit, and Egan's least-plausible venture, "Diaspora", but both of them happened to be particularly interesting stories despite some questionable physics and engineering here and there. And Watt's aliens are in a way more 'biologically' realistic in that they're not just terrestrial life with a coat of paint, and are actually almost as weird as an alien might be.

The problem with a lot of sci-fi, though, is it's both scientifically implausible and not particularly original in any dimension. It's basically just 'CSI, with LAZERS' or 'Horatio Hornblower Goes to Mars!' Though I do like some of that stuff (I've read a lot of Star Trek Original Series novels) it just gets old.

One of the things I like about really hard science fiction is that it forces the author to depart from traditional 'humanz are the most important thing in the universe/medieval romance tales' that constitute basically 90% of fiction in one form or another. I find the 'Joseph Campbell' stereotypical story to be played out, though it's apparently very popular with most people I've just had more than enough of it. This just goes back to the old TV trope issue that 'most authors are human' and 'most audiences are human', but really I've often had enough of hu-manz and would like to get away from their anthrocentrism. Heck, that's one of the thing I always loved about Lovecraft: even though Cthulu will one day rise and destroy the Earth it's actually not until humans are already dead and Beetle men rule the world - even the Apocalypse doesn't give a damn about mankind!

Outis wrote: Clockwork Rocket ought to scratch your Clement/Vinge itch in spite of the fantasy physics.

I'm not 100% against fantasy physics (though I'd prefer actual physics at this point) but I do like it when the fantasy physics is at least coherent. An excellent example of the latter would be "Celestial Matters", which is based on totally wrong Aristotilian physics but Aristotle and Garfinkle did at least try to be consistent with these premises whereas most sci-fantasy uses physics and technology as plot devices and decoration.

Pjotr wrote: "I find that Jack McDevitt scratches my A.C. Clarke itch quite well... It might not be the hard-as-nails scifi that you mean, but it also doesn't venture into fantasy territory and is pretty grounded..."

Sounds interesting, I haven't read any of his work so I'll take a look at it.


message 6: by Rikhard (last edited Apr 26, 2018 04:59PM) (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Something else I forgot to mention: a lot of sci-fi, even the harder stuff, tends to give Relativity and thermodynamics the finger. Yet as far as I can tell most sci-fi stories don't actually require faster-than-light travel. The sheer size of the solar system and stuff like biotechnology and cybernetics allows for quite a lot of huge empires, gigantic spaceships, and 'alien' humans without invoking interstellar travel and warp drives which (if they were possible) would require entire galaxies full of anti-matter and would release so much waste heat they'd irradiate large sections of the galaxy.

But as far as I can tell there's not a lot of very high tech science fiction that doesn't invoke FTL drives and stuff. I'd be interested in reading some ultra-tech stories where you've got all kinds of radical technology but still takes place in the Sol system and doesn't involve probably-impossible levels of energy. 'Cyberpunk' would probably be the closest to this, though it often has relatively primitive technology (essentially modern technology pushed a bit further, plus some Woo-based computers).

I think it's weird how most sci-fi writers seem to think that having super technology automatically entails interstellar travel (or even interplanetary colonization) since it's perfectly conceivable (perhaps even likely) that you could have super fusion generators, nanomachines, AI, robots, transhuman speciation, spaceships the size of small moons and still have 99% of people living on Earth. There's no reason that 'super-tech' leads inexorably to colonizing extra-terrestrial planets, much less interstellar travel. After all, Earth is better than any space ship you could ever build. A lot of this probably has to do with how much sci-fi culture originated with astronomy, but even from an existential perspective being able to travel a parsec a second would only enable you to explore an infintesimally small section of the entire Universe. The solar system alone is large beyond all reason: every vehicle, base, Death Star, etc. you've seen in every episode and film of Star Wars and Star Trek combined could fit inside Jupiter comfortable (aside from the Dyson Spheres, and those would fit around the sun) with room to spare; and there is plenty of iron, iridium, plutonium and hydrogen around to have plenty of materials to do it (again, aside from the Dyson's Spheres, which would require an inane amount of collapsed star matter or something to build).

So that's another thing I'd like to see explored, that technology /= space. These concepts are joined at the hip in most science fiction, but there's no obvious reason they ought to be. Indeed, given how inhospitable and empty space is it seems more likely that they wouldn't!

"2001" is interesting just because it at least doesn't monkey around with relativity and wormholes (which would exist for less than a planck time according to Relativity, so no obvious use for them exists even if they are 'real'). You have interstellar civilizations, alien life and super-computers and none of it invokes warp drives or wormholes or any other magical method of circumventing the size of space.


message 7: by Jabriol (new)

Jabriol | 16 comments I written about a wonderful series from a chineese point of view.
imagine fighting an interstelar war using just your wits.

http://javriol.blogspot.com/2018/02/t...

http://javriol.blogspot.com/2018/04/t...

It has been a while, since I read a series where an American or European is not the hero. The science here is hardcore and you need to know some physics.


message 8: by Rikhard (last edited Apr 26, 2018 06:29PM) (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Jabriol wrote: "I written about a wonderful series from a chineese point of view.
imagine fighting an interstelar war using just your wits.

http://javriol.blogspot.com/2018/02/t...-..."

Sounds interesting. Particle physics and relativity are probably my strongest points in hard science (astronomy makes my head hurt sometimes, too many angles and magnitudes) so I'll take a look at "The Three Body Problem".

Although I do like some violence (I read a lot of military and cyberpunk) I too could do without the tedious requisite sex scenes and romance subplots (this goes for all fiction).


message 9: by Outis (new)

Outis | 64 comments McDevitt wants to look pretty grounded but all that does for me is to create plot holes and convince me the author doesn't get physics.
I get a very different vibe from Clarke.

Many authors as well as their audience evidently don't understand thermo, much less relativity.
But fictional interstellar travel doesn't always give either the finger. What it almost always does though is to give economics the finger, and from that perspective merely interplanetary fiction is not much better. Any kind of space travel that's not limited to scientific expeditions involves amounts of energy which, while not necessarily physically implausible, imply a pretty radical departure from the types of scarcity we are accustomed to. Some authors take that as an opportunity to speechify about their fringe views while the others don't seem to know what to do with such a situation other than to draw the readers's attention away from the issue.
How would biological life on Earth plausibly be like with advanced nano, AI and so forth? Short fiction can focus on a specific issue and ignore the larger problem but in longer works, authors typically point to something shiny: dystopias, aliens, space, whatever.

There's a school of thought according to which sci-fi ought to be modelled on stuff like Horatio Hornblower, down to spaceships looking like seagoing vessels. That apparently feels realistic to many sci-fi fans.
The same goes for economic issues, except that post-slavery economic relations are used as a model instead of the unseemly practices of the age of sail.


message 10: by Michel (new)

Michel Meijer | 4 comments Rikhard wrote: "Outis wrote
I liked Watts' "Blindsight" quite a bit, and Egan's least-plausible venture, "Diaspora", but both of them happened to be particularly interesting stories despite some questionable physi..."


Then really give Quantum Thief of Rajaniemi a chance. It is radical and hard sci-fi in a greatly evolved solar system without aliens or FTL.


message 11: by Jim (new)

Jim Williams (adamselene) | 6 comments Books by Ben Bova are more scientific-based


message 12: by Jim (new)

Jim Williams (adamselene) | 6 comments Robert Sheckley's works are quite entertaining, and thought provoking. Along with RAH, I found his humor quite on target. When the internet was quite young back in the early 90's I communicated with him through email until he died. He said he really enjoyed the internet because it brought him closer to his fans. A few books: Mindswap, Immortality, Inc., Polgrimage to Earth, & Citizen in Space. He was old school, and had numerous short stories published.


message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim Williams (adamselene) | 6 comments Canadian SF Writer & Hugo Award Winner Cory Doctorow is a good writer.
Little Brother, 2009, was a juvenile novel that was an award winner, and even though the novel was supposed to be for teens, it's still a great read for adults too. He made a sequel to it entitled Homeland.


message 14: by Lee (new)

Lee Pfahler | 1 comments I'm surprised no one has suggested Stephen Baxter or Allen Steele. But I don't have the credentials to judge their science.


message 15: by Rikhard (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Jim wrote: "Robert Sheckley's works are quite entertaining, and thought provoking. Along with RAH, I found his humor quite on target. When the internet was quite young back in the early 90's I communicated wit..."
I'll look into his stuff, thanks.

Lee wrote: "I'm surprised no one has suggested Stephen Baxter or Allen Steele. But I don't have the credentials to judge their science."

I have read a little bit of Baxter, though I can't remember what right now!


message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark (myashar) | 1 comments As others may have mentioned, it's useful to look for writers with an actual professional background (or at least an academic background, e.g., PhD) in science and engineering for good Hard SF novels, such as Greg Benford, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, David Brin, Joe & Jack Haldeman, Tara K. Harper, Robert L. Forward, Fred Hoyle, Michael Crichton and a number of others.


message 17: by Rikhard (last edited Apr 28, 2018 09:31PM) (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Mark wrote: "As others may have mentioned, it's useful to look for writers with an actual professional background (or at least an academic background, e.g., PhD) in science and engineering for good Hard SF nove..."
Agreed, though a lot of scientists and engineers have written some pretty fantastical stuff! Heinlein was a talented engineer, and had a good grasp of Newtonian physics (and I'm sure a good layman's grasp of Relativity and QED), but when he invokes them it's often rather magical! Though he is one of my favorite authors, fantasy physics notwithstanding.


message 18: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (thomasreader) | 7 comments I keep looking at these postings but have not contributed because I was too busy reading hard science fiction.
I suggest David VanDyke as an author who knows his science, his physics and who can write a plot that will keep you spellbound. The series that has kept me from doing my chores for many weeks is called the "Plague Wars Series". David Van Dyke is a Hugo and Dragon Award finalist.
When I started to read the series I got hooked right away. I then started to worry that I would catch up to the writer still working on further books! This was not the case since the series is complete.
It was noticeable that the author knew what he was talking about when the topic covers military life, structures, characters and action.
Enough said.
Back to my books.


message 19: by Rikhard (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Thomas wrote: "I keep looking at these postings but have not contributed because I was too busy reading hard science fiction."
Good excuse!
I suggest David VanDyke
I'll take a look into it. Thanks.


message 20: by Rikhard (last edited May 03, 2018 04:58AM) (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Outis wrote..."
Interplanetary settlement is pretty unrealistic. You'd need some insanely cheap energy to make it worth it to even grab huge chunks of platinum and diamond, or at least a TON of infrastructure built over decades or centuries. There is plenty of room on Earth for something like a quadrillion people, and any environmental/technical difficulties would be FAR easier to overcome than terraforming or building large colonies on Mars.

As I've argued with people before even if human beings become super-advanced they will most likely live on Earth for as long as they're human beings - anything that colonizes the solar system (much less interstellar space) is going to be some kind of mechanical virus, not a biological person.

So, probably the most 'realistic' space science fiction would be: far-future cyborgs and robots engaged in solar system travel, with 99.9999% of everything still being on Earth. Sort of like 'Cyberpunk Ultra'. I would read it, and probably enjoy it more than Navies in Space. Heck, I like the harder cyberpunk more than most sci-fi already.


message 21: by Outis (new)

Outis | 64 comments Diamond can be manufactured but, in principle, getting platinum from space isn't crazy seeing that the stuff could get a good bit more expensive than it already is. Infrastructure in Earth orbit is going to become economical sooner or later (certainly before a trillion people can be supported down here!), assuming industrial civilization has a future at all. But while that kind of space exploitation would involve potentially interesting security issues, I don't see how it could justify off-world settlements.
Manned scientific expeditions in the solar system are pretty realistic though, even if most authors would choose unrealistic dates for them. I liked the Europa story in To Shape The Dark for instance.

You've got to be careful with the "far easier" argument as it could have been used against suburbia for instance. Driving a car in serious traffic wastes a crazy amount of energy, not to mention the other downsides. If people can afford the waste, you can't rule out them being willing to put up with any associated unpleasantness.


message 22: by Antti (new)

Antti Värtö (andekn) Charles Stross has a few good hard sci-fi books that could be of interest:

In Accelerando all the action happens mostly on Earth and within the solar system. There are interstellar flights, but they are Starwisp-style unmanned ultralight probes powered by laser propulsion.

For those of you who find human settlement of solar system unrealistic, there is Saturn's Children, where all the characters are robots.


message 23: by Rikhard (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Outis wrote: "Diamond can be manufactured but, in principle, getting platinum from space isn't crazy seeing that the stuff could get a good bit more expensive than it already is. Infrastructure in Earth orbit is..."

Suburbia was subsidized by massive taxation and corporate welfare, plus state infrastructure. The difference is that to 'subsidize' one single space mission in such a way costs billions of dollars, and to subsidize actual interplanetary colonization would require the GDP of the entire USA, and to subsidize one interstellar spacecraft of remotely useful speed would require the entire energy budget of the planet for several years. It's neither physically nor politically possible to do these things, the result would be mass starvation and failure of the project caused by a breakdown of the home base's political and economic structure.

The only way that this stuff is feasible is far future, where decades and centuries of infrastructure development have finally made it so capital reinvestment is profitable (in the sense of both money and sustainability). Something which is economically impossible is actually physically impossible IRL, since it means that the relative scarcity of goods can not be sustained. The trouble is that (as you say) most sci-fi authors want to project it with modern biological humans in the year 2050, when a far more realistic assessment is genefreak cyborgs using huge nuclear WALDOs in the year 2500. Most fiction is obsessively 'relevant' and 'modern', and sci-fi is no exception - much as historical fiction is usually just 'modern America, with togas' so much science fiction is 'modern America, with lazers'. If only writers could be convinced to write something original.


message 24: by Outis (new)

Outis | 64 comments 30 years before the people walked on the Moon, one would have had good reason to state that such expense wasn't politically possible. But what was or wasn't politically acceptable changed drastically within a few years and subsidies put an end to mass starvation.
What's politically possible today and what may be economically possible in a few decades are very different things. The GDP of the entire USA needn't be such a big hurdle in 2050 but that's how much an interplanetary Apollo might end up costing. Colonization is something else.

Thankfully, there's plenty of historical fiction which doesn't fit your description. There's a huge international market for that compared to the demand for hard SF.


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim Williams (adamselene) | 6 comments Rikhard - Isaac Azimov did not use FTL in his original trilogy; Foundation, Foundation & Empire & Second Foundation. The interstellar space ship was built of monsterous size and WAS the colony, travelling for centuries with the original crew long dead, but their posterity living on to complete the mission whenever a livable planet could be found.. That makes sense, and with nuclear energy could go on for many centuries before running out of nuclear fuel. With a living colony of specialists, some warehouse to house supplies, hydroponic gardens to feed the colonists, breeding livestock in designated areas to bring on the journey , (a Noah's Ark of sorts), and as long as there is contact with Earth, digital information could be sent back and forth, even though the time-lag could be years.....


message 26: by Licia (new)

Licia Bailey (liciabailey) | 1 comments have you considered Ted Chiang? Stories of Your Life was the basis for Arrival.


message 27: by Tanim (new)

Tanim (tanimislam) | 2 comments I read this amazing Stephen Baxter short story, where Jonathan swift's 17th century description of a planet with two moons didn't refer to Mars but an exoplanet with an extremely eccentric orbit and very high density (Mars's mass but only 1000 km radius).

Can anyone recall what this short story's name was?


message 28: by Tanim (new)

Tanim (tanimislam) | 2 comments Never mind, found the short story. Last Small Step, by Stephen Baxter, in the SF anthology Engineering Infinity. The planet is out 200 AU from the sun, was the stripped core of a gas giant that is kept metastably dense -- Mars mass with radius of 1000 km. Its relatively slow expansion provides enough internal heat to support life.


message 29: by Michielm (new)

Michielm | 4 comments Try Michael mccollums gibraltar eart trilogy and antares dawn trilogy. Also inherit the stars by james p hogan. And prelude to extinction by andreas kampf. Like to hear your opinion


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