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General SF&F discussion > Hard SF Recommendations

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message 1: by Jon (new)

Jon (jonmoss) | 626 comments I don't read much science fiction, and even less hard scifi, but my uncle loves it. We trade books frequently, so I'm always on the look out for books to send him. Sometimes I read them (after he's read and reviewed them), but most often I just swap them back out.

So, for all the hard scifi aficionados out there, what's your top five or best bets?

message 2: by Charles (new)

Charles (charliewhip) | 141 comments I we are talking HARD SF (meaning sf which depends largely for its story on the Science more than the fiction) --
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Ringworld Engineers - Larry Niven
Macroscope (forgot author's name)
2001, A Space Odyssey, AC Clarke
Neuromancer, Wm. Gibson

message 3: by Random (last edited Jul 16, 2010 01:58PM) (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 847 comments I'm going to do like Charles did and assume a heavy emphasis on the Science.

Dragon's Egg and Starquake both by Robert L. Forward. Two of my all time favorites. Maybe one day I'll manage to get the group to try him out. :)

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Just about anything by Stephen Baxter

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

message 4: by Charles (new)

Charles (charliewhip) | 141 comments I know Stefan said 5, but I need to put Anathem on my list, too.

message 5: by Charles (new)

Charles (charliewhip) | 141 comments I meant Jon

message 6: by Janny (new)

Janny (jannywurts) | 1003 comments Just about anything by Greg Bear.

message 7: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (sleo) | 1141 comments Is C.J.Cherryh hard science fiction? I'm lovin' the Foreigner series. Is Greg Bear's stuff good, Janny?

message 8: by Janny (new)

Janny (jannywurts) | 1003 comments Sandra AKA Sleo wrote: "Is C.J.Cherryh hard science fiction? I'm lovin' the Foreigner series. Is Greg Bear's stuff good, Janny?"

Hard SF - very wrapped with the idea. Has people to enact it - very VERY strong ideas with tremendous vision. Worth the read with caveat, these are idea driven stories, not character driven. Darwin's Radio and Blood Music - take a look at those.

message 9: by Phoenixfalls (last edited Jul 16, 2010 05:14PM) (new)

Phoenixfalls | 187 comments I consider C.J. Cherryh hard SF. . . in that it really takes scientific ideas and extrapolates from them into the future. However, I know many people don't consider her work hard SF because the science it tends to focus on is "soft" science -- the social sciences of psychology and sociology and language rather than physics or astronomy or even biology.

As for hard SF authors that haven't been mentioned. . . it's not really my thing, but some of my friends that are into hard SF like Peter F. Hamilton.

message 10: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (sleo) | 1141 comments Thanks, Janny. Then, Phoenix, I suppose David Weber's Honor Harrington series is 'hard' scifi, since I consider many of those books like space popular mechanics? With the exception, perhaps, of her tree cat which was the best thing about the books.

message 11: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 847 comments I'd personally say Honor Harrington is more Military SF. While science is used, its not scientific concepts that drive the stories.

message 12: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (sleo) | 1141 comments Random wrote: "I'd personally say Honor Harrington is more Military SF. While science is used, its not scientific concepts that drive the stories."

Well, yeah, I suppose you're right. Never really heard of 'hard' science fiction before.

message 13: by Jon (new)

Jon (jonmoss) | 626 comments Thanks for all the great recommendations. What a wonderful gift to wake up to this beautiful Saturday morning! :)

@Random: I agree about Honor Harrington, definitely more Military SF or even a space opera.

@Janny: I've got Darwin's Radio already but I'll search for the other one you mentioned this morning while out on errands.

Again, thanks everyone for the suggestions!

Have a great weekend.


message 14: by Ron (new)

Ron (ronbacardi) | 302 comments Wil McCarthy writes some pretty far-out SF based on some good hard science; Kim Stanley Robinson's work is more mundane but the science is probably even more solid; and let me recommend two of my all-time favourites, by Stanislaw Lem: "The Invincible" and "His Master's Voice".

message 16: by Marty (new)

Marty (martyjm) | 310 comments this is really interesting because I am now more confused than ever about what hard sci fi is.....

message 17: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
For me, hard SF means SF that uses science as the base for the story. E.g. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson uses a fairly realistic approach, in terms of science, to describe a colonization mission to Mars. It takes 6 months to get there, building things in low gravity has specific consequences, that sort of thing.

On the opposite side of the spectrum there's for example space opera, where you may find an unspecified, scientifically unexplained "faster than light" drive (or hyperdrive, or hyperspace...) that allows people to zip from galaxy to galaxy in the blink of an eye. It's still science fiction, but the focus is much less on the "science" part than in hard SF.

Personally I don't think it needs to be a "hard science" to qualify as hard SF - e.g. Jack Vance wrote some fantastic SF that uses sociology or even linguistics as the basis for the story (To Live Forever, and The Languages of Pao respectively), and I'd consider those hard SF too (although many wouldn't).

Greg Bear is one of the best pure hard SF writers out there. Other writers I've been recommended are Gregory Benford and Stephen Baxter, but I'm not a big fan of real hard SF so I don't know much about their works.

If you want to try something shorter, look for some of Greg Egan's short stories - many of them are hard SF, and some of the better written hard SF I know. Or the short story collection Tangents, by Greg Bear, contains some gorgeous hard SF stories.

message 18: by Random (last edited Jul 19, 2010 02:03PM) (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 847 comments Marty wrote: "this is really interesting because I am now more confused than ever about what hard sci fi is....."

There's a Wikipedia article that does a decent job of classifying the different subgenres of Science Fiction.

In regards to Soft Science Fiction, I really don't see much difference between it and Hard Science fiction other than which sciences are its focus. Hard SF focuses on physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc. Soft SF has its focus on the softer sciences such as sociology, psychology, political science, etc. Soft SF tends to focus more on the human factor since the sciences that are its basis focus more on the human factor.

The difference between Hard (and Soft) SF is that they have the scientific concepts at the core of the story. Using Space Opera as an example, it falls under SF mostly due to its setting more so than due to the concepts it uses. Much the same can be said for Military SF.

It is not uncommon to see books mix the various subgenres.

message 19: by Nick (last edited Jul 21, 2010 03:08PM) (new)

Nick (doily) | 973 comments Stefan wrote: "For me, hard SF means SF that uses science as the base for the story. E.g. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson uses a fairly realistic approach, in terms of science, to describe a colonization missio..."

Stefan, you mentioned two of my favorites here -- The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance and Red Mars of Kim Stanley Robinson (despite the fact that it got a lot of tossers way back when in the Beyond Reality archives). Way back when, I also thought that Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness was hard sci-fi, from a social science perspective probably moreso than a physical science one. And the science behind Isaac Asimov's short "Nightfall" (as well as the novel Nightfall Nightfall) fascinated me as a kid. To round out a top five, I'd agree with Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey

message 20: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (last edited Jul 22, 2010 09:41AM) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
That's the most interesting distinction here, I think (well, for any given value of "interesting"...) - whether "soft SF" means "SF based on soft sciences" like sociology, psychology etc. (as the Wikipedia article Random quoted seems to indicate) or instead just means "SF not actually based on hard sciences" (which I do, and Nick also, it seems). To me, any science base, whether it's hard science or not, makes it a "hard SF" novel.

Anyway, it's all just putting things in silly boxes, I guess.

The Languages of Pao is excellent. I read it for the first time when I was 15 and had no idea what the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was - then went on to study linguistics, learned all about it, and got a whole new appreciation for the novel. To Live Forever is another excellent "soft science, hard SF" novel by Vance, approaching sociology with, as a starting point, the availability of eternal life. One of his most memorable novels, I think, and one I reread every few years.

Another one I thought of, after writing the last post, was Frederik Pohl and his Technic History/Polesotechnic League novels. He often carefully describes the set-up of his planets - it's this far from its sun(s), so there are x amount of continents and this and this sort of weather, and as a result, society evolved in such and such a way --- and then built his story around those elements. The books were still character-driven and sometimes very entertaining, but he took great care to make sure that the reader understood why things were as they were on his planets.

message 21: by Phoenixfalls (new)

Phoenixfalls | 187 comments Stefan -- But putting things in silly boxes is the best part of GoodReads! Why else would they let you create an infinite number of shelves? ;)

message 22: by Ken (new)

Ken (ogi8745) | 1348 comments Basic explaination, Hard SF uses science to move the story along. No Artificial gravity, Starship travel is governed by Eisenstein's theory of relativity, no faster than light. Space Opera kinda ignores the science, if a scene needs a way out, a way gets invented.
Sometimes they mix and match. I am reading Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton and he is merging both genres. He has some space opera tropes, man made wormholes to travel between planets, reguvention treatments for never growing old.

message 23: by Jon (last edited Jul 27, 2010 07:54AM) (new)

Jon (jonmoss) | 626 comments I'm headed to the Half Price Book store after work today to glean what I can from your suggestions.

Thanks again for all your recommendations. Since my uncle is twenty-plus years my senior and an even more avid reader than I am, I will skip the classic recommendations (like Clarke's Space Odyssey) and focus on the more recent releases.

Again, thanks for all your help.


message 24: by Carolyn (last edited Jul 27, 2010 10:36AM) (new)

Carolyn (seeford) Jon,
I'd also recommend books by Robert J. Sawyer:
-the Neanderthal Parallax series has a lot of quantum physics in it
-the WWW series has a lot about artificial intelligence and physics

Happy hunting!

message 25: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 221 comments Hi guys

just to add to the debate (confusion?) for me Hard SF has always been SF with the science foregrounded and internally consistent, even if it is not necessarily realistic - so even a lot of space opera would fit in to it. For example Peter F. Hamilton is obsessed with the tech, even if what he writes is unrealistic.

Realistic SF is something else entirely - Kim Stanley Robinson tends to go down that route, as has William Gibson more and more. A great example of this is Geoff Ryman. I'd recommend any of his books - notably The Child Garden - and he recently edited a specially commissioned anthology of realistic SF called "When It Changed", which is truly awesome.

message 26: by Ken (new)

Ken (ogi8745) | 1348 comments William Gibson is a hard writer to pin down. He has moved from Cyberspace into the more real. His books are almost standard fiction these days. Not that I am complaining I love that guy.
As for Hamilton, I think a lot of authors are fusing there writing with plausable technology to the far out. So I think its getting harder and harder to put these storys in a box with lovely wrapping paper and call it, Hard SF, Fantasy, etc etc.
When I started reading SF and Fantasy many moons ago there were only a couple of types so it was easily labeled. These days writer are getting more ingenious with their stories.
For me genre never really got in the way. I like the book I read it, if it happens to expand my horizon than cool.

message 27: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 221 comments For me genre never really got in the way"

Completely with you, Ken - I like to think of myself as eclectic, and open to any genre. What I love about SF (under the broad catchment of Speculative Fiction) is that it can, like myths and fairy tales, use the step away from mundane reality to explore some facet of life of society or psyche, either by caricature or more subtly.

message 28: by Ken (last edited Aug 08, 2010 08:17AM) (new)

Ken (ogi8745) | 1348 comments I have a caveat to my previous statement, I really despise authors or publishers who try to hide the books that are SF or Fantasy. Atwood really pisses me off with her instance of calling her work Oranges when its really Apples and then denies its an apple.

And sorry, but that little RANT was way! off topic.

message 29: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 221 comments ha! oddly enough, look what i just wrote in this forum!

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