Hard and Soft SF

From Fancyclopedia 3
(Redirected from Hard science fiction)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Hard SF refers to science fiction with a strong basis in present-day science, technology or engineering.

The term was coined in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller to distinguish between the science fiction promoted by John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, vs. the SF stories being published in Galaxy and other magazines that were social satire or science fantasy, sometimes now called, by analogy, soft SF.

Some users later took the term to mean SF based on the "hard" sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.) rather than the "soft" sciences (psychology, sociology, etc.). Others attributed "hardness" to any story that championed science. There are several problems with these early definitions, of course. One is that some sciences (biology, psychology, etc.) have both "hard" and "soft" dimensions.

In 1971, James Blish laid claim:[1]

Once upon a time, I made an unfortunate attempt to label the kind of thing Poul (Anderson) writes as 'hard copy'--work so deeply felt and so carefully crafted that it looks solid no matter from what angle you view it--and I asked for more from other people. Everyone instantly assumed that what I was talking about was sf in which the science was correct, and thus inadvertently was born our present usage of 'hard science fiction.'

In 1992, Allen Steele wrote: "Hard sf is the form of imaginative literature that uses either established or carefully extrapolated science as its backbone." This seems to be the meaning held by most SF readers/fans today.

Soft SF, therefore, is any science fiction that isn’t hard SF or space opera, that is, it isn’t built around extrapolation of present day hard science, technology and engineering. Hence, it includes social satire, science fantasy, alternate history, some paranormal fiction, New Wave and more.


  1. Blish, James: "Poul Anderson: The Enduring Explosion" in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction," vol. 40, # 4, April 1971 (special Poul Anderson issue).

This is a fanspeak page. Please extend it by adding information about when and by whom it was coined, whether it’s still in use, etc.