Hard and Soft SF

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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 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.

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.