Over at tor.com, a post about Hard vs Soft SF. Fran Wilde asked a bunch of authors to weight in on these terms. Mostly they cooperated pretty well by sticking to the terms given; sometimes they jump the fences.
I agree with Elizabeth Bear, who says:
I feel like the purported hard/soft SF divide is one of those false dichotomies that humans love so much… The thing is, it’s really arbitrary. … I think the habit of shoving all of this stuff into increasingly tiny boxes that really amount to marketing categories is kind of a waste of time.
I think identifying the terms as marketing categories is key. Or rather, I think that “Hard SF” is fairly identifiable and a useful marketing category, in a know-it-when-I-see-it kind of way rather than as a firm definition. But “Soft SF” means way too many different things to different people and is a completely useless term, used mainly because people do like dichotomies and if you have “hard” then naturally you must have “soft.”
For years and years, I’ve been contrasting Hard SF with Sociological SF, neither of which includes science fantasy or space opera. I’ve been so, so pleased to see Sociological SF make a resurgence. For a while there it seemed to be CJ Cherryh and nobody, and now it seems like publishers are making more room for this category of SF, whether thanks to Ann Leckie or what I don’t know, but GOOD.
Famous and seminal: The Left Hand of Darkness, so I’m glad I finally read it.
The best ever: CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series, among many others of hers.
New and shiny: Ancillary Justice.
What other titles can you all think of for Sociological SF? Does A Darkling Sea by Cambias count, when that book is mostly interested in alien social systems? I would sort of say yes and sort of lean toward no on that one. A Darkling Sea is kind of on the boundary of Hard SF and Sociological SF.