A perennial topic, addressed again in this Twitter thread:
I always find posts like this frustrating because of the lack of agreement about what “hard SF” is in the first place. Without agreement there, you’re stuck. You can say, “No one is naming modern authors!” but if no one agrees that those authors are in fact writing hard SF, your complaint goes down in flames.
Sure enough, the third comment on this thread mentions Octavia E Butler. As far as I’m concerned, she’s as far away from writing hard SF as, say, I am. If you drew a normal curve and put hard SF at one end, Octavia Butler would be … on some other axis completely, I guess. (Science fantasy would actually be at the other end of the curve.)
Butler was writing sociological SF, not hard SF. Lumping the two together does no one any favors, as people who love a lot of sociological SF (raises hand!) may not love all that much hard SF (raises hand again.)
Well, I’m sure I’ve done posts attempting to define hard SF before, and pointing to other people’s attempts to do so, and I don’t feel like doing that again right now. Let me just take a look …
Here are some of the hard SF writers mentioned in this thread. I’m picking out the authors where I personally agree that they indeed wrote and are still writing hard SF.
- Vernor Vinge
- Greg Egan
- Kim Stanley Robinson
- Hal Clement
- Larry Niven
- I know there are lots of others, but I’m stopping here.
Okay, and for some more modern authors, I haven’t read that many, but I agree with:
- Mary Robinette Kowal, with her Lady Astronaut series. I read the first book and liked it a lot, probably because it’s got a lot of sociological stuff going on too in addition to the hard SF elements.
- Andy Weir, in The Martian. I don’t know about his other book; I haven’t read it and had the impression it’s more space opera.
- I don’t know, honestly, I barely read anything in hard SF. Who else would you all suggest?
An author who’s being mentioned in this thread is an example of a classic problem with defining hard SF — it’s Martha Wells. I definitely don’t consider the Murderbot novels hard SF. I’m not sure what I do consider them. Rapid handwavy hacking by cyborgs plus the existence of amazing bots like ART does not equal hard SF. In fact, once again, this seems closer to sociological SF to me. Much closer.
We really, really need an industry-wide recognition of sociological SF as a thing. That needs to be recognized so that people will stop trying to cram it into hard SF. Then it would be much easier and a lot more fun to argue about where Murderbot fits.
Anyway, I pulling this suggestion out of the comment thread:
Those sound intriguing, so I’ve provided links. I haven’t read them, and I may not because hard SF isn’t really my thing, but if one or both are great, by all means let us know in the comments and I’ll definitely read the stories at that point.