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12. Hard Science Fiction

Gary Westfahl

Subject Literature

Key-Topics science fiction

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405112185.2005.00014.x


In its very name, science fiction announces a special concern for, and a special connection to, science. Repeated campaigns to eliminate or de-emphasize that concern and that connection by renaming the genre “speculative fiction” have met with ignominious failure; and a broad range of commentators have agreed that, at the very least, science fiction must display a basic respect for the principles and laws of science. Works that utterly fail to meet this standard – by depicting, say, a breathable atmosphere on the Moon or rapid spaceflight to other stars without reference to the limitation of the speed of light – are universally castigated and delegitimized as science fiction. Approaching the task of defining “hard science fiction,” one might begin by calling it a form of science fiction that displays an especially heightened concern for, and an especially heightened connection to, science. Precisely how one might characterize works in that category, predictably, is a matter of ongoing debate. Undoubtedly, certain features in a text would seemingly qualify it as hard science fiction: thorough explanations of scientific facts and/or lengthy expository passages providing evidence of a scientific thought process at work. This is the essence of Allen Steele's commonsensical definition of hard science fiction: “the form of imaginative literature that uses either established or carefully ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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