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Science and Reason: Why is Hard Science Fiction More Believable?

One of the most beloved works of science fiction is the original “Star Trek.” The show follows the crew of the Enterprise as they explore new worlds. Aside from “Star Trek” memes, it also sometimes predicted future technologies like flip phones and teleconferencing. However, for all of the scientific concepts and terminology used in the show, it is by no means accurate.

“Star Trek” wasn’t the first nor the last work of science fiction to play fast and loose with logic and science. Shows like “Farscape” and “Black Mirror” all take varying liberties but there is a subset of fiction that strictly adheres to the laws of science. These are called hard science fiction, and some of these works are essential in expanding your understanding of science.

What is Hard Science Fiction?

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Hard science fiction integrates scientific concepts accurately. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Just like any other genre, there are multiple subgenres of science fiction. But hard science fiction is not a subgenre but rather a broader category of the entire class.

A hard science fiction book differs from other works by its adherence to scientific concepts and its own internal logic.

Some authors and filmmakers take the “fiction” part of science fiction and run with it, coming up with increasingly unbelievable concepts for the sake of artistic liberty. Although this is an acceptable practice, given that these are works of fiction and not research papers, it can be pretty jarring for viewers or readers familiar with such concepts.

For example, the “Star Wars” franchise and other films set in space often forget that space is a vacuum. This means that there should be no sound, no matter how many Death Stars explode out there. But these lapses in scientific accuracy can be excusable. After all, a daring dogfight involving dozens of starships would be pretty uninteresting if the audience were to watch it unfold in the total silence of real space.

The trick to compelling hard science fiction books and movies is to use scientific concepts in such a way that they enhance the audience’s immersion and helps the story unfold. For example, in Christopher Nolan’s space drama “Interstellar,” they explain the time-dilating effects of black holes. This is an admittedly arcane scientific concept, but the film uses it to great effect, highlighting how strange the universe is and ramping up the drama of their exploration.

Good examples of hard science fiction don’t beat its target audience over the head with scientific principles and internal logic. It uses these concepts to tell a story effectively.

What are Definitive Hard Science Fiction Books?

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Hard science fiction books help popularize different and difficult concepts to the public. Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Although there are plenty of hard science fiction movies, this category has its roots in books.

Hard science fiction books helped popularize the genre and were the inspiration for movies and shows. Some of the most influential works of hard science fiction have helped shaped the public’s knowledge and attitude towards technology and the like.

Here are a few definitive works of hard science fiction that has inspired scientists, filmmakers and other creative minds over the years.

  • “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke

The book and the film helped portray different concepts such as space travel, wormholes and artificial intelligence and bring them to greater prominence to the public.

  • “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton

This work used data and information that was considered accurate and cutting edge at the time. Although of course some of it has been debunked and or obsolete, the attention to detail on how to bring dinosaurs to life was exacting and professional.

  • “The Martian” by Andy Weir

Speculates on how astronauts may survive for prolonged periods on the surface of Mars. What makes the book more compelling is that the character only had access to actual supplies and contemporary technologies.

  • “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov

Although the science in Asimov’s definitive book on the nature of robotics are certainly not based on facts, the logical framework he used to come up with the Three Laws of Robotics and their unintended side effects are still the ones used in science fiction today.

Why is Hard Science Fiction Important?

You may be wondering why it is so important that works of fiction have logical consistencies and portray scientific principles accurately.

First, it helps the audience immerse themselves fully into a hard science fiction book or film if they are familiar with the laws of reality as presented in the work. Its easier to accept a world where gravity pulls down than in one where gravity goes sideways.

Second, hard science fiction is often more accessible to the general public than research papers and similar academic works. Correct portrayals of things like astrophysics, gravity and biology help further the public’s understanding of these intensely fascinating natural processes.

Hard science fiction may not be the best source for in-depth knowledge on scientific concepts, but they are more readily available. This makes them crucial in expanding people’s awareness and appreciation for the sciences.

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