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Hard Science Fiction
Distant Atmosphere will be a hard science fiction setting. While I enjoy soft science fiction, in the end Star Wars and Star Trek are just fantasy with technological trappings.
Why is that bad? It’s not bad. Sometimes I just want my fiction to have a possibility of actually happening. Also, I’ve found that working within the bounds of known science, or any self imposed limit, spurs creativity in unexpected ways. For instance, if I’m thinking of having a large space habitat, well then how did it get there? How was it built? Where did the materials come from? Who designed it and why? These questions start me on fascinating roads of research that leads me to answers – and many times those answers create even more questions.
One of the things that has bothered me in recent years is the dumbing-down of science fiction for mass consumption. Actually, that trend has probably always been there – witness the pulp magazines of the 20s and serials of the 30s. I remember excellent authors like Clarke and Niven who worked hard to create stories that extrapolated the known science of the day and come up with amazing ideas, like satellites and ringworlds.
Perhaps I am nostalgic for a world that never existed and the great science fiction literature of the last century was a tiny niche that only I and a few other people really noticed. And perhaps it is still going on, just out of my sight. But I would like to add to it somehow.
Back in the 1920’s, Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback tried to publish stories that exposed readers to real science and excite them about the possibilities. Many kids love science fiction and gleefully memorize every planet presented in the Star Wars universe, and can describe exactly how the starship Enterprise generates it’s warp field. Why can’t we make hard science fiction like that? Why can’t a hard fiction setting contain epic heroes and titanic struggles that nudge children – and adults – to understand scientific principles.
The Encyclopedia Brown stories – if anyone remembers those – were short stories in which the main character, a child detective, would solve mysteries. The reader could solve them too, with a bit of knowledge and logic. Admittedly the logic or science was just flat wrong in some of them – but they always got my mind thinking as a child. That toddler walking barefoot on the roof of a car indicates that the car hadn’t been driven recently – showing us that the father had been lying about just having arrived in the car. And so on.
So, I’ll try to stick with hard science fiction for this exercise. This should be fun, and hopefully others may think so too.