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An assertion was made on Meta that it's impossible to have a work that is both hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi.

Given the typical definition of both, can there be SFF works that are both hard and soft scifi?

I would accept a yes answer if a work (or preferably 3-5 works) are clearly shown to conform to both definitions.

I would accept a no answer if there's a convincing analysis of why that is impossible.

closed as primarily opinion-based by NKCampbell, Organic Marble, Buzz, Ward, K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 16:18

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • I have no concrete evidence.. but (extending the definition of 'a Work' to include series) I suspect you may find example with some series, where the author either relaxed or got pickier, as a series progressed. On the Fantasy side, Pier's Anthony's Xanth books leap to mind; not intended to be a long series, he tightened up a lot of rules and such as he kept writing them. Or like Chalker's first Well of Souls book, that wasn't meant to have a sequel. That said, I can't really think of a solid example off the top of my head. – K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 15:16
  • any answer will ultimately boil down to an opinion though, won't it? Since there isn't an objective definition of either to begin with. Feels like more of a meta or chat question – NKCampbell Oct 27 '17 at 15:16
  • Going closer to your actual question, many authors leave books in limbo for years after they start them.. I wouldn't be surprised if you find what you are looking for in such a book. Or one that was taken over, posthumously, by another author, such as Spider Robinson taking over Heinlein's 'Variable Star', although it would need more original writing to have that issue, I would guess. (Variable Star was written from an outline; I think what you are looking for would happen when more of the original was actually WRITTEN and just finished.) – K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 15:19
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    Sorry, DVK -- Although I've tried to answer, after trading comments with Edlothiad, I'm of the opinion that this is unanswerable until the terms and parameters are defined better. If an entire work can be only Hard or Soft by definition, we have an answer, but we need more details. Also, do serialized stories (later collected) count? How about actual series? What constitutes a Work, within the realm of this question. VTC (unclear what is being asked), but would vote to reopen if it can be sufficiently clarified. I'm just not sure the nature of the question would allow that. – K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 16:18
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    This is very opinion-based. I agree that this is a conversation worth having, but chat is the place for it. – Adamant Oct 27 '17 at 21:13
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Based on DVK's response to a comment, I think it's possible to have a work be Hard and Soft Scifi; it's just usually not at the same point in the same work.

Warning; long rambling post follows
Short form: Lots of SciFi does this, when the sections of a story are really almost independent. Strange in a Strange Land is as an example, as is Number of the Beast

All that said, this is really dependent on your definition of Hard vs Soft SciFi.

An example would be Heinlein's 'Stranger in a Strange Land'; like most Heinlein works, it has a very solid grounding in understood physics and science. His analysis of the needs of a convalescing space traveler even resulted in him describing one so well, an inventor was declined a patent for the Waterbed, on the basis that Heinlein's description constituted prior art.

Even Valentine Michael Smith's almost magical abilities are explained as related to psychic abilities he learned on Mars; not magical, but simply exploiting details of physics that Humans don't yet understand. (As an example, instead of simply making something 'vanish', he gives it a multi-dimensional 'push' and tips it 90 degrees out of this reality.)

But that's the beginning. Then things change.

Much of the rest of the novel is an attempt to parody / satirize / critique / change various social norms. Although Michael still uses (primarily) the same abilities, the explanation is slowly transitioned to it having more to do with the nature of reality than anything else. The eventual ending shows us an early view of Heinlein's 'World as a Myth' concept, with our hero

transitioning into a role as an 'Angel' or equivalent, giving confirmation to his assertions that existence is really a form of consensus reality, with everyone being part of the creative team. ('Thou art God' is the phrase he confuses people with, while trying to explain this in the books.)

Although he doesn't eliminate or change the science from the previous parts of the book, the Philosophical realization of the nature of reality kind of 'hand-waves' any subsequent actions; to me, that moves the story into the realm of Soft SciFi -- explanations (or reasons) are no longer needed since our understanding of the nature of reality has been shifted. (As Maureen would point out, many books later, Reality is not logical; it's whimsical.)

Don't get me wrong; I love the book.. but it's really two books -- the origin story, with some hard (if theoretical, at points) SciFi, and the story of his Ministry, with Soft SciFi allowing us to suspend disbelief at what he does, and using him as an Human with the Perceptions of an Alien to hold a mirror up to society.

An arguably better example would be 'Number of the Beast'; it starts out with a Professor inventing a device that seems to allow travel between universes, but is VERY concerned with everything from the engineering of the space ship, the programming of the computer, the physics of space travel (and simple ideas like checking the air safely on a new planet), even scientific and practical details about building an 'off-the-grid' hideaway -- all stuff you would expect from an intelligent, well-versed-in-science crew. And, then, by the end of the novel, having

realizing that the universe is based on belief, not science

almost anything can (and does) happen, and is hand-waved away by the aforementioned understanding. See the details of the party at the end of the book for more details; but there fantastical elements that are simply never explained, as we are to understand (by this point) that explanations are

unnecessary, as belief is what causes reality.

Again.. Shifting for hard-headed logic and science, in the beginning, to an almost Fantasy world, by the end. Hard->Soft, as the story goes along.

  • Depending on the definition, the beginning sounds quite soft to me. – Edlothiad Oct 27 '17 at 15:52
  • @Edlothiad - Well.. Kind of. But RAH sticks to well established science for the beginnings, with things like how long it takes ships to move between planets, expected biological issues from moving from Mars to Earth, and so on. I haven't read it in years, but can go back and dig some more up, if needed -- it was one of RAH's better know traits. – K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 15:54
  • Added number of the beast, as it shows much more science, early on. – K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 16:01
  • You’re missing what I’m saying. Regardless of the “hard-sci-if that exists at the start, venturing into the realm of “multi-dimensional pushing” and other fictions elements shifts the work into the “soft” sci-fi domain. One could take a snippet of a work and say “ooh look this is real world science” and then take another section and say “oh now it’s fantasy” that is not both a non-fantasy and fantasy book, it is simply a fantasy book (does that make sense) – Edlothiad Oct 27 '17 at 16:06
  • @Edlothiad - No, I understand what you are saying; I, respectfully, disagree. It's a definition decision, as to what Hard and Soft SciFI are, but I still think it's not uncommon to find a transition from one to another inside of the same work. RAH did it by questioning reality and deciding that made the Hard side Moot after the question was asked. But other novels just change their focus. Again, we're not really disagreeing -- it's that the question itself is somewhat soft, and the terms aren't defined. Really, the question is 'are the definitions of Hard and Soft mutually exclusive.' – K-H-W Oct 27 '17 at 16:11

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