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Old 01-14-2013, 11:21 AM   #1
lpetrich
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Dimensions of Science Fiction - Realism to Fantasy, Optimism to Pessimism

How hard is that SF? Pharyngula mentions a survey that someone once did, asking people to rate various science-fiction movies on two dimensions.

[copyrighted material removed, see note at bottom]

Grading Science Fiction for Realism goes into gory detail about the "scientific" hard-vs.-soft dimension.

[copyrighted material removed, see note at bottom]

Most visual-media SF is well on the soft side, it must be said.

Arthur C. Clarke's stories are well on the hard side:
  • Present-Day Tech: The Ghost from the Grand Banks (raising the Titanic)
  • Ultra Hard: Fountains of Paradise (space elevator - some nano for diamondoid materials, but completely plausible, rate of current development makes this possible in the very near future)
  • Plausibly Hard: Rama (megastructure spacecraft, logically explained), 2001 (both book and film) ultrahard science except for the monolith, etc.
The film is some of the hardest space-travel science fiction that's ever appeared in visual media.

Isaac Asimov's stories are at least Firm, and I'd rate his robot stories Ultra Hard, unless one counts the robots' positronic brains. However, their positronic nature is not necessary for the stories.


It seems like this realism axis can be split into two axes:
  • Our world behavior -- imagined world behavior
  • Coherent world -- incoherent world
World incoherence:
  • Inadequate extrapolation, like cars as mechanical horses
  • Poor continuity: lots of retconning necessary for good continuity
  • Technobabble
The more imagined a story world is, the more difficult it can be to keep that world coherent. Thus the two dimensions together.

That's not to say that it's a necessary correlation. It's possible to have a mundane sort of story with an incoherent story world, and it's possible to have complete fantasy with careful world building.


Turning to optimism vs. pessimism, Star Trek is notable for its optimism, for featuring a future where all of humanity and many other species can coexist and work together. I remember someone claiming that much of its competition features people on the run and being chased by various enemies.

I'd also say that IA's Foundation and robot stories are also on the optimistic side. In fact, IA invented the Three Laws of Robotics because he wanted to write fundamentally optimistic robot stories instead of all the pessimistic ones he had read about robots destroying their creators. Stories that further implied that we were not meant to build those robots.


So how does your favorite science fiction rate along these dimensions?

[lpetrich, I've trimmed out the bulk of quoted text that came directly from the sites you link to, as best as I could determine. I appreciate that you included the links and attribution, but that much text is an unacceptable use of material not belonging to you. In the future, please keep it down to a few short quotes to make your point; people will follow the links if interested. Thanks. --zanzjan]

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Old 01-14-2013, 08:48 PM   #2
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Somewhere around medium to soft, and neither opti- nor pessimistic. I used to also like both the Adamantine and Amorphous Murk types at the far ends of the scale, and used to read a lot of both Utopian and Dystopian ... but over time I've become bored with the hard/utopian end, and annoyed with the jello/dystopian end.

Also, IMO the authors who can make the middle grounds WORK are just generally better writers, and since I started writing, the editor in my head won't shut up.
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Old 01-14-2013, 10:30 PM   #3
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Old 01-15-2013, 05:01 AM   #4
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I find it humorous that psionics is in the Medium category, but mutants with superpowers is at mushy soft.

That said, I vastly prefer mushy soft to the others. Not only does it stand the test of time, since it doesn't rely on modern scientific understanding, it also is likely to be much more enjoyable due to the freedom inherent to being mushy. Being mushy makes it highly more likely to be internally consistent, as anything that is wrong according to modern understanding can be assumed to be a part of that universe, whereas if a hard scifi is wrong in even the tiniest of things, it all comes crashing down like a deck of cards. That it tries to be realistic but fails at it, is worse than being unrealistic but successful, IMO. If everything has to be researched to excruciating detail, there are bound to be parts that have been overlooked and thus the illusion is shattered. If the world being represented is clearly unrealistic, smaller breaches in realism aren't noticed and are accepted at the premise.
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Old 01-25-2013, 08:34 AM   #5
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On the softer stories standing the test of time, could that also be from the real world not developing the way that many SF stories had anticipated?

Like disembodied artificial brains (computers) instead of anthropomorphic robots, and AI that's much less than many of the more optimistic predictions of decades past.

However, SF writers were quick to write computers into their stories when real-life ones started appearing.
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Old 01-25-2013, 09:06 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
However, SF writers were quick to write computers into their stories when real-life ones started appearing.
Heh... I'm a computer nut of sorts (build 'em, collect 'em, fix 'em; fearsome software beta-tester) but my MC in my space opera (whose people have been in space almost 13,000 years) at best dislikes computers, and at worst breaks them. I don't know how that happened!
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