Jules Verne, a French writer, published Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870 describing the wonderful adventures of Captain Nemo and his electric submarine, the Nautilus. Over ten years later, James Franklin Waddington and his team built a vessel, dubbed the Nautilus, in 1886 that would be the first electric powered submarine.
Hard Science Fiction was a term coined in 1957 that was used to differentiate the ‘soft’ (social) sciences and the ‘hard’ (natural). Some of the requirements of hard sci-fi is that the story should try to be “…accurate, logical, credible and rigorous in its use of current scientific and technical knowledge about which technology, phenomena, scenarios and situations that are practically and/or theoretically possible.” (Wikipedia, Hard science fiction).
And that’s what so amazing about it.
This is a genre that I have found now, in my second life of reading. While branching away from the repetitive storylines of fantasy, I went back to my roots in modern sci-fi. Through books such as 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, I was introduced to the idea that a lot of the innovations of today could be theoretically advanced and applied within the story. In 2312, humans terraform asteroid interiors to create livable spaces depending on what the creator or client is looking for. Whole ecosystems live and thrive in their individual asteroid habitats.
Robinson’s solar system-wide scenery was based on what we know of the planets now and his speculation on who might inhabit the different planets and how could it possibly become habitable in the future. Near future if the title is any indication.
This genre is based in sciences that we already have now. Technology is being developed at the fastest rate in history and the implications and effects of these new findings are incalculable and unfathomable to us right now. That, for me, is part of what hard sci-fi is: speculation based in theoretical truths.
Star Trek has inspired many innovations from cell phones to ipads. Just as Verne did in the 1800’s, Gene Roddenberry wrote about theoretically possible things based on what he knew and could imagine. His stories influenced the way that we thought about communication; it became true because it existed in the realms of fiction.
But that’s not all that hard sci-fi does. It explores the ethical and philosophical implications of our current and potential future technologies. If this existed, then what would that mean for humanity? In Starfish by Peter Watts the story follows several humans who have been physically altered to survive deep sea conditions to maintain a thermal power plant. The novel explores the society that is capable of such transformations, those who undergo it, and the consequences of their decisions.
These are the types of questions that people have feared around all types of innovation throughout human history. And in the form of a story, these questions are addressed and explored in a safe, clean environment. We are able to see what not to do (and what to do, but mostly don’t let robots think for themselves) or what can happen if humans are given certain freedoms.
Hard sci-fi also teaches me as I read. I might not have had background information on any of the planets before I read 2312, but by the end, I felt like an expert on planets (except for pluto) and asteroids. By the end of the Ender’s Shadow trilogy, I felt like I fully understood the implications and ramifications that could come with faster than light travel and playing with the human genome.
Hard sci-fi is an underrepresented and underrated genre that teaches, speculates and philosophizes on human nature, all that we have accomplished in our history, and what we might accomplish in the future. I thank every expert that ever postulated on the what-ifs in life and wrote about it.
And to those that see things and have big dreams about what it could be, write about it! You never know who might read it and find that it holds the answers to all of their questions in the future.
One day, Verne had an idea. He wasn’t sure if it would work or not, but he fearlessly put it down on paper and used Captain Nemo as a vessel to tell his tale of the deep sea and how one would travel through it. Sixteen years later, someone applied his theory in practice and made it a reality. I hope to read all of our reader’s endeavors if they ever have an idea that hasn’t been thought of before. As Ms. Frizzle would say: ‘Ask questions, make mistakes, and get messy!”