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Thread: Dimensions of Science Fiction - Hard to Soft, Optimism to Pessimism

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    Dimensions of Science Fiction - Hard to Soft, 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.
    • Hard: a work "takes great care in accurately presenting then-known scientific facts".
    • Soft: a work "often and casually violates our understanding of science as it was know at the time of its creation".

    • Optimistic/Utopian: a work's main message is "positive and optimistic towards science and technology or that it portrays a utopian future as a direct result of that".
    • Warning/Dystopian: a work's main message is "a warning against the dangers of science and technology or that it portrays a dystopian future as a direct result of that".

    There is another sort of hard vs. soft distinction.
    • Hard: nuts-and-bolts science fiction.
    • Soft: psychological and sociological science fiction.


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

    • "Present Day Tech" -- Cutting edge Present Day Tech, some developments and speculation, but nothing major that has not been attained today (so no AI). Basic space exploration, very near future -- Technothrillers, Allen Steele's Orbital Decay
    • Ultra Hard (Diamond Hard) -- Plausible developments of contemporary technologies - AI, Constrained Nanotech, DNI, Interplanetary colonisation, Genetically engineered lifeforms. Nothing that conflicts with the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc as currently understood -- William Gibson, Neil Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" Trilogy, Robert Forward
    • Very Hard -- Plausible developments of provocative contemporary ideas, bot nothing that conflicts with the known laws of physics, information theory, etc - Assembler Nanotech, Nano-Goo, Uploads, Interstellar colonisation, Relativistic ships, vacuum-adapted life -- Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Greg Benford's Galactic Center series, Stephen Baxter's Manifold Series, GURPS Transhuman Space
    • Plausibly Hard -- The above but with the addition of some very speculative themes, some of which may well turn out to be impossible, others may be possible. Requires some modification of current understanding, but nothing that is logically impossible, or has been conclusively proved to be impossible (so no FTL without time travel) - Wormholes, Reactionless Drive, Sub-nanotech (Femto-, Plank, etc), Domain Walls, exotic matter, FTL drive with time travel, etc. -- Stephen Baxter's Xeelee universe, Greg Bear's Forge of God series, Orion's Arm
    • Firm -- As realistic as the above categories were it not for unrealistic/impossible plot devices (e.g. FTL without time travel paradoxes), although these are kept to a minimum as much as possible -- Asimov's "Foundation" Series, "Giants" series by Hogan, Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky
    • Medium -- Similar to the above but with a larger number of unrealistic plot devices; e.g. FTL without real explanation (or with pseudo-explanation), alien biota in some instances very similar to terragen life, psionics, a great many alien civilizations. However still preserves plot and worldbuilding consistency, and the science is good and consistent -- Niven's "Known Space" series, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Banks' "Culture" novels, David Brin's "Uplift" series, Frank Herbert's Dune, Traveller RPG
    • Soft -- A number of unscientific themes - e.g. aliens as anthropomorphic "furries", handwavium disintegrator guns, Alien Cultures and psychology all extremely uniform, and so on. However, still retains story consistency -- Various TV series: Babylon 5, Farscape, Andromeda, Matrix, StarGate for the most part
    • Very Soft -- As above but either even more unscientific elements (humanoid of the week, lifeless planets with breathable atmosphere, etc), and story with less consistency -- Various TV and movie series; for the most part the Star Trek Canon and Star Wars Canon
    • Mushy Soft -- As above but even more unscientific (alien races never before encountered speak perfect English without a translator, animals too large to stand in Earth gravity (Godzilla), weapons that make energy beams without putting energy in, interstellar travel without FTL or centuries long voyage, mutants with super energy powers, etc) -- Godzilla, Comic Book Superheros, badly written TV sci fi, elements of some franchises

    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.


    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.


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

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post


    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.

    So how does your favorite science fiction rate along these dimensions?
    If we can outlast and survive our follies here on Earth, in time I believe we will probably achieve most that is allowed by the laws of physics and GR.
    Some of these advances maybe at least a few millenia away.

    2001; A Space Odyssey is my all time favourite sci/fi movie and book
    Then in no particular order I would put
    * The Day the Earth Stood Still: [original version]
    * Forbidden Planet:
    * Contact:
    * Mission To Mars:
    * War of the Worlds: [original version]
    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”
    ― Carl Sagan

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    I prefer the second meaning of Hard and Soft. Stephen Baxter writes hard SF; Ursula LeGuin writes soft SF. They are both good, intelligent writers who write about different things.

    For the first meaning, I would prefer the terms Strict and Relaxed. If, partway through plotting their story, two authors realise they need FTL, the Strict author changes the plot to do without the FTL drive, and Relaxed author simply makes FTL possible. The Strict author is not necessarily writing a better story, but if in doubt I would favour the strict one over the relaxed one.

    For the spectrum of realism, I prefer not to go below medium when I'm reading, and I'm prepared to go a bit below when watching films and TV because there is so little choice. I tend to avoid the Mushy Soft when I can, and loathe it when I come across it unintentionally. For instance, I hated the Doctor Who story The Impossible Planet because it was about black holes and the writers knew nothing about black holes but spent some screen time lecturing the audience with their wrong ideas about black holes. This hurts story. If you're going to write about something you should at least care about it.

    Generally, story is the important thing for me, and I don't mind if my SF is Medium or Ultra Hard or anywhere in between as long as it has characters I can relate to doing interesting stuff, in a story with atmosphere, surprises, maybe some scary bits and some funny bits.

    I think there are a few SF writers whose work doesn't readily fit into any of the categories listed here. J.G. Ballard (Crash, High Rise) and Philip K. Dick (most of his stuff).

    As to optimism vs pessimism... well I'm British, so naturally I tend towards pessimism!

    Finally, don't forget that the printed word and TV and movies aren't the only media for SF. There's also audio, often overlooked, alas. Straight readings, dramatisations of novels, and original material written for the audio medium.

    For straight readings, check out Audible.com. A lot of books and short stories have been read by professional readers, including some recent work.

    For dramatisations, few can equal the quality of the BBC. Print-adapted audio plays I've enjoyed include The Midwich Cuckoos, Childhood's End, Solaris, The Time Machine, RUR, A Clockwork Orange. I also enjoy fantasy (The Wizard of Earthsea, The Lord of the Rings) and historical (The Eagle of the Ninth).

    For original, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy started as a radio series. Stephen Gallagher and Tanith Lee have written for radio (An Alternative to Suicide, The Silver Sky). Big Finish has an astonishing output, mainly original Doctor Who plays, although they are somewhat unimaginative, consisting mainly of aliens wanting to take over the Earth for no good reason.

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    I tend to like techno-thrillers, hard science fiction and strangely, mushy soft science fiction.

    Techno-thrillers - Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, but not all of them. The first book of Rainbox Six was good and plausible, but jumped the shark in other novels. Red Storm Rising plausibly presented the F-117 prior to the first pictures of the plane.

    Hard - The first book of any Robert Forward series. I liked Flight of the Dragonfly best.

    Mushy - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Bill the Galactic Hero, and a few other comedies. For non-comedy mush - Harlan Ellison*. Ellison is my favorite writer, but he is brutal. (*edit - I guess he wanders the field as an editor, I seem to recall Harlan's World: Medea was pretty hard depending on the author.)

    Where does Alistair Reynolds fall? I liked all of his books. Octavia Butler is also very good, but I am not entirely sure where she is on the chart.
    Solfe, Dominus Maris Pavos.

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    I wouldn't call Hitch Hiker's at all mushy. To my mind, mushy suggests both ignorance and disregard of science. Adams was generally at least aware of what he was doing. Aliens speaking English: Addressed in a big way with the Babel Fish, along with consideration of what effect the Babel Fish might have on society and people's belief systems. Travelling to other star systems: Addressed. Travellers used hyperspace, and later the improbability drive. Effects of exposure to vacuum: An important plot point early in the series.

    Granted he was playing for laughs nearly all of the time, but the comedy was remarkably intelligent. He generally knew the tropes he was playing with, too (the time travel paradoxes implied by multiple visits to the Restaurant at the End of the Unverse, and the towel caught in the lava flow; the superevolving species).

    With Douglas Adams, the sillier it got, the more real it felt.

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    There is a practical point of plot and story over hardness of science.

    Clearly, Adams was aware of both science and the type of things people in science do. He simply didn't use the facts. He instead laid out the facts as a vehicle for humor. You have to be pretty science savvy to make the experts laugh about themselves.

    Firefly toyed with the idea. They obscure FTL travel to the point you couldn't say for sure it was happening. Lasers weapons were amazing, but wildly impractical to own or use. A lot of time, the main characters didn't have a clue as to what was even possible. The line by Wash was classic:

    Wash: "That sounds like science fiction..."
    Zoe: "Dear. We live on a space ship."
    Wash: "So?"
    Solfe, Dominus Maris Pavos.

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    In that case I would add a category: Knowingly irreverent.

    As opposed to, say, Russell T. Davies: Doesn't actually understand what he thinks he's satirising. Heck, he doesn't even understand satire.

    Or perhaps we could label Adams as Intelligently playful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    As opposed to, say, Russell T. Davies: Doesn't actually understand what he thinks he's satirising. Heck, he doesn't even understand satire.
    olo... er, LOL!
    Solfe, Dominus Maris Pavos.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I prefer the second meaning of Hard and Soft. Stephen Baxter writes hard SF; Ursula LeGuin writes soft SF. They are both good, intelligent writers who write about different things.

    For the first meaning, I would prefer the terms Strict and Relaxed. If, partway through plotting their story, two authors realise they need FTL, the Strict author changes the plot to do without the FTL drive, and Relaxed author simply makes FTL possible. The Strict author is not necessarily writing a better story, but if in doubt I would favour the strict one over the relaxed one.
    I like that -- strict vs. relaxed.

    Even if one has FTL transport and communication, there's a strict vs. relaxed dimension in them.

    The most strict is to recognize that FTL can produce time travel, going backwards in time. That's a consequence of relativity, and it's easy to see in the flat-spacetime limit. A FTL spaceshp would travel on a spacelike trajectory, and it's possible to observe that spaceship going backwards in time with appropriate motion relative to it, like trying to catch up with it.

    Here's how it works mathematically.

    Imagine an object that has moved to position x in time t. Now try to catch up with it at speed v. The object's position x' and time t' that one observes are given by the appropriate Lorentz boost:

    t' = g*(t - v*x/c2)
    x' = g*(x - v*t)
    g = 1/sqrt(1 - (v/c)2)

    For |x| << c*|t| and v << c, one gets the Newtonian limit:
    t' = t
    x' = x - v*t

    for x = c*t, one gets

    t' = g*(1-v/c)*t
    x' = g*(1-v/c)*(c*t)
    x'/t' = c also

    So let's take t = 0, an instantaneous jump:
    t' = -g*v*x/c2
    x' = g*x

    For x > 0, t' < 0 -- you've observed the object going *backwards* in time!

    Even so, it's possible to restrict FTL so that one cannot do time travel. Imagine space-time divided up into non-intersecting spacelike surfaces, as coordinate systems usually do. If one's FTL travel is confined to one of these surfaces, then one avoids time travel. The next thing is how does one physically justify those surfaces? What in the structure of the Universe and its space-time would make one select some set of possible surfaces to restrict FTL travel to?

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    I'm not sure I like the scales provided or the distinction of hard as nuts and bolts and phsycological as soft. It sounds like it's attempting to make a distinction between what some people call hard science (physics, mathematics and engineering) and soft science (social science and related humanities). I think that's a completely different axis of distinction from what is normally referred to as "hard" in science fiction and so it shouldn't be used with regards to genre classification.

    I think of SF hardness as an axis of distinction regarding consistency. The story can be either consistent with our reality or consistent with the fictional reality. I'd suggest a bi-axial spectrum of degrees of Reality or Realness, from existing Tech to speculative Tech; and Degree of Consistency and Application, from tightly constrained (self-consistent and with consideration for effects on people and society) to very loose/fluffy/mushy (technobabble, forgotten next week, ignorant of effects on society).

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    So you are proposing an additional dimension, one which may be called quality of worldbuilding. Including coherence, avoidance of technobabble, good extrapolation.

    Coherence may be measured by the amount of retconning necessary to make a storyline coherent. Incoherence is an especially big problem for serial works, especially long-running series worked on by many people.

    Technobabble? Like
    There could be the excitement of a last-minute failure in the framistan and the hero can be described as ingeniously designing a liebestraum out of an old baby carriage at the last minute and cleverly hooking it up to the bispallator in such a way as to mutonate the karrogel.
    Bad extrapolation? Like
    "The automobile came thundering down the stretch, its mighty tires pounding, and its tail assembly switching furiously from side to side, while its flaring foam-flecked air intake seemed rimmed with oil." Then, when the car has finally performed its task of rescuing the girl and confounding the bad guys, it sticks its fuel intake hose into a can of gasoline and quietly fuels itself.
    How one might write about cars in 1880, as imagined by Isaac Asimov ("Future? Tense!", ''From Earth to Heaven'', Isaac Asimov on Science Fiction: the Reaction, not the Action)

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    I like that -- strict vs. relaxed.

    Even if one has FTL transport and communication, there's a strict vs. relaxed dimension in them.

    The most strict is to recognize that FTL can produce time travel, going backwards in time. That's a consequence of relativity, and it's easy to see in the flat-spacetime limit. A FTL spaceshp would travel on a spacelike trajectory, and it's possible to observe that spaceship going backwards in time with appropriate motion relative to it, like trying to catch up with it.

    Here's how it works mathematically.

    Imagine an object that has moved to position x in time t. Now try to catch up with it at speed v. The object's position x' and time t' that one observes are given by the appropriate Lorentz boost:

    t' = g*(t - v*x/c2)
    x' = g*(x - v*t)
    g = 1/sqrt(1 - (v/c)2)

    For |x| << c*|t| and v << c, one gets the Newtonian limit:
    t' = t
    x' = x - v*t

    for x = c*t, one gets

    t' = g*(1-v/c)*t
    x' = g*(1-v/c)*(c*t)
    x'/t' = c also

    So let's take t = 0, an instantaneous jump:
    t' = -g*v*x/c2
    x' = g*x

    For x > 0, t' < 0 -- you've observed the object going *backwards* in time!

    Even so, it's possible to restrict FTL so that one cannot do time travel. Imagine space-time divided up into non-intersecting spacelike surfaces, as coordinate systems usually do. If one's FTL travel is confined to one of these surfaces, then one avoids time travel. The next thing is how does one physically justify those surfaces? What in the structure of the Universe and its space-time would make one select some set of possible surfaces to restrict FTL travel to?
    I love writing stories about time travel, and I can see why these stories tend not to be very hard science fiction.

    In one cluster of stories, I have accepted the fact that causality is not possible with FTL. So what keeps the characters from abusing the technology? Superstition, each person believes they will die if they encounter themselves. The mechanism of death and doom is "as I, the character perceives it", so there are hundreds of personal narratives of what could happen despite what "science says". In fact, there maybe no actual problem with interacting with oneself from scientific standpoint, but they still won't do it willingly.

    This likely falls on the silly side of the spectrum even though it is important from the plot perspective.
    Solfe, Dominus Maris Pavos.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    I'm not sure I like the scales provided or the distinction of hard as nuts and bolts and phsycological as soft. It sounds like it's attempting to make a distinction between what some people call hard science (physics, mathematics and engineering) and soft science (social science and related humanities). I think that's a completely different axis of distinction from what is normally referred to as "hard" in science fiction and so it shouldn't be used with regards to genre classification.
    I don't think it is a completely different axis of distinction. When people talk of Hard SF, they generally mean the likes of Niven, Baxter and Egan, who tend to write about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects (though not exclusively). And I have heard the term Soft used to describe sociological SF.

    If there is a value judgement involved here ("Hard SF is the real stuff whereas Soft SF is the touchy-feely frilly-handkerchief stuff") then it probably reflects the attitudes the same people have towards the hard and soft sciences. To my mind, the hard and soft sciences are both valid areas of endeavour... some days. Other days I think sociology is wishy-washy pretend science, depending what mood I'm in.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    I think of SF hardness as an axis of distinction regarding consistency. The story can be either consistent with our reality or consistent with the fictional reality. I'd suggest a bi-axial spectrum of degrees of Reality or Realness, from existing Tech to speculative Tech; and Degree of Consistency and Application, from tightly constrained (self-consistent and with consideration for effects on people and society) to very loose/fluffy/mushy (technobabble, forgotten next week, ignorant of effects on society).
    I think this is a very useful distinction, but I would not recommend the words Hard and Soft here because there's enough confusion with them already. I'd suggest something more descriptive such as Real-world based rules vs Self-contained rules.

    I'm reminded of the early computer game Boulder Dash, which had its own very simple laws of physics which were unlike our own but were applied consistently throughout the game. Once you'd grasped these laws, you could meet the challenge of the game.

    I'm also reminded of Bob Shaw's trilogy that began with The Ragged Astronauts. In one scene some characters discuss the fact that the ratio between a circle's circumference and its diameter is exactly three, and they go on to speculate how different the universe might be if pi was an irrational number. The reader was intended to understand this to be a message from Bob Shaw: "Please note that I have taken a few liberties with science in the interest of telling a good story. The stuff about pi being 3 is to indicate that it's set in a slightly different version of the universe, where things might happen exactly as I describe."

    Coming back to the bi-axis, I like the tight-loose pair, but I'd prefer something else for existing-speculative, because speculative can include the unknown-but-perfectly-possible. I'd prefer something like actual-notional, or actual-alternative.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    I love writing stories about time travel, and I can see why these stories tend not to be very hard science fiction.

    In one cluster of stories, I have accepted the fact that causality is not possible with FTL. So what keeps the characters from abusing the technology? Superstition, each person believes they will die if they encounter themselves. The mechanism of death and doom is "as I, the character perceives it", so there are hundreds of personal narratives of what could happen despite what "science says". In fact, there maybe no actual problem with interacting with oneself from scientific standpoint, but they still won't do it willingly.

    This likely falls on the silly side of the spectrum even though it is important from the plot perspective.
    This sort of thing depends on what sort of story you want to tell. You could make it thoroughly realistic, or you could gloss over the inconvenient bits as you see fit.

    In Stanislav Lem's Solaris, IIRC, we aren't actually told how long it takes to travel from Earth to Solaris. (I've been meaning to read the more recent translation, which includes bits that are missing from the generally-available version.) We know various scientific teams have been to the planet and back, but we're not told if they travelled at near-lightspeed to get there, and returned to find their grandchildren are older than them. It wasn't what the story was about. (In the Tarkovsky film it was understood that the main character would not see his father again, but that might have been the case even if the tour was only a year.)

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    I've thought of how to do time travel with FTL, and I call it "time tacking", after the sailing maneuver.

    Start at the Earth (or wherever). Go into outer space, go backward by velocity v with a rocket. Then with an instantaneous FTL drive, go forward by distance D in your coordinates. In Earth coordinates, you'll have traveled distance D/sqrt(1-(v/c)2) ad time - v*D/c2/sqrt(1-(v/c)2) You'll still be traveling Earth-relative velocity of backward v. Use your rocket again to go forward by v. With that FTL drive, go backward by D/sqrt(1-(v/c)2). You'll arrive at the Earth at time - v*D/c2 + rocket time.

    One can also do time tacking forward in time -- reverse the direction of v.

    Time tacking can also work for finite-velocity FTL -- for it to work, the FTL drive must be capable of speeds greater than c2/v.

    Working out the numbers, time tacking does not get you very much time travel. Let's see you go 1 parsec by FTL and velocity 3 km/s, a reasonable figure for a rocket. I find only 1030 s, about 17 minutes. Traveling 1 kiloparsec gets you 17 days, and traveling 1 megaparsec gets you 33 years.

    One can avoid using a rocket by traveling in part of an orbit. The Earth orbits the Sun at about 30 km/s, but it takes half a year to reverse direction. A low-Earth-orbit satellite travels at about 7.5 km/s, but it reverses direction in a little less than an hour. So all one needs to do is go near a star or a planet and let it reverse your direction.

    Using orbits for time tacking has another problem: the relative velocities of the point of origin and the target star. For stars near the Sun, the average velocity dispersion ranges from about 15 km/s for young stars and 40 km/s for old disk stars, and the Sun's velocity with respect to the "Local Standard of Rest" is about 13 km/s. However, galactic rotation is a big problem for the more distant stars in our Galaxy; the Sun orbits at about 220 km/s. Other galaxies are even worse.


    So to make time tacking work, one's FTL drive must be able to produce a sizable relative velocity or delta-V.

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    Solaris is one of the stories I "did wrong". I saw a snippet of the George Clooney film and turned it off before I was injured. Later I watched the 1972 Russian version and found that to be much better than the snippets of the later movie. I should have gone back and read the book, but never did.

    In all the tries I have made on my story, I found that it is easy to avoid the silly only to make an assumption that seems to make sense at the time, but actually ends in a massive plot hole. I suspect that this is where many Star Trek stories fall apart and become unsatisfying if study in too much detail. If taken as delivered, they are actually very good and enjoyable from a character building perspective. Now if I was as good as a Star Trek writer, I am sure my story would all work out... but I'm not.
    Solfe, Dominus Maris Pavos.

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    I'll now consider the effects of gravity on FTL travel. The simplest hypothesis is that a FTL spaceship will travel on a geodesic if its FTL motion is unadjusted. A geodesic is a generalization of a straight line for curved space-time. I'll be using the approximations typically used for light in weak gravity.

    First, the space-time metric.
    dT2 = (1 + 2V/c2)dt2 - (1/c2)*(1 - 2gV/c2)(dx)2
    for proper type T, coordinate time t, space coordinates x, gravitational potential V = sum of - GM/R, and GR-alternative fudge factor g (GR value: 1).
    I'm keeping c, though in theoretical work, one usually sets c = 1. g can be interpreted as (amount of space curvature) / (amount of time curvature).

    T is for timelike trajectories, it's S*sqrt(-1) where S is for spacelike (FTL) trajectories, and some further trickery for lightlike (null) trajectories.

    One tries to find an extreme value of T between points, and using the Euler-Lagrange equations, one finds
    (d/dT)((1 + 2V/c2)(dt/dT)) = 0
    (d/dT)((1 - 2gV/c2)(dx/dT)) + DV*((dt/dT)2 + (g/c2)(dx/dT)2) = 0
    (1 + 2V/c2)(dt/dT)2 - (1/c2)*(1 - 2gV/c2)(dx/dT)2 = 1

    In the Newtonian limit, one finds t = T and (d2x/dT2) + DV = 0
    as one would expect. Let's now integrate it in the impulse limit, what one uses for light near the Sun. A straight line with a perturbation. Without gravity,
    dt/dT = u0 = 1/sqrt(1 - (v/c)2)
    |dx/dT| = u = v/sqrt(1 - (v/c)2)
    I'll let s = u*T be a travel distance. That'll get around problems for timelike vs. lightlike vs. spacelike.
    (dt/ds) = (1/v)*(1 - 2V/c2)
    t = t0 + (1/v)*(s - 2/c2*integral(V,s))

    (d/ds)((1 - 2gV/c2)dx/ds) = - (1/v2 + g/c2)*DV
    dx/ds = (1 + 2gV/c2)*v/v - (1/v2 + g/c2)*integral(DV,s)
    x = x0 + (v/v)*(s + 2g/c2*integral(V,s)) - (1/v2 + g/c2)*integral(integral(DV,s),s)

    From these equations, one gets the time delay and deflection for light in a gravitational field.

    For a FTL spaceship, s is the distance according to its internal mechanisms. So a gravitational field will make it offset, and we can calculate how much. It's around (vorb/c)2*rorb ~ rblack-hole for some orbit around the object. So near stars and planets, this effect won't be much of a problem, while it will cause offsets about 10-6 times the size of our Galaxy when traveling over much of its size. That's about 10 days by light ray.

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    I've never read ''Solaris'' or any of Stanislaw Lem's other stories.

    Let's see where we are at so far.
    • Nuts-and bolts -- psychological, sociological
    • Our world behavior -- imagined world behavior
    • Coherent world -- incoherent world
    • Optimism -- pessimism


    World incoherence:
    • Inadequate extrapolation, like cars as mechanical horses
    • Poor continuity
    • Technobabble


    The absurdity of cars as mechanical horses I'm sure is self-evident to all of us, but one can find many similar absurdities about various other technologies in various science-fiction stories.

    As to optimism vs. pessimism, IA's invention of the Three Laws of Robotics fits right in. He got tired of pessimistic robot stories and he wanted to write more optimistic ones.

    As to pessimistic SF, some often-mentioned ones are 1984 and Brave New World. However, 1984 is essentially present-day tech inspired by Stalinism, complete with Big Brother's mustache and Emmanuel Goldstein = Leon Trotsky. Brave New World I'd call at least Plausibly Hard in technology, though it isn't exactly very nuts-and-bolts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I don't think it is a completely different axis of distinction. When people talk of Hard SF, they generally mean the likes of Niven, Baxter and Egan, who tend to write about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects (though not exclusively). And I have heard the term Soft used to describe sociological SF.
    That's not the way I've ever understood it from the context of discussions I've had here and elsewhere. Until the post I responded to, I've never seen the distinction of Hard v. Soft (SF) described as technology-oriented v. character-oriented. It's always been Hard = technology accurate to known reality and soft = imaginary tech based on no rules or broken rules or new rules.

    I tend to follow the TV Tropes view: Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
    Quote Originally Posted by TVTropes
    Speculative Fiction fanatics are always raving about how "hard" the science is in various stories — but it's not like you can rub a story with a piece of quartz and see if it leaves a scratch on the plot. So what is "hardness" in SF? Why do some people want it? And how do we put a number to it?

    Beginning with the first question: "Hard" Science Fiction is firmly grounded in reality, with few fantastic flights of fancy not justified by Science. "Soft" Sci Fi is more flexible on the rules. Even the fantastical aspects of the story will show a divide — in hard SF, they operate through strict, preferably mathematical, laws, where in soft SF they work in whatever way suits the story best. What this leads to for hard SF is a raised bar for the amount of research the writer must put into the story, and usually this is shown quite clearly.
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    If there is a value judgement involved here ("Hard SF is the real stuff whereas Soft SF is the touchy-feely frilly-handkerchief stuff") then it probably reflects the attitudes the same people have towards the hard and soft sciences. To my mind, the hard and soft sciences are both valid areas of endeavour... some days. Other days I think sociology is wishy-washy pretend science, depending what mood I'm in.
    Fair enough, but I think the important distinction that makes it a science is the method employed, not the confidence, accuracy or precision of the results.

    I think this is a very useful distinction, but I would not recommend the words Hard and Soft here because there's enough confusion with them already.
    On the contrary, it uses the same Hard v. Soft distinction as I've always known it.

    I'd suggest something more descriptive such as Real-world based rules vs Self-contained rules.
    That's part of the Reality axis. The Consistency and Application Axis is about how well the rules are followed in the fiction, whether the rules are real or imaginary. The graph has four basic quadrants, so if you wanted to place "a few Fictional but cohesive self-contained rules", then you would put it in the lower left. If it was something like IA's AI rules of Robotics, you might put it close to the line on the left. If it's about time travel, with all the paradox issues addressed, you would put it in the far lower left. If it's Dr. Who style-time travel, then it would be towards the lower right.

    Coming back to the bi-axis, I like the tight-loose pair, but I'd prefer something else for existing-speculative, because speculative can include the unknown-but-perfectly-possible. I'd prefer something like actual-notional, or actual-alternative.
    If something is unknown but perfectly possible, then it'd be towards the middle of the spectrum between existing and speculative. The Reality axis between Existing and Speculative is a matter of degree from our reality (not the fictional reality), not a matter of value. As far as the scale is concerned, it doesn't matter why you make a departure from reality, only that you do.

    I'm reminded of the early computer game Boulder Dash, which had its own very simple laws of physics which were unlike our own but were applied consistently throughout the game. Once you'd grasped these laws, you could meet the challenge of the game.

    I'm also reminded of Bob Shaw's trilogy that began with The Ragged Astronauts. In one scene some characters discuss the fact that the ratio between a circle's circumference and its diameter is exactly three, and they go on to speculate how different the universe might be if pi was an irrational number. The reader was intended to understand this to be a message from Bob Shaw: "Please note that I have taken a few liberties with science in the interest of telling a good story. The stuff about pi being 3 is to indicate that it's set in a slightly different version of the universe, where things might happen exactly as I describe."
    It sounds like these, since they use non-real-world physics but are applied consistently, would be the lower left.
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    Two of the axes are departure from our world's behavior and world coherence. They seem correlated in the OP's realism scale because it can be harder to maintain coherence with greater departure from our world.

    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Two of the axes are departure from our world's behavior and world coherence. They seem correlated in the OP's realism scale because it can be harder to maintain coherence with greater departure from our world.

    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.
    So, we'd tend to see a Main Sequence from the upper left to the lower right, with a few rare examples on the lower left, but a fair subset on the upper right, which might have a tendency to be related genre fiction, such as period-Punk, alternative history, detective stories, military or techno-thrillers, conspiracy fiction.
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    What would be top, down, left, and right here? I'm confused.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    What would be top, down, left, and right here? I'm confused.
    Did you look at the graphic I uploaded up-thread (post 10)? The vertical spectrum/scale is from real life tech on top to increasingly speculative tech as you go down. The horizontal spectrum/scale is from very consistently applied technology (including considerations for how it affects other aspects of that reality ,e.g. cars need parking lots) to increasingly loose explanation and application of technology as you move to the right.

    BTW, I did read the Wikipedia articles on Hard and Soft SF and see what you and PB were referring to. I must not have read them before because that makes it only the 2nd time I've seen the distinction between hard and soft SF applied like hard Science and soft science. I think that distinction could be useful, as more of a distinction between sub-genres, but it has nothing to do with the rigor applied to the research and development done by the author.
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    I see now.

    But I don't see how these would necessarily be top right: period-punk, alternative history, detective stories, military or techno-thrillers, conspiracy fiction. That's because your left-right dimension seems to me to be the quality of story-world building (high to low). It seems to me that the genres you listed can have careful story-world building.

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    I don't have much to add, except that C.J. Cherryh is almost unique in writing Hard Sociological SF. Most notably her Cyteen novels.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    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 wouldn't call Star Trek optimistic so much as hopeful (and then, more in some Star Trek series/movies, less in others). Very bad things happen in the Star Trek universe (WW III, for instance, on Earth). Things get better after WWIII for humans, but it's an earned hopeful future, and they work hard to keep it that way. Even in that hopeful future there are extreme dangers, much worse things have happened than WWIII to other worlds, and Earth itself has been almost destroyed a number of times over a couple of centuries.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    I see now.

    But I don't see how these would necessarily be top right: period-punk, alternative history, detective stories, military or techno-thrillers, conspiracy fiction. That's because your left-right dimension seems to me to be the quality of story-world building (high to low). It seems to me that the genres you listed can have careful story-world building.
    Right, I don't mean I would put the genre there necessarily, just that that is sometimes where specific stories end up. And it might be argued that those genres would have to be somewhat less constrained or else they would tend to trend towards actual history. I.E. investment in Steampunk tech in the real world (tightly consistent and real) would almost certainly rapidly shift to electrical and electronics like actually happened.
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