Hard Science Fiction vs. Soft Science Fiction
There are two main hard vs. soft science fiction definitions. Just Google it to see.
Hard vs. soft science fiction definition No. 1:
Hard science fiction focuses on the hard sciences.
Soft science fiction focus on the soft sciences.
Hard vs. soft science fiction definition No. 2:
Hard science fiction focuses on the science.
Soft science fiction focuses on the story or characters.
I argue the two definitions are really the same.
First, a little terminology. “Hard science” is one of the natural or physical sciences. Physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy fall under hard science. “Soft science” is a field that deals with humans. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science are examples of soft science.
If you focus on the story or the character in a science fiction setting, you must focus on one of the soft sciences. The whole point of using a science fiction world is to explore the possibilities of the what-ifs. You really have two options while exploring a what-if: focus on the (hard) science behind it or how it affects the humans (or other sentient forms). Hard science or soft science. Science or story and characters.
Many people think the two definitions are contradictory because of how definition two generally continues. “Soft science fiction does not always bother to use realistic technology, relying on black boxes and vague definitions.” How can something which, by the first definition, focuses on science not bother to be realistic? But if you look at the actual definition of soft science, you will see it focuses on the humans themselves, not the technology. While focusing on science, it doesn’t focus on technology.
When you hear “science” you automatically think of the hard sciences. Lab coats and test tubes and microscopes come to the mind’s eyes. When I first read the definition of soft science, I thought, “Those are sciences? Oh wait, what else could they be. . .” So we skip over “soft” and see “focus on science.” Mixed messages!
As you can see now, the second definition relies on what you automatically think of when you hear “science.”
So, we could redefine definition two to say:
Hard science fiction focuses on the hard science.
Soft science fiction focuses on the humans or the effects on humans.
Sounds like definition one now, doesn’t it?