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Old 13th November 2012, 08:19 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Hard Science Fiction Novels

Astronomy professor/writer Mike Brotherton picks his Ten Classic Hard Science Fiction Novels featuring Physics and Astronomy.

Concise list (the article has a nice intro/outro/brief-description-of-each):

1. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement
2. The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
3. Ringworld by Larry Niven
4. Dragonís Egg by Robert Forward
5. Timescape by Gregory Benford
6. The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle
7. Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
9. Contact by Carl Sagan
10. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

1, 2, 4, 7, 8, & 10 are some of my very favorites of any books. I wasn't as impressed as I apparently should have been by 3 but I've recently re-acquired it for another try and I have 6 in the TBR. I also wasn't as impressed by 5 as I apparently should have been but don't foresee giving it another chance any time soon and, as much esteem as I have for Sagan generally, I have little interest in 9. But overall, an excellent list, IMO. There are others I might add - and the author mentions some of the authors of them in the "people I missed" section - like almost everything Egan's written (though not all of that features "physics and astronomy") and Sheffield's Between the Strokes of Night and maybe Baxter's Ring. What does everybody else think and, most importantly, what would you add?

(Though this particular article is new, I feel sure there are other threads on this general topic and that I've even done at least one myself, but it's not in my last 100 threads and no searches turned up anybody else's either.)
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Old 13th November 2012, 08:53 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

I suppose it depends on what is meant by hard, but there are things in Ringword (a book that I enjoyed reading) that wouldn't meet my definition of hard (and I don't mean the lack of stability of the ring).
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Old 13th November 2012, 11:38 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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I also wasn't as impressed by 5 as I apparently should have been but don't foresee giving it another chance any time soon...
I've never been fond of Benford's prose either. Either too dry or too convoluted. I tend to avoid him.

Interesting that this guy's an astronomer, but has left Alastair Reynolds off the list. Almost any of his books would qualify as hard SF. Kim Stanley Robinson is another notable omission.
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Old 14th November 2012, 08:36 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

It's a pretty poor list - old books by white men. And neither the Heinlein nor the Haldeman are generally considered to be hard sf. As Paul McAuley points out in a recent blog post in answer to the list, the science in the books is all old science. Where's the new stuff? Not just Al Reynolds or Kim Stanley Robinson, but also Linda Nagata, Chris Moriarty, Joan Slonczewski, Geoffrey A Landis, G David Nordley...?
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Old 14th November 2012, 12:17 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

Agreed, Ian.
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Old 15th November 2012, 10:09 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

Hmm...not sure how Forever War is "hard SF."
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Old 15th November 2012, 10:42 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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I suppose it depends on what is meant by hard, but there are things in Ringword (a book that I enjoyed reading) that wouldn't meet my definition of hard (and I don't mean the lack of stability of the ring).
I can't remember - does that have the "lucky" girl in it? Or did you have something else in mind?

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I've never been fond of Benford's prose either. Either too dry or too convoluted. I tend to avoid him.

Interesting that this guy's an astronomer, but has left Alastair Reynolds off the list. Almost any of his books would qualify as hard SF. Kim Stanley Robinson is another notable omission.
Glad it's not just me with Benford. As far as Reynolds, it may at least partly be because he just doesn't feel like hard SF. He has a kind of gothic vibe that's antithetical to most hard SF and tends to make the science fictional things feel fantastic or metaphorical and background to the sociological/characterological stuff. Not saying he couldn't be there for something but just why I'm not surprised to see him missing. And, IMO, KSR's strengths are not at hard SF. The Mars trilogy is definitely (even, in ways, overly) hard SF (though still with lots of sociological/characterological concerns), but I don't think it's particularly good. But that's just me - keep the suggestions coming. It'd be great if the thread turned some people on to some books, whatever I or the list-maker would think. And especially if it turned me onto something I was unfamiliar with.

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Hmm...not sure how Forever War is "hard SF."
It doesn't do anything theoretically impossible that I recall and the plot hinges on time dilation. While it works as a metaphor for estrangement it's also a literal thing that's genuinely scientific and the book falls apart if you take it out. But I agree that it isn't the first thing that leaps to mind in the same way that, say, Mission of Gravity, Dragon's Egg, or Tau Zero (also with time dilation) do.
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Old 16th November 2012, 12:01 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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I can't remember - does that have the "lucky" girl in it? Or did you have something else in mind?
If you mean Teela Brown then yes it does. (I can't recall whether she was actually that lucky. Just because the Puppeteers think one can inherit luck, that doesn't mean it was true, even in the book.)

I haven't read the book for decades, however, but my general impression (looking back) is not one of a hard SF novel. Apart from anything else, there's FTL travel.
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Old 16th November 2012, 12:20 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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If you mean Teela Brown then yes it does. (I can't recall whether she was actually that lucky. Just because the Puppeteers think one can inherit luck, that doesn't mean it was true, even in the book.)
Yeah, that was her name. That's a good point - one of my big problems with Niven's whole universe was the Puppeteers generally, and the Teela part specifically but I took at as literally being part of the fictional furniture. If it was just a piece of Puppeteer weirdness and not intended to be a literal part of the structure of the universe, then that would help.

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I haven't read the book for decades, however, but my general impression (looking back) is not one of a hard SF novel. Apart from anything else, there's FTL travel.
Yeah - strictly speaking, that would disqualify it. If the FTL is either explained in some kind of attempt at a theoretical conceivability, like with pseudo-FTL "wormholes" or if it's just a single element of handwavium to get us to a scenario that is then rigorously explored then it can still be hard-SF-like (sorta pregnant). But I don't think Niven does the first and, as you noted in the first post, there are problems with the second. But maybe similar thinking is why it made Brotherton's list and why it didn't surprise me to see it on there.
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Old 17th November 2012, 09:41 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

I cant trust someone who puts Heinlein as low as nr.8, who is the best combo of Hard SF and storytelling ability i have read.

I have enjoyed most of those books i have read on the list. I have more trouble with today Hard SF authors,books. They are too often scientist and not storytellers in first place like say Heinlein,Clarke.
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Old 17th November 2012, 09:48 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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It's a pretty poor list - old books by white men. And neither the Heinlein nor the Haldeman are generally considered to be hard sf. As Paul McAuley points out in a recent blog post in answer to the list, the science in the books is all old science. Where's the new stuff? Not just Al Reynolds or Kim Stanley Robinson, but also Linda Nagata, Chris Moriarty, Joan Slonczewski, Geoffrey A Landis, G David Nordley...?


We know you think all new SF books are brilliant, surely it cant be that easy.

By White men? What do you mean? Is Stanley Robinson black or Asian? Not much difference today most of those names you mention are men. McAuley is known today for Techno thrillers, he hasnt written many Hard SF since his early works.

The Science in the books is all Old Science? The science in todays SF books will be old tommorow. Ancient history it will be to the next generation of authors. Also these kind of list are hardly laws, they are subjective.
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Old 17th November 2012, 10:21 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

I liked half of TIMESCAPE. I realized while reading it major sf novels like this can be divided into two parts: the Analog parts, and the Stephen King parts. Benford was truly exciting with the Analog parts, but fell flat with the rest. (See, I can be in depth when I need to.)
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Old 17th November 2012, 11:23 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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I cant trust someone who puts Heinlein as low as nr.8, who is the best combo of Hard SF and storytelling ability i have read.
I wondered about that myself at first, because they are numbered but he does say '[i]n no particular order'. It should have been a bullet-list.

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By White men? What do you mean? Is Stanley Robinson black or Asian? Not much difference today most of those names you mention are men. McAuley is known today for Techno thrillers, he hasnt written many Hard SF since his early works.
Good points. And, as much as I like Landis and Nordley, Landis published a single novel 12 years ago and Nordley has published a single novel three months ago from a micro-press. Nagata basically writes nanotech and Slonczewski basically writes biology. The topic is "Ten Classic Hard Science Fiction Novels featuring Physics and Astronomy", after all. And Reynolds isn't a black woman any more than Robinson and I fail to see how their being so would necessarily make their hard SF any better or worse.
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Old 18th November 2012, 12:48 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

Funny Charles Sheffield didn't make the list as he's one of those people who think hard sf is the only sf.

No Asimov? Surely he knew something about physics and astronomy.
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Old 18th November 2012, 09:33 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Hard Science Fiction Novels

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We know you think all new SF books are brilliant, surely it cant be that easy.
Not quite. I think a lot of old books are rubbish and are only held up as classics because of nostalgia.

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By White men? What do you mean? Is Stanley Robinson black or Asian? Not much difference today most of those names you mention are men. McAuley is known today for Techno thrillers, he hasnt written many Hard SF since his early works.
McAuley's last three novels were hard sf, so no, he's not known for technothrillers. He's actually written more hard sf novels than he has technothrillers. And yes, point taken that both he and KSR are white men. But my point was that the writer of the list could have looked a little further than the same old tired favourites everyone pulls out.

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The Science in the books is all Old Science? The science in todays SF books will be old tommorow. Ancient history it will be to the next generation of authors. Also these kind of list are hardly laws, they are subjective.
And twenty years from now, if cosmology or physics has fundamentally changed and someone puts together a list of hard sf novels featuring titles from the first decade of the 21st century... the same complaint would hold true. One of the draws of hard sf is the science, so to feature only books with old science would be like suggesting train stories where all the trains are steam-powered. (There's probably a better analogy than that, but you know what I mean.)

True, lists are subjective. But what's the point of putting together a list that just has the same old names in it? Everyone's heard of those books, everyone has probably read a good number of them. Why not a list of books that people might not have heard of, books that people can go look for and read? Sf fans are all too fond are pulling out lists of 60 year old books as if they define the genre. Imagine if every list of crime novels just had 10 books by Agatha Christie on it. It's just not helpful or a useful exercise.
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