Hard Science Fiction: What You Need to Know

The Science Behind Writing

If you’re new to the science fiction world, whether you want to write science fiction or you’re interested in reading major works in the genre, know that there’s a key distinction within the genre. I’m talking hard science fiction versus soft science fiction. I’ll just stick with hard science fiction today.

What exactly is hard science fiction and how does it work? What are its characteristics? Because if you’re interested in writing it, you need to know how to go about the science behind your story. This goes beyond making things up to put into your own world. You now have another world to think about. Ours. It’s not uncommon for those who write hard science fiction to have a background in any of the hard sciences, but don’t worry! Look below to understand what it is and how to get started writing it.

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The basic definition of hard science fiction is it’s a science fiction that deals with the hard sciences, such as physics, while ultimately striving to be as scientifically accurate as possible in a fictional setting. It also attempts to emulate reality and its scientific laws so that all technology described can, theoretically, exist in the real world. This differs from soft science fiction in that soft science fiction doesn’t strive to be accurate. It can include technology that wouldn’t be possible in the real world but still makes sense in the world created.

So the foundation of hard sci-fi is the science and technology prevalent, which can be overwhelming if you aren’t that knowledgeable in scientific fields. But don’t worry! We’re writers. We’re used to having to ask random questions to be accurate. Here’s a brief outline of the sciences used in hard sci-fi and resources for research.

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The Science Behind It

Hard science fiction draws from multiple fields of study. Sometimes works focus on one particular branch of science, such as physics. (They may also focus on mathematics, which can run into the mathematical fiction category. And if you know me, that’s a whole other thing I talk about. You can find one article here, though).

Now hear me out when I explain how to research these giant, complicated fields: Wikipedia is your friend. (*Gasp*) But think about it. It’s not like you’re doing this for an academic paper. You’re doing something creative for yourself. And Wikipedia is great at outlining the basic concepts of a field and sending you down the right path. In any case, though, here are some scientific fields, their basic definitions, and some places to research terms and study them overall.


The study of the physical processes and properties of a system, whether matter or energy (according to Merriam-Webster). Besides Wikipedia, Khan Academy also teaches physics, so you can learn as if you were in a classroom. This source also provides basic definitions of physics concepts to get you started.


The study of living things, including plants, humans, and other organisms. Khan Academy also teaches biology. This source also provides other resources for studying this field.


The study of how matter is structured, how its properties change, and what makes it up. As always Khan Academy offers resources on this topic. There’s also this source that provides a lot of basic terminology.


A branch of study that draws on math and science to build, design, and study the nature of machines and other applications. This source offers a lot of routes to study this topic.

Remember that you’re still free to be creative. Explore an idea you’ve come up with, then check to see if it theoretically makes sense in reality. After all, the technology you introduce in your world may not be invented yet.

How to Write It

Obviously, I’m not a mathematician. Or a linguist. But I do my research to sound credible when making up languages or introducing a mathematical concept. The same goes for if you’re studying physics or engineering for your hard sci-fi if you’re not a scientist. Personally, this is how I would go about it.

1) Know what you want to study specifically. If there’s one concept you want to explore, don’t waste your time getting distracted and overwhelmed by everything else. Just cut down and keep your goal in mind.

2) Write things down. You’re more likely to remember what research you want to include by writing down the concepts you’re learning and attaching it to where it should be introduced in your story. Bookmarking on your computer helps keep track of your articles as well.

3) Keep it simple. Introducing one accurate concept goes a long way for readers. You don’t have to overwhelm yourself or your readers with loads of information or terminology on a topic. Familiarize yourself with the basics then build on the complexity from there, but slowly. The best ideas can be basic ones.

Notable Works

If you’re interested in reading hard sci-fi, here are a few great examples below:

Foundation – Isaac Asimov

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Three Body Problem – Liu Cixin

Take a deep dive and explore the mechanics behind the story. What fields are explored? How is the technology in the story accurate in those fields? Don’t be afraid to do your research. That’s what writers do if they want to be credible, and if you’re serious about being a writer, you’ll take that extra step. And if you’re excited about writing hard SF, you won’t let any mountain get in your way. Happy researching!

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