A little while ago I wrote a post about hard science fiction and its characteristics, and I wanted to do the same with soft science fiction. Because the two couldn’t be more different, fundamentally. To recap, hard science fiction is science fiction where the science and tech could theoretically happen in the real world. So what is soft science fiction? How does it work?
Soft science fiction isn’t just science fiction that doesn’t follow scientific rules. It focuses on the “soft” sciences, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and more. However, humanity takes precedence over the science a lot of the time. The emotional, characters interacting in a setting with science fiction elements, resides with the technical, sometimes overtaking it. Authors don’t look for as much accuracy with the science. If you’re interested in writing in the genre or just want to know more about it, take a look at the post below.
Unlike hard science fiction, soft science fiction takes a look at “soft” sciences, sciences that deal with analysis, emotion, and thought, focusing on humanity, interaction, feeling, and more. Basically, these sciences, such as philosophy and anthropology, examine what can’t be measured in inches or tested in a tube.
Soft science fiction tackles major concepts in the soft science areas while also focusing on political, social, or emotional issues that we experience as human beings. For example, Fahrenheit 451 takes place in a future with futuristic elements, but the main focus of the book includes themes on society, thought, and censorship.
Additionally, another basic definition involves using science fiction elements in a story that makes sense in the world you create. Think of cool fictional concepts that require technology but haven’t been achieved in real life yet, such as telepathy or teleportation. Think of your basic Star Trek episode. These elements are fictional, not currently based on any accurate, proven science, so you can’t exactly experiment to see if the science checks out. But when built into the world well, the technology makes sense to your readers and it makes sense in the story.
The (Lack of?) Science Behind It
Like I said, you can’t exactly measure soft science in inches. So what do you study and research? Luckily, there are a few fields you can take a look at if you’re interested in the soft sciences. (Once again, Wikipedia can be your friend here if you want to get the basics down). Here are a few examples:
Philosophy – the study of our existence, our reality, and the nature of knowing things. Here is another source to get you started.
Anthropology – the study of humanity, mainly how culture and society develop (great for basic worldbuilding!). Check out this source here for more information.
Sociology – the study of how a society works and how people structure it. Check out this source here.
What do they all have in common? Well for starters these fields all have thought, method, and analysis behind them, but they’re not as easy to figure out through experiment. Unlike hard science, you kind of have to take a look at your own thoughts (scary) and try to understand what you want to get from these studies. But we’re writers! We’re used to thinking for ourselves and coming up with new ideas and arguments. Maybe when you start writing, you’ll come across something, something that no one’s talking about that you want to talk about. Just remember the quote from E. B. White: “Don’t write about Man; write about a man.” Keep your ideas in the background without preaching. Let your readers study for themselves.
How to Write It
But! I hear you say, That’s all about writing with soft science. What about soft science fiction?! That’s where the other definition I mentioned comes in. Soft science fiction has a sci-fi setting, people, and world, without the technically accurate science. Speculative elements are prevalent, making up the society, or set in the future, or set in space. You can still get creative with your story. So if you’re a bit intimidated by all the science and physics going into hard sci-fi, don’t worry. Soft sci-fi can be much more freeing when you get creative with your own science and tech, and it’s another great genre to write in. Just remember below when you start writing.
1) Think about what you want to get across to your readers. Soft science fiction doesn’t come without its challenges too. But good stories are always deeper on the surface, and they tend to tell great truths. I’m not a mathematician, so hard sci-fi isn’t my forte, and I’m no philosopher, but I’ve still got something I want to talk about. Keep that in mind while building your sci-fi elements. What societal problems are there in the future or out in space? How do those problems inform our own?
2) Remember basic worldbuilding. Obviously, build societies and worlds that have their own rules that you abide by. Make it believable like you would any other story. Take a look at a bunch of different elements in science fiction and start creating a world that readers not only get invested in, but believe in as well. You want to cultivate that suspension of disbelief in your readers’ minds.
3) Keep it simple. Just like working with hard science fields or any other genre, don’t add too much. Let the story speak for itself, and don’t overwhelm your readers with too many of those elements (or too many of your ideas). I’m incredibly guilty of this (and who knows? I may even write a post about it!)
Below are some soft science fiction books to get you started.
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
Dying Inside – Robert Silverberg
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Exhalation – Ted Chiang
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
You can find more books here too!
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