By Richard C.
Start your Hard Science Fiction Checklist Challenge with a just-published and aptly-titled short story collection, Carbide Tipped Pens. Number 1 is called The Blue Afternoon that Lasted Forever, and there’s more intensity in its 13 pages than you’ve ever had before. Yes indeed, you’ll find it a work of Hard SF that’s quickly read but never forgotten.
For a classic route, try Fredrick Pohl’s story Day Million in Digital Rapture, or either James Blish’s Surface Tension or Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equation in a book called Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Solaris Rising, Solaris Rising 2, Edge of Infinity, and Beyond the Sun carve out even more rock solid SF.
Now for the novels. In Bowl of Heaven, mysterious radio waves lead to humanity’s first deep space mission, but mid-journey the crew awakes in view of a structure cupping an entire star (try Contact, His Master’s Voice, or The Hercules Text as read-alikes). Spin State puts a construction entirely around a star with time running differently inside and out. The massive alien object is heading Earthward in Heaven’s Shadow, much as in the all-time great Rendezvous with Rama with its ten trillion ton cylinder spinning straight toward our sun (Star Trek IV, anyone?).
Clockwork Rocket is so Hard SF that between its paragraphs you may find a math equation or two. Light itself operates differently here, as do sexual reproduction, birth control, writing, and much more. It could make you think of The Gods Themselves, where the quest for limitless energy threatens two worlds tied together by a mysterious twist in the properties of tungsten and plutonium 186. Brain Plague is new and explores messaging between one woman and the colony of intelligent microbes inhabiting her body.
When a colonzation effort goes wrong in Tau Zero, the threats of time dilation and radiation poisoning push a crew beyond the limits – a great readalike for the movie Interstellar. Pushing Ice asks why a moon is launching out of Saturn’s orbit, while The Martian, Farside, and Red Mars remind us that beyond the scientific barriers to space travel are lurking the same social and psychological conflicts humans have been facing for millenia.
The Engines of God introduced me to xenoarchaeology, and the mystery of monuments left behind by alien civilizations, dead for millions of years, reminded me of Hard SF giants like Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven. The latter’s Ringworld can go on the top of your checklist (right now, I’m not kidding), and Probability Moon takes on the derelict alien technology theme as well.
Finally, sometimes an easier way to understand something is to know what it’s not. Some folks use the term Soft SF. While Hard SF usually focuses on technology and scientific accuracy (within the realm of suspended belief, that is), Soft SF tends to emphasize human social and psychology life. Solaris, The Left hand of Darkness, and The Sparrow make for tremendous reading, and may carve their Hard SF cousins into starker relief. Enjoy!