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Non-hard sf - Input Junkie
November 23rd, 2013
03:15 pm

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Non-hard sf
In a discussion of what to call science fiction that isn't hard science fiction, I found myself wondering how you can identify science fiction which is based on solid social science.

Any thoughts?

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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:November 23rd, 2013 09:36 pm (UTC)
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Kagan's HELLSPARK sounds that way.
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From:ritaxis
Date:November 23rd, 2013 09:37 pm (UTC)
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Looks locked to me, too.

I'm not sure whether you are asking how to indentify whether the social science in the story is solid or how to identify whether the story is based on social science at all

The second question can be harder to answer than the first, since the answer to the first question is usual "If there's any social science in this story, it isn't any good, but it's hard to see what source it could have had other than maybe internet ravings or a right-wing magazine."

But other than that, well, solid social science is a kind of known quantity, for all that it's mostly buried in a spew of "evolutionary psychology" and "freakonomics" garbage. Stories that are based on good social science wouldn't tend to have a simplistic explanation for things or a one-size-fits-all fix for anything: they'd have really good world-building, and some interesting facets to behavior and interactions. Above all, don't expect the implemnentation of the theories of a lone genius to cause far-reaching and all-curing effects on society. And don't expect any extremely homogenous worlds.
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From:autopope
Date:November 23rd, 2013 09:39 pm (UTC)
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How about "Glasshouse"? An exploration/reframing of the Stanford Prison Study in terms of posthuman gender identity (inside a prison for immortal war criminals) ...
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From:ritaxis
Date:November 23rd, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
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I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't got to that yet, though it's been out a while. I also have to say that I kind of trust you to have done actual homework and to have actually thought out a nuanced framework for the story.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 23rd, 2013 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. Who are your favorite authors for their quality of social science? On the one hand, what you're saying about good design sounds like common sense, but on the gripping hand, common sense is a lot harder than it sounds.

There was an earlier era when there was a fair amount of bad left-wing world-building-- too much trust in centralized planning.

And an intermediate era of (right-wing?) world building where there were altogether too many aliens who were comic relief.

Stirling's Draka has been described as an especially awful example of world-building.-- a slave society that's a technological and military powerhouse. Actually, Rome didn't do too badly for its era, but that doesn't mean the same thing would work for modern levels of technology.
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From:ritaxis
Date:November 23rd, 2013 10:20 pm (UTC)
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I'd like to have seen any of that bad left-wing world-building, because I saw very little left-wing world-building at all. Do you mean the Foundation series? I give it more slack than most because of being pretty early and because of the fact that the original books included an acknowledgement of disruption and incomplete penetrance.

The Scottish guys in general have done a pretty good job of digesting what we actually know about how societies and personalities work. Charlie, who's put in a word for his own work, and Ken Macleod, especially. They go out there pretty far, which is the point of what they';re doing, but they do it in nuanced and complex ways.

Also, anything by Melissa Scott, though a couple of her early things are excessively simple, and I haven't read her most recent sf (I have only recently become aware of what she's written since the Point books, so I haven't caught up).

Of course, LeGuin's major stuff. and I read a couple of books by Vonda MacIntyre that had really interesting ideas about social structure. And Maureen McHugh's written some well-thought-out books too.

For various stupid reasons I am not well-read in contemporary work, something I am just about to fix. Not that the stupid reasons are no longer in place, but that they've been in place long enough for me to be embarrassed about letting them keep me from keeping up. You're probably tons better read than I am, honestly.

Just looking at my thought processes when trying to come up with recommendations I realize that when I like a book, I generally also think that its social structures and insights into personality development and human relationships -- or alien counterparts -- are solid too. These may be among the first-rank reasons for me liking a book.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 23rd, 2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
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When I say early, I was thinking about HG Wells. Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon would probably count.

And it wouldn't surprise me if Olaf Stapledon's utopias had central planning, though it's possible his people were smart and generous enough to not need it.

Edited at 2013-11-23 10:47 pm (UTC)
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From:ritaxis
Date:November 23rd, 2013 10:56 pm (UTC)
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Oh yes! H. G. Wells. I think you're right. His best stuff -- I mean the stuff that can be read for its own sake rather than historical appreciation -- is his more obscure short stories that don't depend on social theories. But he was a Fabianist, and their social theories were pretty underdeveloped.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 23rd, 2013 09:52 pm (UTC)
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I've taken out the link to locked post.
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From:whswhs
Date:November 24th, 2013 03:42 am (UTC)
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When I read Stross's "Family Trade" novels—and reviewed the second volume for the Libertarian Futurist Society—I said that they were "the hardest of hard science fiction, in an unusual sense: the science is economics." I don't think that there is as much hard social science fiction as hard natural science fiction, because there isn't as much hard social science to base it on. But I think hard/soft has much less than a 100% correlation with natural science/social science.

I tend to think in terms of a sort of continuum. Space opera is science fiction that sets out to tell an adventure story, and uses the scientific or technological ideas to provide vehicles, or stage properties, or narrative color, but doesn't really care about them for their own sake. Hard science fiction really cares about the conceptual premises, and seeks to work out their implications as rigorously as possible in terms of what we know about the real world. In between is soft science fiction, which treats the scientific concepts as interesting, but doesn't try to explore their implications with full depth or rigor. Most of (the original) Star Trek was soft science fiction; (the original) Star Wars was space opera.

Note that by "space opera" I mean the classic stuff: prototypically, the Lensman novels. I consider "new space opera" to be a different genre.

(In a sense, I would call The Lord of the Rings hard sf—the science in this case being historical linguistics.)
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:November 24th, 2013 05:25 am (UTC)
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Suzette Elgin might have done something like that. She had an appropriate academic background.
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From:gildedacorn
Date:November 24th, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure how solid it is, and I call it fantasy, but what about William Morris's *News From Nowhere?*?

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From:whswhs
Date:November 24th, 2013 07:51 pm (UTC)
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I've always thought of it as utopian fiction, one of the genres ancestral to science fiction—in contrast to a lot of Morris's other work, which was clearly ancestral to historical fantasy.
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From:gwendally
Date:November 24th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if Olivia Butler might qualify.

You ask interesting questions!
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 25th, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)
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I'm glad you like my questions.

I've never found anything especially implausible in Butler. Her Oankali get on my nerves unspeakably, but that's because they're probably all too likely.

They talk about being non-hierarchical (or is that merely said of them? it's been a while since I've read Butler) but they have humanity thoroughly under their thumbs.
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