Thursday, September 20, 2018

Outstanding Hard Science Fiction of 2017

Here are 33 outstanding stories of hard science fiction from 2017 that were either finalists for major SF/F awards πŸ†, included in "year's best" SF/F anthologies πŸ“™, or recommended by prolific reviewers πŸ‘ in short fiction (see Q&A). That's 33 out of 95 hard science fiction stories from that year, and out of 279 outstanding SF/F stories from 2017. Each story shows a "Recommended By" list where a score is tallied from the +2, +1 or +0 after each recommendation.


Genre Definitions

This year we didn't make a lot of changes to our genre definitions from 2016. Obviously there's lots of room for argument about the distinctions between SF and Fantasy as well as hard vs. soft SF; these are simply the definitions we're using. Feel free to use the comments section to weigh in with your own thoughts.

If you think we've miscategorized a story, please explain your thinking in a comment on the review of that story. If we made a mistake, we'll correct it, but, even if not, it should make for an interesting discussion.

SF vs. Fantasy

All speculative fiction includes a speculative element which sets the story apart from the world we live in. It could be a new invention, a new scientific principle, or just a novel way of using something that already exists. It could be set on another planet, or in a world where something in history went differently, or even a completely original world with unique history and geography.

The distinction we draw between fantasy and science fiction is that science fiction attempts to integrate that speculative element into the natural laws of science in the real world. Fantasy makes no such effort. For example, almost all magic massively violates the first and/or second laws of thermodynamics, but almost no fantasy authors or readers care about that at all.

Hard vs. Soft SF

In hard SF, the plot revolves around details and implications of the speculative element, and scientists/engineers are usually the protagonists. Hard SF doesn't require the science be perfect, but it definitely creates the impression that there is a scientific explanation for everything that happens. This allows us to call "I, Robot" hard SF. It also lets us identify a class of bad hard SF when consistently poor science breaks suspension of disbelief.

Soft SF focuses on the effect the speculative element has on ordinary people, who typically take it for granted. The details of the speculative element itself aren't central to the plot and generally aren't explained at all. E.g. the raygun just works. Space opera falls under soft SF.

Soft SF stories do create the impression that everything has a scientific explanation though; there are no appeals to the supernatural. It's okay for sufficiently-advanced technology to be like magic as long as the reader isn't meant to believe that it is magic.

High vs. Low Fantasy

A fantasy story set in a secondary world that isn't derived from our world we class as high fantasy. (By "derived from our world," we mean it has shared history and/or geography.) This includes both Epic Fantasy, where great affairs of kings and queens are involved and the stakes are very high, and Fantasy Adventure (aka Sword and Sorcery), which focus on more ordinary individuals in such worlds.

High fantasy also includes portal fantasies provided one end of the portal is a pure secondary world, as well as mannerpunk (pure secondary-world stories with no magic).

Stories with supernatural elements that are set in our world or in some variation on our world we class as low fantasy. This includes Urban Fantasy, Slipstream, vampire and zombie stories, most Cthulhu stories, and Steampunk. This is where we've put Alternate History as well.

Mixed Genre

Only a handful of stories didn't fit into one of these four categories. Those tend to be stories that start off as SF but introduce the supernatural later on.

No comments (may contain spoilers):

Post a Comment (comment policy)