On “hard” and “soft” sci-fi, and SKYLIGHTS

I’ve been re-reading, and doing a final edit/polish, on my own book all weekend.  Guys, I have killed so many semicolons.  Not all of them, but so many.  Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about science fiction.

Gimme a second, here, while I post the cover again.  Not just for promotion; this is actually relevant:

Cover Final Colors FLAT REF

For the purposes of the conversation I want to have right now, there are two kinds of science fiction: hard and soft.  Note, by the way, that if you’re a dedicated science fiction aficionado you may find much to quibble about with these definitions that I’m about to explain; be aware that I’m probably not going to be willing to argue with you about them.

Anyway, soft sci-fi can basically be characterized as stuff what is In the Future or at least involving Spaceships or Aliens in some way.  Soft sci-fi can bleed over into other genres (fantasy, in particular) and does not always worry itself too much about, well, science.  If you’ve ever read or watched something involving a space battle using laser beams, you were probably watching soft sci-fi.  The Benevolence Archives, insofar as it is science fiction at all, is crazily soft.  You’re not getting any explanations for how anything works in there, and I’m holding true to the Star Wars rule of never explaining how close anything is to anything else while I’m at it, too.

Hard sci-fi, on the other hand, is concerned greatly with scientific plausibility.  These authors have done their damnedest to make sure that everything in their books is as scientifically accurate as possible.  The Martian, to choose a book uncomfortably close to mine in subject matter, is quite possibly the hardest hard sci-fi I’ve ever read.  There’s chemistry in it.  (It’s also the best book I’ve read all year.  It’s better than Skylights.  You should read both anyway.)

So what’s Skylights?  Skylights is what I’m choosing to call “hard enough” sci-fi.  Here’s the thing: the technology in the book?  Exists, or is pretty damn close to existing.  This book, which is the reason why the main character’s nickname is “Zub,” details how a lot of the technology that got them to Mars and kept them alive there would work.  The book is set in the 2020s; we could do most of this now.  The space suits on the cover look a little… tight, right?  This article came out last week.  Think the technology behind the iLid(*) sounds a little far-fetched?  Not really.

Then again, look at the sky on the cover.  The first time I saw it, I griped about it.  The Martian sky simply never has clouds like that, and the sun is too far away to have that effect when it shines through the clouds that Mars really doesn’t have.  Casey had a word with the colorist about it, and the colorist either got stubborn and doubled down or didn’t quite understand his instructions, and increased the craziness in the clouds before the next time I saw it.

At which point I told them I loved it and to leave it alone, because who cares if it was realistic.  It was awesome.  Those skylights?  They’re really there.  They exist.  We don’t know what’s in them.  Probably not what I put in them.  Hopefully.  But the skylights themselves are real!

At one point I had carefully mapped out what the timing on the book had to be, so that all of the dates for trips to and from Mars matched up with Hohmann transfers properly.  No one but me was ever going to notice that.  (And then I blew it all, by shoving the book four years farther into the future without bothering to screw with the dates any more.  You’ll live.)

Here’s the thing about the science in Skylights: I really did do a fair amount of research on how things worked for this book.  That said, if any actual astronomers, and particularly any actual NASA people, read this book, they’re probably going to find shit that they want to smack me upside the head for.  Some of the stuff is going to be things I deliberately ignored.  Some of it will be stuff I screwed up.  (I got a bit too far onto Mars in the first draft before realizing that Mars had less gravity than Earth, not more, for example.  That mistake’s fixed, but I know there will be more.)  I’m just hoping that it doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the book.  Three of my four main characters are scientists; they spend a fair amount of time explaining shit to the fourth character, who is the main POV character and the stand-in for the reader.  I know I’ve stuffed a lot of narration into my dialogue; I hope I’ve done it in a way that entertains rather than bores.  We’ll see if I hit the mark or not.

I want the book to feel realistic.  I don’t necessarily need it to be perfectly realistic.  And I’m really looking forward to seeing how it goes over with everyone.

Skylights comes out on Tuesday at all major ebook retailers (although it’ll probably pop at Amazon first, and most of my links will be to there) for $4.99.

(*) I did a little happy dance when I realized that my magic contact lens had to be called the iLid.  It looked like this:


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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

3 thoughts on “On “hard” and “soft” sci-fi, and SKYLIGHTS

  1. I’m reading “The Martian” right now and really like it. So your Skylight is going right on my list! I approach my own writing the same way – I want the science to be reasonably possible, or at least explainable, but I’m more concerned with the the movement of the story. So I researched and sort-of-explained how the time travel is done in my Time Travel Journals, but I didn’t go hog-wild on the details. I’d just get it wrong anyway.


  2. […] Skylights make for an effective way to allow natural light to pour in to your house. Like any roof, they are designed to keep weather away, only that this time the sunshine gets to be let through. There is a tubular variety that is easy to install and has the capability to control the amount of heat entering through it. The light gets diffused appropriately so you might consider placing it in a more central place where the light will benefit a larger percentage of the rooms in the house where the light is needed during the day. […]


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