Plausible Science Fiction
July 2, 2017
Note: I first published this post over at compellingsciencefiction.com.
I was at convention yesterday and heard a panel discussion about the old “hard vs. soft” science fiction debate. I realized while listening that there is a huge amount of baggage that people associate with the term “hard science fiction,” and that by using it when I describe the focus of Compelling Science Fiction I may be conveying something different than intended. Because of this, I’m going to start using a different term when talking about what sub-genre Compelling Science Fiction focuses on: “plausible science fiction.” The word “plausible” is still ambiguous, but I believe it doesn’t have all the semantic cruft that has built up over the decades around “hard.” We will no longer reference “hard science fiction” when describing our magazine, even though what we look for in stories is not changing.
“Plausible science fiction,” in this context, means “science fiction that tries not to disrupt suspension of disbelief for people that have knowledge of science and engineering.” This can mean not blatantly contradicting our current knowledge of the universe, and it can also mean not blatantly ignoring how humans generally behave. It also means internal self-consistency.
I also want to be clear that I have no problem with other kinds of science fiction. There are many science fiction sub-genres that amplify or distort human behaviors to make points about human nature, or that use physics-breaking plot devices in order to observe how people react in extreme conditions. Those can be great literary devices, they’re just not what Compelling Science Fiction is focused on.
You may well ask, “So why did you choose plausibility as your thing, Joe?” Well, it has to do with the fact that I think science fiction can educate as well as have artistic merit and entertainment value.
And you might say, “why even bring fiction into this? If you’re looking to educate, why not just stick to reading peer-reviewed science journals?”
Because people are not automatons. They get bored, they need inspiration. They want to imagine how the projects they work on fit into the broader scope of progress, and ultimately the rich tapestry of human existence. They want to get excited about the future, and about how they can help bring that future about. They also want to think about the consequences of technology, and about how to safeguard against negative outcomes by considering all the side effects of seemingly innocuous systems. Certain types of science fiction can fill all those needs, and we really, really like those kinds of stories at Compelling Science Fiction.
All that being said, there are no hard and fast rules here. I’m just trying to convey a worldview. We’ll continue to try and balance entertainment with plausibility, and we’ll continue to make compromises on plausibility for the sake of plot and vice versa. If you’re looking for a magazine that never, ever contains FTL travel, or that only does near-future extrapolations, this isn’t the magazine for you. At the end of the day, though, we’ll always print a plausible story over an implausible one, all other things being equal.
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