Publication Date

5-1-2005

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts in English Literature

Abstract

A substantial body of science fiction authors, critics and fans appreciate the literary attention the New Wave of the '60s and '70s brought to the genre of science fiction, but regret the seemingly lasting move away from the hard science classics of the '50s and before. They argue that "the hard stuff' is at the very heart of sf and that its future—still on the path set by the New Wave—is ostensibly a dead end. Many important critics along with hundreds of sf fan websites display this fatalistic concern, asking over and over "Is hard science fiction dead?" The answer is no. These reactionaries suffer from a serious case of the Good Old Days Syndrome (not to mention the Good Old Boys Syndrome). A close look at the state of the genre reveals that hard sf is not only alive and well but also that contemporary hard sf is more in line with its critics' definition of hard sf than the very stories they cite as exemplars of it. Contrary to the accusations of noted sf critics, it may well be that a new golden age of sf is dawning, one with an even truer scientific core as well as a commitment to literary quality. This thesis will expose the curious contradiction between the hard and soft / old and new sf. The introduction will examine the definition of hard sf and declarations of its unfortunate demise. Each of three chapters will compare two stories—one from sf s Golden Age and another after the supposed death of the genre. In each, I will show how classic examples of hard sf regularly fail to meet the objective, scientific criteria they purport to uphold and how contemporary stories—even while focusing (to varying degrees) on the political and personal—better espouse the principles of hard sf. Ultimately, it seems that those who descry hard sf s death miss not the technical aspects of hard sf that, even by their definition, distinguish it from softer sf, but the traditional Golden Age values of male dominance, imperialism, and anti-emotionalism. Newer stories' feminism and redefinitions of progress blind conventional readers to their truly hard-core, science-based foundations. The conclusion will consider what hard sf s paradigm shifts mean in terms of our evolving relationship to science. Specifically, in our technological age, science is not merely a field that studies how things work, but a field that can help us to illuminate and interpret our place in the universe. Ultimately, hard science fiction is not dead, it's just doing something different from what it used to.

Disciplines

Creative Writing | English Language and Literature