Created By: pcw2727 on September 1, 2011 Last Edited By: pcw2727 on March 4, 2012

New Wave Soft Science fiction

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Around the 1970s the term Soft Science fiction was coined to describe speculative fiction stories which focused not on hard sciences such as engineering, physics, astronomy or chemistry, but on soft ones such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science.

A story about an Astronaut alone on the moon which focuses on the psychological stress of his isolation would be a soft science fiction story. The filmmakers may have been extremely accurate in their portrayal of certain hard sciences, but the story isn't about that, it's about the soft science of psychology.

Somewhere during the dawn of the internet people started repurposing the term to mean science fiction of a certain degree of implausibility. It is true that early on writers and critics of science fiction used the term Hard Science Fiction in part to separate the story type from pulp stories like Planetary Romance and Space Opera, however the idea of using "hard" and "soft" as measurable qualities was never intended.

Alternate History could potentially be a subtrope of Soft Science Fiction.

Examples

Literature

Fondly Fahrenheit is a short story exploring murderous behavior present in a synthetic humanoid

{{book/1984}} is a classic example given its exploration of political science and human behavior rather then technology.

Film

Moon

Cube the driving force of the story is the challenge of human cooperation in the face of distrust, stress and the struggle for one's own survival.
Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • September 1, 2011
    Fanra
    Somewhere during the dawn of the internet people started misusing the term to mean inaccurate science fiction.

    The term is also used not for inaccurate science fiction, but rather science fiction where the writer has not Shown Their Work. Meaning, if you put FTL travel and ray guns and such in the story but do not have any physics explanation of them.

    For example, Schlock Mercenary has FTL travel and ray guns and such, but the person who creates it does explain the physics behind the inventions. So even though it is a Space Opera, it is Hard.
  • September 2, 2011
    NetMonster
    Fanra's definition is correct. Inaccurate science fiction is not soft, it's just bad.
  • September 4, 2011
    pcw2727
    But not "showing their work" wasn't the original point of the term. Early stories that hand-waved things like ftl and rayguns were not referred to as pulp, adventure, planetary romance or space opera.

    Like I said Soft Science fiction, originally meant fiction about the soft sciences.

    Btw why aren't my links working?
  • September 4, 2011
    Bisected8
    We don't use the same markup as wikipedia, here's a rundown; Text Formatting Rules.
  • September 6, 2011
    Frank75
    ^^ What about any story with FTL? Are they all bad?

    Otherwise I refer to the Mohs Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness.
  • September 11, 2011
    pcw2727
    It's not a question of good or bad, that's always a matter of Your Mileage May Vary. The point is if an FTL technology is based on either real science or a fictional science of specific detail and rules its Hard Science fiction. If the FTL technology is a setting element to create a world of adventure and excitement it's pulp, adventure, Space Opera ect. And if the FTL is an element in a story dealing with psychology, anthropology, or social science it's soft science fiction.
  • September 11, 2011
    jate88
    Wouldn't it be better if we make pages for hard science fiction and soft science fiction and rewrite the Scifi page?
  • September 13, 2011
    pcw2727
    I considered it but that's a lot of work and people will keep trying to change it back since the misconception is so prevalent. If the troper community is willing to pitch in for an undertaking like this I'd be up for it. Otherwise this is a simple way to make people aware of the original meaning without too much rewriting.
  • September 13, 2011
    Xtifr
    Is this a trope? If so, the name should probably change. If not, you need to figure out what namespace it goes in, and why we need this. "The misconception is so prevalent" is not, all by itself, a reason to have an article. We're not in the business of clearing up misconceptions, especially "misconceptions" about terms that are vaguely defined in the first place. (Hint: "originally meant" is not the same as "actually means".)

    Anyway, I dispute your premise (and yes, I was there). "Soft" has always referred to SF that didn't focus on the "nuts and bolts" hard sciences, not just to works that focused on the so-called "soft sciences". The analogy was used to explain the term, not define it.
  • September 13, 2011
    jate88
    The Other Wiki has been using pcw2727's definition for a while now unless someone changed it since the last time I looked.
  • September 13, 2011
    pcw2727
    @Xtifr

    Really you've been reading science fiction since 1957? This isn't a vaguely defined term by any means and TV tropes has lots of misconception clearing.

    I recently took a course in Science Fiction literature and the definition I'm proposing is a well established one. Its not unchallenged I looked around and found examples as early as the 1980s misusing the term.

    Interestingly enough on The Other Wiki, the entry for "Soft Science Fiction" puts forth my definition, however the entry for Hard Science fiction claims the definition TV tropes uses.
  • September 13, 2011
    pcw2727
    Or rather it did until I edited it to mention both definitions.
  • September 14, 2011
    jate88
    I still think we should write pages for hard science fiction and soft science fiction if this is launchable.
  • September 14, 2011
    pcw2727
    I'm down with cleaning up the science fiction page. We should be sure to note the term "soft" is used in two different ways.
  • September 15, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    Flowers For Algernon involves science we could arguably be testing within the decade, and focuses entirely on the psychological effects and the afterthought of the experiment, rather than the experiment itself.
  • September 15, 2011
    jate88
    So hard science fiction focuses on the actual science and soft science fiction focuses on the psychological and social aspects of a technologically advanced society?
  • September 15, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    That's what I took from this. Did I misinterpret?
  • September 16, 2011
    jate88
    I just remembered a page that went through Ykttw a while back called Three Kinds Of Science Fiction. I think the part of the scifi page that talks about varieties of science fiction should be rewritten to revolve around that and Mohs Scale Of Scifi Hardness.
  • September 16, 2011
    Xtifr
    ^^^^^^^^It says 1970s at the top of the YKTTW, and I've certainly been reading SF that long. Plus, I'm a third generation SF fan, and my mom was friends with many well-known writers. Which doesn't make me "right", but does show I have some perspective to offer. If your SF lit class is teaching you that it has only one firm meaning, that's a new development, not a historical harking-back to some original revealed truth.

    In any case, not a trope, and not really an issue we need to cover in detail. The other wiki is a better place for this sort of thing. Cleaning up the SF page to mention both meanings of the term is a good idea, though.
  • September 16, 2011
    jate88
    ^Is Asimovs Three Kinds Of Science Fiction worth a mention on the Scifi page?
  • September 17, 2011
    pcw2727
    ^^^^^ Not necessarily technologically advanced. It could run the gambit of just about any sci fi setting and concept.

    ^^The term Hard Science fiction appeared in 1957, but Soft Science fiction supposedly appeared late 70s. If they were always meant as polar opposites then you'd think there'd be less of a time gap. This is particularly noteworthy considering Hard Science was created to separate certain types of sci fi stories from the sort of pulp adventure sci fi stories that many now call "soft".

    My class taught that the term was coined early on to describe stories about the soft sciences rather then stories where science didn't fit the rigorous standards of hard science fiction. Looking over the sources from The Other Wiki it seems the misusen is old, but is none the less a misuse. One of their sources from 1984 states (and I'm paraphrasing) "Probably a backformation of 'hard science fiction' to suggest stories without careful adherence to scientific principles" making it clear that the author was not aware of the actual origins of the term.

    The term I'm talking about is definitely worthy of a page, if not a trope page then a genre page. An entire unit of my course was focused on nothing but soft science fiction under this definition. This covered about a dozen short stories, most of which were examples from authors who wrote whole series of novels in the same vein. Its definitely a well represented concept.
  • September 17, 2011
    Xtifr
    Considering that many "soft" sciences are considered "not sciences" by some people in the "hard" sciences, the distinction is blurry at best. Yes, I'm pretty sure the term was first coined as an attempted defense of not-so-hard science fiction, but it was just as quickly pounced on as a pejorative by those who were dismissive of not-so-hard SF. Possibly during the same discussion, within minutes! I can personally attest to what you're describing as "misuse" dating back to the seventies.

    Talking about "misuse" of a neologism that's had multiple meanings for just about as long as it's existed seems a bit...prescriptive. Not to mention, presumptuous. I think you may need to spend some more time around linguists. Anyway, textbooks often gloss over the gory details, so I wouldn't take your one class as overly authoritative. I expect that they were more interested in the concept they were presenting than in the history of the term itself.

    As a genre page...maybe, but I suspect it might be divisive and lead to infighting and Complaining About Shows You Dont Like. Frankly, I think a brief discussion of the topic on the SF page, with a link to the Mohs Scale is probably good enough. But maybe. The borders between SF and Fantasy can be blurry sometimes too, which is why we have Speculative Fiction, but I don't see a lot of fighting about the borders there, even though there easily could be. So maybe it would be ok.
  • September 18, 2011
    jate88
    So the term Hard Science Fiction was coined by authors to distinguish their masterpieces of speculation about the future from mindless adventures in space with three breasted aliens and as a possible take that against the soft sciences which they don't like?

    Then the soft sciences authors decided to adopt the term soft science fiction with pride or coined it themselves as a way to distinguish their stories from hard science fiction and pulp science fiction. Some people in the hard sciences don't really care if they coined the term themselves or decided to adopt it with pride because to them soft science may as well be pulp science.

    Am I understanding this correctly?
  • September 20, 2011
    pcw2727
    ^ I'd say the conclusion is more hard science fiction authors heard the term soft science fiction and assumed it meant stories that didn't hold up to the standards of Hard Science fiction stories.
  • September 20, 2011
    Xtifr
    ^ I think it came out of fandom more than from the authors. I suspect it was connected with the rise of the "New Wave", which happened at about the same time as the term started showing up. I doubt we'll ever know whether it was a defense or a pejorative first, though.

    Note that so-called "hard" science fiction often covered (covers) soft sciences, like political science or economics, as well as the hard stuff. And "soft sciences" is a convenient excuse for just about any non-scientific S Fish story ("hey, I'm exploring the psychology of my characters!").
  • September 20, 2011
    RobinZimm
    As per Xtifr's suggestion, I added a note to Mohs Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness:

    Note 3: While the term "soft science fiction" is used above as the antonym of "hard science fiction", the original use of the term was to describe soft science fiction: sociological and psychological science fiction. Have no fear when indexing such works: hard soft science fiction is not a contradiction.
  • September 20, 2011
    Xtifr
    ^ ok, I just looked at the link the Other Wiki uses to support the "original use" claim, and it doesn't say that at all! The OED definition is "science fiction in which the scientific elements are relatively unimportant to the story." The earliest examples the OED cites pretty much all mention both possible meanings, without showing any preference for one over the other.
  • September 20, 2011
    jate88
    @pcw2727: But you said the term hard science fiction predates soft science fiction by twenty years. How could hard scifi authors in 1957 have heard the term soft science fiction if it wasn't coined yet?
  • September 21, 2011
    RobinZimm
    @Xtifr: Fair enough -- I see you fixed it on the page.
  • September 21, 2011
    Deboss
    I think you're thinking of Hard On Soft Science?

    Also, I considered straightening out the page, but it seems more like a rant/speech than any actual trope or index.
  • September 22, 2011
    pcw2727
    @jate88

    That's exactly my point. If its original use was the antonym of Hard Science Fiction you wouldn't expect a gap like that. The idea of hard science fiction wasn't initially "hard" vs "soft" it was "hard" vs "everything else they call sci fi". The way the sci fi page treats it as a dichotomy is dead wrong.

    @Xtfr, Look closer. The definition at the top is not the most recent it's dated 1984. This was dated 1982: "They all write what could be variously labeled as ‘social’, ‘humanistic’, or ‘soft’ science fiction. While all their works contain the extrapolated factual material characteristic of science fiction, they really focus on the future of humanity and its possible future traits and societies." The source above that from the same year mentions both uses of the term. "A Sense of Wonder" claimed the term originated in the 70s thus predating both of these.

    @Robin Zimm no, but clearly that trope influences this one.
  • September 22, 2011
    SharleeD
    Soft Science Scifi?
  • September 22, 2011
    Xtifr
    pcw2727: you're attempting to shift the burden of proof. No one is disputing that the "soft science" meaning has been around for a long time, even possibly longer than the "not science" meaning. But a two-year difference in citation dates is pretty much meaningless when it comes to linguistics. It certainly doesn't establish which definition was came first (even if that were synonymous with "more correct", which it's not). It merely establishes that that particular meaning was established by the early eighties.

    Basically, you're saying, "you can't prove it's not true, so that proves it is true", with the meaningless addition of that lone 1982 citation which doesn't actually prove anything. Claiming that either definition came first or is the One True Meaning is impossible given the facts available to us, and thus, an invalid assertion. Especially when the current OED definition is in direct disagreement with your assertion! When it comes to "some random guy's preferred definition" vs. "the definition listed in the OED", I'll take the OED every time. Even if I think there's a chance the random guy is right.
  • September 23, 2011
    OmarKarindu
    How about Social Science Fiction? Since the world needs a new term given the usurpation of"soft sci-fi" by the 'Net....
  • September 23, 2011
    pcw2727
    Social Science fiction is a subgenre. It could be misleading depending on the emphasis. Social-science fiction works. However If it's read as social science-fiction it might imply the story applies only to stories about over all societies excluding the more intimate psychological stories.
  • September 29, 2011
    pcw2727
    bump

  • October 8, 2011
    pcw2727
    bump
  • March 4, 2012
    CrystalBlue
    Bump

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=4os1sgveags13w4ko7840vvv