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Mohs / Speculative Science

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"Imagine a World where Machines can transmit information across long distances. Where carriages are pulled not by horses, but by engines relying on combustion. Imagine a World where electrically powered ships can sail below the surface of the Sea and heavier-than-air vessels sail the skies. Jules Verne imagined ALL these things.”

Speculative Science: Stories in which there is no "big lie" — the science of the tale is (or was) genuine speculative science or engineering, and the goal of the author to make as few errors with respect to known fact as possible.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Fiction 
  • Evangelion 303 makes a deliberate effort to be realistic. The science and engineering used is mostly plausible. Some of the technology (such like the anti-targetting field) is inexistent but feasible.
  • In Friendship is Optimal, the only significant and most unrealistic change to technological progress is the invention of strong A.I. sometime around 2012. Much of the science is then extrapolated from current and theoretical future technology, albeit on a much faster scale since it's being done by an A.I. far more intelligent and capable than humanity.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, set 20 Minutes into the Future, has only one real speculative element: the memory-erasure device being employed by Lacuna, Inc. Perhaps wisely, the story does not explain how Lacuna, Inc. does its surgery on human memories, but the modern understanding of neuroscience of memory (e.g. how emotional resonance is separate from recall of events) is represented quite accurately.
  • Moon: Minus the Space Is Noisynote  and cloning it was so spot on, NASA personnel who screen tested the film just to see how close they got it were pretty impressed. The best explanation is when one of them asked the Director, "Why does the base look like a bunker?", he replied that he figured that it would just be easier (and cheaper) to transpose stuff that already existed onto the moon — and then another in the group stated that she's in fact working on just that.
  • Children of Men: The world is a Childless Dystopia and has a few advanced technologies here and there, but everything else looks like it would fit perfectly fine in 2027.
  • her (2013): A future in which Siri-like OS are upgraded to the point of becoming Artificial Intelligence and humans begin forming relationships with them. Outside of some advanced technology, the setting of the story is still very much taking place in the near future.
  • Gravity had some factual errors in it, such as the relative position of the space stations where much of the plot is set, and the details of reentry, but the plot is nevertheless well within the capabilities of current technology.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy is notable among superhero movies for the complete lack of fantasy elements, which is one of the reasons it is securely Alternate Continuity to the DC Extended Universe that succeeded it. No verifiably superhuman characters appear throughoutnote , and all of Batman's gadgets are given logical explanations (mostly resulting from Wayne Enterprises' military contracts). The films only rarely yield to the Rule of Cool, such as the eighteen-wheeler-flipping scene in The Dark Knight.
  • Ad Astra has a few instances of playing loose with physics, particularly regarding Antimatter and gravity, but otherwise doesn't stray too far from near-future technology. One hard sci-fi aspect is claiming there is no life outside Earth.

  • Valhalla aspires to absolute real possibility in every respect, often to plot-clogging detail. The Flying Cars work on ground effect. The Ray Guns shoot microwave radiation. The power plant "flips quarks" and about a page is spent explaining exactly what that means and referencing scientists who were working on the theory at the time the novel was written. Every element of the novel that qualifies as science fiction seems to have been researched to ensure actual potential, and all that research is referenced in the form of in-jokes, subtle nods, or outright statements within the story.
  • The works set early in the timeline of Known Space fall into this category, including Protector (which featured Bussard Ramscoops but no faster-than-light travel). The later in the timeline of Known Space you go, though, the farther the scale slides toward the soft side, with Faster-Than-Light Travel, Reactionless Drives, inertialess drives, indestructible transparent hull material, and finally psychic luck all entering the fray.
  • Robert L. Forward's Rocheworld setting was quite hard through the first two books (it should be, he's a physicist). However, in the third and later books, the science softens to mush, including finding native coffee beans on the moon of a gas giant circling a red dwarf.
  • Dragon's Egg, also by Forward, takes the idea of life on the surface of a neutron star with extreme seriousness.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, except for Mike itself pretty much everything in the novel is already around, or could easily be put together in the next half-century (the book is set in 2075-2076). The only fly in the jam here is that we had a moonbase for a minimum of thousands by the 90s.
    • The short story "The Menace From Earth" posits a sublunar colony that doesn't require a ton of future-tech but would be absurdly expensive to build with today's technology. Beyond that, the story sticks tightly to realistic extensions of the current technology. The protagonist is even engaged in drafting the design for a starship that anticipates engines that haven't been invented.
  • Charles Pellegrino's Flying To Valhalla and The Killing Star. The Valkyrie spaceships (and their alien equivalents) are a design seriously proposed by Pellegrino and Jim Powell. And, unfortunately, the major source of mayhem is pretty plausible too.
  • Steven Gould's Helm brings two major science-fiction elements: terraforming and technological brainwashing. The former is described in significant detail in an early chapter, and the terrain depicted of the book reflects the planet's history. The brainwashing is treated in less detail, but its mechanism of operation is convincing nonetheless.
  • John C. Wright's The Golden Oecumene trilogy, which has interstellar travel that respects the speed of light, and Count to the Eschaton, which is Space Opera set as hard an SF future as he could write.
  • Many of Arthur C. Clarke's novels. Not surprising given his pedigree.
  • The Quantum Thief, written by Hannu Rajaniemi, an actual astrophysicist, tests the boundaries of the scale by applying the most advanced and uncertain theories in his field as well-known and practically applied everyday facts. Towards the end things start to get extremely crazy, as the possibility of using space-time itself as a quantum gravity computer is brought up. Breaking from the limits of causality and manufacturing new universes? Well, if some extremely exotic variations of the super string theory and the Many Worlds model are correct...
  • Most of the novels of Stephen Baxter, such as the Xeelee Sequence and Proxima, fall within the softer edge of the spectrum, applying, similar to the Quantum Thief, advanced and uncertain theories in the field as well-known and practically applied everyday facts.
  • All technology portrayed in Voidskipper is rooted in real physics research, with only a tiny bit of fiddling around the metric engineering technologies such as warp drives and wormholes to account for the still ongoing state of research.
  • The first book of MARZENA goes to great length to explain new theories of how the brain works and how said theory led to the creation of human-like Artificial Intelligence along with a global revolution of neuroscience and psychology.
  • Alien in a Small Town goes into considerable detail about its Silicon-Based Life Forms, and has no Faster-Than-Light Travel, Humanoid Aliens or any of the other usual soft science culprits.
  • M.D. Cooper's Aeon 14 stays firmly grounded in reality for the first three books, with STL-only space travel, Nanomachines, Bio-Augmentation, and Artificial Intelligence but nothing that actually violates physics. However, the preview of book four establishes that Faster-Than-Light Travel has been developed during the Time Skip, bumping it up to Physics Plus.
  • Catherine Asaro writes science-fictional romances, but as a Harvard-trained physicist, her science tends toward the very hard. Her Skolian Saga does feature FTL, but it's not based on the usual sorts of Applied Phlebotinum. It's based on a speculative paper published in the American Journal of Physics, written by... Dr. Catherine Asaro.
  • Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War has no technology that breaks the known laws of physics (though some, like commercially useful cold fusion, reach toward the speculative). The military hardware featured for the most part either exists today, or consists of plausible next-generation concepts (when it's not recycled outright old stuff). Biotechnology is somewhat more advanced than might be strictly plausible for the story's 2030s date, ranging from Synthetic Plagues to cheap and easy ectogenesis, but still nothing that is impossible.
  • The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle is a very solid example, even with the presence of a giant sentient gas cloud. The cloud is initially believed to be a Bok Globule (a dark nebula) drifting into the solar system and the physics equations used to detect it are very real. It helps that the author had a degree in astrophysics and was actually the one to coin the term "Big Bang." note 
  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob): Pretty hard, but the use of subspace and digital clones keeps it from being diamond-hard.
  • Paradyzja by Janusz Zajdel is an interesting example. At first glance, an orbital city with Centrifugal Gravity is already diamond hard — but then we learn the city is really located on the surface of the planet, and its inhabitants are purposefully taught physics wrong so they never work it out and can continue to be abused by their lords and masters. A spy from Earth confirms this little fact experimentally, by checking for Coriolis forces.
  • MARiiMO describes the creation of the titular robot in great detail, sticking to what might be done with current technology.

    Live-Action TV 
  • For All Mankind is an Alternate History show that imagines the Space Race continuing after the Soviets beat the Americans to the Moon. Almost nothing in the show is pure science-fiction, as most is based on speculative or proposed space concepts from the Cold War, which includes a manned Lunar base, water in Shackleton crater (heavily speculated, but not verified), LSAM landers, Sea Dragon rockets, even armed spacecraft. And aside from Earth-like gravity inside the Jamestown Base (since it's filmed on a set on Earth), the science is very well-researched and displayed.
  • Person of Interest: The show is, for all intents and purposes, set in the present with the added existence of Artificial Intelligence, and as it goes on explores more and more the moral and geopolitical ramifications of its existence.
  • Intelligence (2014) is fundamentally present-day Spy Fiction flavored with a Brain/Computer Interface.
  • Season 1 of The 100 fits here. Aside from a weird snake/eel/worm monster that appeared in the Pilot (and only in the Pilot), and some acid fog that's given a reasonable-ish explanation in Season 2, the only speculative leaps required are that a nuclear war has occurred, and that humanity has built a (barely) self-sustaining Space Station with Centrifugal Gravity. Later seasons introduce a lot more Applied Phlebotinum and breaks from known science.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Quite neatly demonstrating that science fiction hardness is not perfectly correlated with plausibility: Car Wars. The only thing lifting it above Futurology on the Scale is the optional Body Backup Drive rules.
  • Sufficiently Advanced fits here. It's very unlikely that everything will work exactly as the author describes, as the tech is way into the future from where we are now, but the author (a physicist) tries to avoid anything that's outright pseudoscience. This still leaves a fair amount of flex. For example, Time Travel is sort of possible - but it's much easier to send information back through time than matter, leading to Chronotech taking a unique form in this game. And while making anything go faster than light is impossible, wormholes and warp drives allow for Loophole Abuse.

    Video Games 
  • ΔV: Rings of Saturn is one of the most accurate depictions of space travel in visual media, with spacecraft systems, performance and visuals being closely extrapolated from existing and near-future speculative tech.
  • I Miss the Sunrise is set far in the future, but doesn't rely on Applied Phlebotinum. Many of the technologies present are described in great detail and generally work according to real physics.
  • Outpost 2 is also set far into the future, but most of the technology used was explained with either then-existing technology (lasers, remote controlled vehicles, hydroponics), experimental (Tokamak fusion, rail guns), and perhaps speculative uses for some natural phenomena (using the swapping of the planet's magnetic field drive generator based around magnetohydrodynamics). There are a few things straight out of fiction, such as "sleep learning", but even then, the flavor text does try to explain this via real scientific topics.
  • Most of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri falls into this, with the technologies researched being based on genuine extrapolations and projections of current (theoretical) science; these are probably on the borderline with Futurology. The main exception is the Psychic Powers, but there are hints that there's a rational explanation for those, as well. Of course, all of this runs afoul of Gameplay and Story Segregation, but not that much.
    • The Alien Crossfire expansion pulls it further from this and towards Physics Plus: despite the fact that the Progenitors are Starfish Aliens, "resonance" is somewhat dubious as a possibility.
  • Similar to Alpha Centauri, TerraGenesis, besides a few simplification and inaccuracies to make the game more enjoyable, is very accurate (and advertises as such) towards real science, courtesy of NASA, when it comes to the world's stats and its effects and futurological technologies used to terraforming.note  The "In-Game Science" section of the Archives sums this level of hardness up the best:
    As much as TerraGenesis strives to be an accurate representation of the science of terraforming, the true process will require the focused efforts of millions of people over decades or centuries, and that would make for a terrible game. No computer program, let alone single-player video game, could accurately simulate the entire experience, any more than a historical strategy game could accurately encapsulate the experience of human history.
    Despite these minor changes and gameplay simplifications, we believe TerraGenesis remains a largely faithful representation of the challenges, opportunities, and potential of space exploration and terraforming.

  • Deep Rise Almost everything is considered possible in principle by modern science.
  • Mare Internum takes place during the early days of Mars's colonization. It starts out on a research station with technology that could all conceivably exist and a pretty realistic view of Mars. Then life and the survivor of an ancient, advanced civilization is discovered beneath the surface. The existence of the advanced aliens and their Organic Technology (which can keep them in stasis for billions of years, and allow Mike to breath their atmosphere, among other things) could push the comic into One Big Lie territory.
  • The main speculative aspect of Never Mind the Gap is that Ridiculously Human Robots are commonplace thanks to the development of quantum computing (and in addition they have to be very human-like because AI researchers found no other way to give machines human-level intelligence). The author has clearly put a lot of thought into these aspects of the setting. Otherwise the science is quite hard. No other particularly speculative technology is shown, except for the ability of one character to make extremely accurate weather forecasts (but she needs a room-full of super-computers to do it, in a setting where quantum computing is common). Even though the robots are very human, they're quite realistic in other ways — for example, they must make trade-offs when it comes to the complexity of their mechanical joints (their bodies can be strong, or flexible, or fast — but not all three at once, unless they're willing to pay a fortune in maintenance costs).

    Web Original 
  • Orion's Arm falls at the softer end of this category. Things that are almost certainly impossible can be accepted but only so long as it is shown that they don't violate any known laws of physics. Wormholes that might violate causality undergo Visser collapse, extremely fast sub-light speed travel with Reactionless Drives has ridiculous amounts of math preventing violations of thermodynamics, brains the size of stars can be made but are subject to all the problems that come with it like light delay between different parts and the constant threat of turning into an actual star.

Futurology: Stories which function almost like a prediction of the future, extrapolating from current technology rather than inventing major new technologies or discoveries. Expect Zeerust in older entries.

    Anime & Manga 

  • Gattaca is set in a very near future that introduces no really new technology but speculates on the advance of subtle human genetic manipulation and fetal selection and the ethical and social implications of a society that quickly relegates the non-engineered to second class status. The gamete selection technology portrayed in the movie is a reasonable extrapolation from technology that already exists; indeed, the furthest-out thing in the film is a manned expedition to Titan (and given an entire world population of geniuses, it's not much of a stretch except for the fact they don't wear spacesuits or seatbelts).
  • It can be difficult to see it this way because it was only "fiction" for a couple of years, but The Truman Show actually fits neatly into the category of Futurology, as well as the second of Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction.
  • Threads is a particularly horrifying portrayal of the impact of a thermonuclear war on the 1980s UK, attempting to accurately model predictions from official reports on the matter. It may have overestimated the effects of nuclear winter, based off more recent research, but it's hard to know for sure.

  • Red Mars (as well as much of Kim Stanley Robinson's other work) reads like genuine prophesy. Every single tool in Red Mars is carefully researched. Well, with the exception of the Longevity Treatment, for which we are given almost no scientific explanation. It's there purely as a literary device to keep the main cast around longer while things continue to change on Mars.
  • Given that "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster dates back to 1909, Zeerust is painfully evident throughout — but the idea of a globe-spanning information-processing system managing the delivery of food, operation of air travel, and aiding the dissemination of information is far from implausible, even if many of the details are distorted relative to what is now considered feasible.
  • Jules Verne did some of these, with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon being the more oft-cited examples because major parts of their premises later came true, namely, the development of the submarine and the possibility to send space travelers to the moon through some sort of ballistic propulsion.
  • Stephen Baxter tends to write in this category, with books like Titan, about a mission to the moon using a combination of decommissioned Shuttle, ISS and Apollo technology.
  • Michael Flynn's Firestar Series, a near-future setting about averting an asteroid that might otherwise hit the Earth.
  • Neuromancer, the William Gibson novel, falls on the hard side of the spectrum, largely because his vague depiction of Cyberspace has preventing it from aging too badly (although Zeerust abounds nevertheless). His description of the Freeside space colony is not too far off from what humans could realistically create in the near future, although it gets some of the details about Artificial Gravity wrong. Ironically, the most difficult thing in the novel to create in real life might be the AI itself that the title refers to.
  • Andy Weir's The Martian, which takes place 20 Minutes into the Future, is extraordinarily hard sci-fi, with a focus on mechanical engineering, chemistry, NASA technology and procedure, and astrophysics; all technology is based on extrapolations of current technology. In fact, even though the novel never once mentions anything about its time period aside from the fact that it takes place sometime after The '80s, due to a prevalence of the "Disco Sucks" trope Played for Laughs... fans were able to determine, by back-engineering his detailed descriptions of orbital mechanics, that it starts on November 12, 2035.
  • In Outlander Leander, Nagdecht is a technologically advanced society, but almost everything they have could be recreated today or will be possible in the near future.
  • While Seveneves doesn't bother explaining what blew up the Moon, everything that follows is plausible with current or near-future technology.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 2057 is a speculative docu-drama from 2007, specifically made to extrapolate from technologies being developed at the time.
  • Max Headroom: Strongly related to its 20 Minutes into the Future premise, though still spiced with the occasional TV commercial that makes people's brains explode. Which may be a comedic exaggeration of a real-life phenomenon; certain TV shows have been known to trigger grand mal seizures.
  • ReGenesis: Set in the present, showcases bleeding edge biotechnology for its science fiction aspects (most of the technology featured are real or in the "theoretical possible but impractical/expensive/unethical stage of development)". Sometimes it's less science-fictiony than CSI.
  • TV docudramas about near-future space exploration, such as Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets and Race to Mars.
  • Jupiter Moon, a British Sci-Fi series taking place on a decommissioned space vessel.
  • Star Cops, an earlier British series that, although not very successful with viewers or critics, remains one of the hardest TV SF shows ever written.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cyberpunk, while now alternate rather than future history, has mostly fallen into this category, with technology outside of cybernetics generally not being much more advanced than what we have today. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is more of a 4 given the borderline Time Stands Still nature of it's Sandevistan and a brief appearance of gravity control tech, though much of that could be chalked up to stylization.
  • High Frontier aims to be a scientifically accurate simulation of the industrialization of the solar system in the near future. All the technologies available in the game are things that are feasible in the near future, and their statistics are as accurate as possible. An actual excerpt from the appendix:
To avoid the evaporation losses suffered by radiations that use liquid droplets in space, dust radiators use solid dust particles instead. If the particles are electrostatically charged, as in an electrostatic thermal radiator (ETHER), they are confined by the field lines between a charged generator and its collector. If the spacecraft is charged opposite to the charge on the particles, they execute an elliptical orbit, radiating at 1200 K with a specific area of 71 kg/m^2 and 213 kW_th/m^2. The dust particles are charged to 10^-14 coulombs to inhibit neutralization from the solar wind. Prenger 1982.
  • Transhuman Space is a fairly realistic attempt at extrapolating the state of the world by the year 2100 - while technology has advanced in many respects, particularly with regards to human augmentation, interplanetary travel still requires weeks to months even with advanced nuclear fusion propulsion, and spacecraft have large radiators to dissipate waste heat. The one exception is the metallic hydrogen HEDM rockets used for some experimental AKV spacecraft - which would place it in the One Small Fib category, but metastable metallic hydrogen hadn't strictly been ruled out when the game was written.

    Video Games 
  • The third ARMA game is a straight-up simulationist look at very near-future warfare.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution revolves largely around the impact that Cyborg technology would have on society and portrays such technology (and is socio-economic impact) rather realistically. Indeed, what is most likely the series' most unrealistic point is the time frame; the series is set in 2027, much too soon for cybernetics to make the advances seen and also become ubiquitous.
  • Kerbal Space Program: Whilst largely based on existing technologies, the vanilla game does include plausible near-future tech such as single-stage-to-orbit Space Planes and manned interplanetary transport. There are many mods available, some of which push the tech level around the scale; Realism Overhaul for example uses real-world rocket engines and propellants. Space Compression is used (unless you use the Real Solar System mod), but the proportions are accurate.
  • Orbiter, predating KSP by several years, simulates orbital mechanics as realistically as possible. The basic install comes with spacecraft that have existed like the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, but also includes fictional spacecraft like the Delta Glider which use unrealistically efficient high-thrust engines (and are recommended for learning how to play). More spacecraft, both on the harder and softer ends of the scale (but still obeying Newtonian physics), can be downloaded as mods.
  • Children of a Dead Earth: A space combat simulator that has more in common with KSP than other softer entries into the genre. The dev has done extensive research into a wide variety of topics to ensure the most realistic game-play experience possible. Spaceflight is done through a full n-body simulation (compared to the patched conics approximation of KSP) and spacecraft systems are so faithfully modeled that making a custom nuclear reactor that actually works ought to come with an honorary degree in nuclear engineering.
  • War Thunder would mostly be a 6 as an attempt at realistically modelling the performance of historical combat vehicles, but the April Fools events "Space Thunder" and "War Thunder 2077" fall here, the former a quite realistic (even down to the circular muzzle flashes of the guns) look at combat between armed space capsules around a near-future space mining station, and the latter an attempt at portraying near-future armored fighting vehicles and aircraft.

Back to Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.

Alternative Title(s): Futurology