Hard science fiction is a subgenre within the larger science fiction genre of writing and creative work that is identified by a few commonalities. Most of this work, for example, is written to be very realistic in how science and various aspects of the world in which the story takes place are portrayed. Even though such works are still fictional, an effort is made to ensure the fictional details are realistic and based on available scientific knowledge. Hard science fiction can also be more speculative and fanciful in nature, but still adheres to an overall comprehensive and consistent vision of the story’s universe.
The term “hard science fiction” is typically used in contrast to “soft science fiction” and is used as a way to indicate how realistic the work is in its portrayal of the fictional universe. In this usage, “hard” and “soft” are used to refer to works that are created in a way that is more or less realistic. Hard science fiction, for example, is often created with an eye toward what is possible or real within the limits of current scientific understanding. This means that characters in such a work are usually restricted by realistic limitations such as the effects of low gravity, a lack of combustion within outer space, and a need for full body suits and breathing apparatuses while exploring alien worlds.
Soft science fiction, in contrast, usually less closely adheres to realistic aspects of scientific writing. These works may include unrealistic details such as sound or fiery explosions in the vacuum of outer space, characters exploring alien worlds without protective coverings, and more fantastical elements within the universe of the story. There are some elements that may be present in both soft and hard science fiction, though “hard” works usually deal with these elements in more consistent ways.
Concepts such as faster than light travel, for example, can often be found in soft science fiction and may be somewhat controversial in hard science fiction. As far as modern science can explain, such travel is relatively impossible. There are certain ways to work around this limitation, however, and hard science fiction is usually written to work around such limitations in a way that still feels true to the universe in which the story is set. These works are likely to present technology that solves such issues in a way that is fully developed, and not merely explain it through a “miracle” of science.