Via ye olde Wikipedia: Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both. The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Islands of Space in Astounding Science Fiction. The complementary term soft science fiction (formed by analogy to “hard science fiction”) first appeared in the late 1970s as a way of describing science fiction in which science is not featured, or violates the scientific understanding at the time of writing.
The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the “hard” (natural) and “soft” (social) sciences. Neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy—instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful. The categorization “hard SF” represents a position on a scale from “softer” to “harder”, not a binary classification.
So far, in this first of The Heechee Saga by Frederik Pohl, I’ve found two awesome little passages. Both witty and scientifically relevant. I also got a little Phillip Marlowe* cynicism (oh yeah, Raymond Chandler).
“Did you like your brother?” I asked…
“Well, sure. He was the baby. But he was an Aries, born under Mercury and the Moon. Made him fickle and moody, of course. I think he would have had a complicated life.”
I was less interested in asking her about what happened to him than in asking if she really believed in that garbage, but that didn’t really seem tactful, and anyway she went on talking…
On dealing with ET lifeforms
“What about weapons?”
… Oh yes. Let’s see. Well, of course, if I need them I take them. But, wait a minute, first I sniff for methane in the atmosphere with the spectrometer reading from orbit. If there’s no methane signature there’s no life, so I don’t have to worry.”
“There’s no mammalian life, and you do have to worry. What about insects? Reptiles? Duglatches?”
“A word I just made up to describe a kind of life we’ve never heard of that doesn’t generate methane in its gut but eats people.”