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OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Printable Version

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OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Matterplay1 - 04-23-2013

This is a post I'd meant to make on the old worldbuilding list. This seems the best subforum for it in the current context, since it might potentially change our front page and some of our info pages, but it goes back to what OA is and how we describe it so I'm hoping to get input from a broad section of our members, not just those of us who edit the OA site.

Quote:On 06/03/2013 2:39 PM, Ryan wrote:
[snip]

> OA isn't very hard science fiction but we try and ground
> everything in it in real or speculated science.

This brings up a topic we haven't discussed in quite a while and that might be worth revisiting. From the start the OA project has described itself as a hard SF setting. I believe that's true as far as it goes but of course that causes confusion and/or criticism in some quarters because, paradoxically, 'hard sf' is a soft term. Different people have different takes on what 'hard sf' actually denotes and connotes. To make it worse, the term 'hard' tempts people into comparing different science fiction settings in terms of how 'hard' they are, with the inevitable implication that one is somehow better (or, if the commentator is a juvenile male, more 'manly') than the other :-). For the past several years we've settled for calling our setting 'hard but not diamond hard'. That's good as far as it goes but I think I've discovered an even better term for what we're doing, one that steps away from some kind of Mohs scale of science-fiction hardness.

Recently I've been looking at how the OA setting could be described in terms of a science-fiction roleplaying game, especially through the lens of Steve Jackson Games' GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) rules. (See the separate thread on that in the games forum).

The GURPS Ultra-Tech rulebook, which necessarily covers science fiction of every stripe, distinguishes many different kinds of settings, or 'technology paths'. It speaks of all of them in a favourable light because after all they can all be fun -- something we should emphasize too when we attempt describe our own style. I won't go into all of their categories, but two might interest us: Conservative Hard SF and Radical Hard SF.

Briefly, conservative hard SF is hard SF based on cautious extrapolation from present-day knowledge, with perhaps at most one or two carefully justified and limited forays into something that's more speculative. Radical hard SF on the other hand takes on every hard SF tech ever imagined and then pushes the envelope further with a few 'not impossible' techs that may not get the nod from every current scientist but do at least get a serious hearing from a significant number of experts in the field. Here's a cut-and-paste from the GURPS rulebooks, to give a flavour of it (you can find explanation of some of the terms in this thread.

Quote:CONSERVATIVE HARD SF
In this path, technology is restricted to cautious extrapolations of present-day science. This type of setting may lack the sound and fury of space opera or radical hard SF, but it does bring a certain constancy to the campaign. If characters cannot rely on a technobabble device to produce a deus ex machina, the world may seem more real to the players – and more exciting as a result.
To create a conservative hard SF technology list, omit all new gadgets and technologies introduced after TL9. A conservative hard SF setting can still be specified as being TL10-12 . . . if a TL9 gadget indicates it improves in some way at higher TLs, it still does so. For example, computers get their +2 Complexity per TL of introduction, but any new software or computer technology introduced at TL10+ is unavailable. This is a general principle; the GM is free to make whatever exceptions suit the setting.
A truly hard SF campaign will have no superscience at all, but a few carefully-chosen superscience inventions, such as a faster-than-light travel, may be added without changing the flavor too much.
Technology progression is usually medium or slow.

RADICAL HARD SF
A radical hard SF setting emphasizes the transformational possibilities of technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanofactories, robotics, selfreplicating machines, uploading, and mega-engineering. Humans (or other races) may evolve their own bodies or minds into barely recognizable configurations.
To create a radical hard SF technology path, set the campaign at TL10-12 but omit most or all superscience technology. As with conservative hard SF, a few examples of superscience may creep in, usually justified by a grand unified theory (GUT) that reconciles gravity and quantum physics.
Technology progression is usually medium, fast, or accelerated.

So, my proposal: why don't we start describing our setting as 'radical hard SF', with a short explanation (our own, in our own words) of what we mean by it? We could link the explanation from our next version of the OA front page.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - stevebowers. - 04-24-2013

Curiously, I think we have both conservative and radical SF in the setting, mostly because we have such a long timeline in the scenario. In the Interplanetary era, the Nanotech/Dark ages, and the early First Federation era, the technology is pretty much based on cautious extrapolation from mainstream science. The most radical techs in this pereiod are artificial intelligence, uploading and cryostasis, which have their critics but are treated quite conservatively in the timeline.

Once transapientech comes on the scene, with monopoles, wormholes and reactionless drive, we enter a different realm - the realm of radical hard SF. We could remove these elements from the scenario and still have a space opera- but it would be a much slower story to tell. Alan explored the possibility of a universe without transapienttech at one point; it may have been more realistic in some ways, but it is a difficult task to tell the story of a galaxy where news and travellers can't reach anywhere at more than c.

Thing is, I'm pretty sure that some sort of transapienttech is inevitable, once artificially intelligent beings exceed human capabilities by a significant amount. We just don't really know what form this tech will take - all our guesses are likely to be wrong in one way or another.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Tachyon - 04-24-2013

It seems by definition, the more you try to extrapolate technology, the more "radical" it would be.

After all, conservative hard SF in the 18th century had steam powered horses and leather vacuum suits.

Radical hard SF seems fitting to me.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Drashner1 - 04-24-2013

I rather like this idea. It is a bit more explanatory than simply saying 'hard SF' and ties into a well-known franchise (GURPS) within the geekosphere. Given that we are trying to put a GURPS based OA game together as well, this would seem to be a good example of synergy.

Todd


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Matterplay1 - 08-16-2014

Here's a rough draft of the text we might use, linked to the phrase 'hard science fiction' on our main page.

So, what do we mean by 'hard science fiction'? Anybody who has studied the genre knows that ‘hard sf’ is actually a soft term. Certainly it conveys the general idea that the focus is on staying close to what current scientific understanding tells us is probable, or at least possible, but in detail it means different things to different people, and it is rare for any two critics or any two authors to have exactly the same take on it. To make it worse, the term ‘hard’ tempts people into comparing different science fiction settings in terms of just how 'hard' they are, with the inevitable implication that one is somehow better than the other. In the early years of the project we settled for calling our setting ‘hard but not diamond hard’ in an attempt to capture the fact that the Orin’s Arm project leans somewhat into the ‘not impossible’ aspect of hard science fiction. That was good as far as it went, but still not quite on the money. Since then discovered an even better term for what we're doing, one that steps away from some kind of Mohs scale of science-fiction hardness: ‘radical hard science fiction’.

Radical hard science fiction best describes what the Orion’s Arm project strives for. The term was first invented by the good people at Steve Jackson Games. As part of their series GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) books they’ve covered the range of different kinds of science-fiction settings pretty thoroughly, just as you’d expect. In their GURPS Ultra-Tech rulebook they cover a number of different kinds of settings, or ‘technology paths’. Naturally that book speaks of all them favourably. They are, after all, each good clean fun in their own distinctive ways. Two of those possibilities are of special interest to the OA project: paths that they call ‘Conservative Hard SF’ and ‘Radical Hard SF’. Very briefly, conservative hard SF is hard SF based on cautious extrapolation from present-day knowledge, with perhaps at most one or two carefully justified and limited forays into something that's more speculative. Radical hard SF on the other hand takes on every hard SF technology ever imagined and then pushes the envelope further with a few ‘not impossible’ techs that may not get the nod from every current scientist but do at least get a serious hearing from some significant number of experts in the field.

The very early part of the Orion’s Arm setting’s timeline could be described as ‘Conservative Hard SF’. However, we are mindful that hard science fiction of any kind is a moving target. If there had been hard science fiction in the 18th century it might have featured steam powered mechanical horses and leather vacuum suits. We are imagining the progress of knowledge forward over thousands of years of future history, including the work of trillions of beings who are brighter and better educated than any human currently in existence. Further, we’re not setting human intelligence as the limit; we suppose that hyperintelligent beings are possible, and that means that some extraordinary things might be achieved that are presently at the edge of scientific speculation and are not (yet!) ruled out. This leads straight into the category of radical hard science fiction: we still strive to make everything probable, or at least possible, given current scientific opinions, but it is hard science fiction taken to the extreme: hard science fiction with all the dials turned up to the maximum!


Edit: added a the links that I propose we use.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Rynn - 08-16-2014

My only concern is that if we use the term radical (which does seem to apply to OA) it's going to sound ridiculous. We're presuming that someone who reads the front page is going to click on the link and read through the definition but that's not a safe assumption or IMO makes good 'business' sense. The front page needs to sell OA from the get go, it needs to adequately and concisely explain what we're about and what more there is to find out. It shouldn't require someone to click through links and read further definitions and justifications.

I suggest on the front page just having something simple like "hard sci-fi" or even avoid those terms completely and just say "science fiction grounded in speculative science today" with a clickable link for people who want to read about the definitions of hard, radical hard, conservative hard, rock hard etcetera.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Matterplay1 - 08-16-2014

(08-16-2014, 01:04 AM)Rynn Wrote: My only concern is that if we use the term radical (which does seem to apply to OA) it's going to sound ridiculous. We're presuming that someone who reads the front page is going to click on the link and read through the definition but that's not a safe assumption or IMO makes good 'business' sense. The front page needs to sell OA from the get go, it needs to adequately and concisely explain what we're about and what more there is to find out. It shouldn't require someone to click through links and read further definitions and justifications.

I suggest on the front page just having something simple like "hard sci-fi" or even avoid those terms completely and just say "science fiction grounded in speculative science today" with a clickable link for people who want to read about the definitions of hard, radical hard, conservative hard, rock hard etcetera.

That's exactly where we wound up in a the thread that parallels this. This is the 'if you're interested' link to 'hard science fiction' on the main page.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Matterplay1 - 10-13-2014

Will post a final draft of the text soon. Any suggestions for it? Or is it good as-is? Remember, this will be what people get if they click on the 'hard science fiction' comment that is currently on our front page.


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Matterplay1 - 11-03-2014

Did a light edit of the text last proposed, and linked it to the front page. Here's what we have:

http://www.orionsarm.com/page/514

I wonder if one of Bernd's OA banners, like the one at the bottom of this page:
http://www.orionsarm.com/eg-article/4b7549e74b27b

could have a place on our front page when we redesign it (or perhaps before we do)?


RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - Dfleymmes1134 - 11-03-2014

I'm not too fond of bright GIF banners on websites, though i'm sure I could figure out a way that would make a version that looks decent. There'll be a slideshow on the front page, so one of the slides can serve this purpose if enough people want it. I'm not saying no to banners- just would prefer not to. They'd look very appropriate in the ghost net and maybe in the introductory material, though.