The Orion's Arm Universe Project Forums

OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction'
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:

> 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.

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.

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.

Messages In This Thread
OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - by Matterplay1 - 04-23-2013, 10:23 AM
RE: OA: 'Radical Hard Science Fiction' - by Rynn - 08-16-2014, 01:04 AM

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 2 Guest(s)