When you’re a science fiction author, you spend a lot of time with your head in the clouds. While other authors are researching down-to-earth events and happenings, we’re wondering just how long it takes to get to some unknown star across the galaxy if we’re running one’s warp-engine jets at three times light speed, or what an advanced alien society might look like if its planet developed off silicon instead of carbon.
On top of that, as humans, we really only know a fraction of what we need to know about space in order to live there. There’s a lot more guesswork involved in science fiction and fantasy writing than people outside the field—and, sometimes, inside the field—expect. That’s why you get “hard SF,” or stories that hew as close to the scientific norms and speculation as possible, and “soft SF,” which starts with the basics and is a little more fanciful in the extrapolation. Hard SF includes stories like The Martian, while soft SF (and its more specific cousin, space opera) moves closer to the Star Wars end of things.
Some fans prefer one or the other. Some think one is better than the other. Yet more of us think all of those arguments are silly, and can’t gobble up enough of all of it — whether or not the author spent years of his or her life developing physics-perfect warp drives. Architects of Memory isn’t hard SF, in that way. It doesn’t need a warp drive that could plausibly work in real life — it’s not about transit. It does, however, count as hard SF in that it needed a close, accurate touch on certain parts of medical science and on how computer networks are structured.
Architects of Memory also needed a lot of research around sociological norms — and a lot of time spent working on how our society might develop in a certain way as governments become less important than the corporations they’er suppose to serve, as they are affected by climate change and pushed forward by late-capitalist rhetoric. I had to research how people behave when they’re pent up in one place without the ability to get away from one another, and what kind of coping mechanisms might people develop. Some people don’t think sociological SF is “hard SF.” After the amount of time I spent poring over anthropological studies… well, let’s say those people just haven’t tried it yet.
(I’m actually a little amused at how much doing research on the current stuck-in-one-place sociological studies might be useful in all of our lives this year—stuck in our little house spaceships with the same two to four people, quarantined from the rest of the world for a long time, living off our existing food stores and able to leave only while taking extreme precautions. GOLLY.)
The next time someone says that “soft SF isn’t prescient,” I’m going to point directly at the pandemic.
Friends… we’re living it.