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Hard Science Fiction


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One subject near-and-dear to my heart is science fiction, with extreme emphasis on the science. Star Wars is not what I would call science fiction. It is swords and sorcery with fantastic, impossible weapons and “space ships” that fly and maneuver like airplanes.. even in the airlessness of space!  It doesn’t care about physics, not even its own. It doesn’t even understand that a parsec is a distance, not a speed. It is “science” fiction only because somebody dropped it in the genre and was too lazy to fish it out. Star Trek is also not science fiction. It uses science-ish words in a generally self-consistent manner, but it abuses them to hand-wave impossible technology like “warp” drives into existence. It is about as plausible science-wise as Neon Genesis Evangelion. A more appropriate name might be bafflegab fiction.

And just to short-circuit any heated "discussion" about the relative merits of the above as they pertain to entertainment, I happen to like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.  I'm not saying that they're in any way "bad".  However, for the purposes of this topic they are hereby declared to be "not-science fiction".  Not what I'm looking for and not what I'm here to discuss.  I cite them only because they are well-known examples of the sort of "science" fiction that I'm trying to get past.

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No, what I’m looking for here is science-themed anime (or manga, or books) based on real science. What I mean by science-themed is that science or technology or engineering must be a central element of the plot, character(s), and/or setting, and nothing important to the plot or setting of the story should contradict generally-accepted, real-universe physical laws as science currently understands them. It may extend them, or speculate at the edges of that body of knowledge, but it must not contradict their core.

Tools and devices used must at least be theoretically possible to create and operate in the real universe, and ideally practically so.  Space ships made out of unobtanium or requiring energy equal to the mass of the universe to function for example are not practical and would be disallowed.  Likewise things like “psionics” or “superpowers” would be considered to be just different pronunciations of “magic” and likewise excluded from the category.

Note however that applications of Clarke’s 3rd law are allowed, even encouraged, provided the “magic” can be explained using science and fabricated with real-world engineering techniques. In other words, no wizards, unless they’re really cyborgs with their own wifi-controlled nanite swarms.  "Telepathy" between normal humans is allowed, if they've had the appropriate hardware surgically implanted.

If you’re still not clear on the concept, take a look at this page (Mohs Scale)  I’m looking for a 5 or 6 on the “Mohs scale”.

Examples of anime that might make the cut:

  • Planetes
  • Dennou Coil (basically AR, just with really advanced hardware, and we already have stuff like pokemon go and Minecraft Earth)
  • Sword Art Online, "Aincrad" arc (fantasy on top, yes, but a “hard” core of plausibly real-world technology underneath)
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Space Brothers (borderline, could be considered simply slice-of-life or drama, but a focus on science and engineering as central to the setting and plot development saves it.)
  • Moonlight Mile
  • Rocket Girls

Note that I’m making no claims as to the entertainment quality of any of the above, just stating that they have reasonably solid basis in real-world physics and engineering. IOW, they could be real in an alternate timeline or at some point in the foreseeable future.

I've seen all of the above.  If anyone has any others to recommend I’d love to hear about them. Many places, even book and movie stores, have “science fiction and fantasy” sections. Ugh.  Do a google search on “science fiction” and you’ll get Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, etc. at the top of the list. With so many not-science topics obscuring the field it is hard to find the “real” science fiction that I’m after here.

 

Edited by efaardvark
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Have you seen Psycho Pass?

https://myanimelist.net/anime/13601/Psycho-Pass

It has been out for a while, but perhaps it wasn't on your radar. 

The sci fi themes here are very intriguing, though I am not qualified to say how possible they are, so you'll have to take a look.

There are cyborgs, humans who live on past their normal life length being preserved for around an extra lifetime in duration by technology, having cybernetic bodies and preserving their brains. However, their brains must continue to be stimulated or it would deteriorate more rapidly.

There are other components to this sci fi world, but they seem to be within reason. Let me know what you think of this rec.

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I'll carefully throw Ergo proxy in here.

I wasn't sure at first if i should or not but seeing as it is one of my favorite animes and it is sci-fi but just like Seshi said, you be the judge

when it comes down to the science part. If i had to describe it it without giving away anything, i'd say it's like mixing philosophy with cyberpunk.

 

Also, thumbs up for the Psycho Pass recommendetion.

It's perhaps closer to what you're looking for than Ergo Proxy

 

 

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@Seshi I think I saw a few early episodes of Psycho-Pass.  Didn't seem like my kind of thing and some of the underlying science parts are .. dubious but I'll spend a little more time with it.  Maybe they explain things better later in the series.

@Tv-Crimes Ergo Proxy was close.  As with psycho-pass some of the science part is questionable though.  Not a bad anime, but in terms of SF and this thread I'd like it "harder".

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Oh man, I can't believe I forgot Patlabor!  A great (mostly) "hard" anime that was overshadowed by other mecha like the Gundam series that were more spectacular but less "hard".
 

 

Edited by efaardvark
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I want to say Knights of Sidonia up to a point. I don't know if you have seen it already but I found it very enjoyable and in depth in regards to how they handle their science stuff. It might be really science fantasy after a certain level but I think it is overally a very good anime definately worth checking out. I will say the animation still was a bit rough at first, but it is by no means bad or unwatchable.

 

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Dropping this movie since you enjoyed Rocket Girls 

https://myanimelist.net/anime/1034/Ouritsu_Uchuugun__Honneamise_no_Tsubasa

and Ova There's supposed to be a full length anime for Uru in Blue releasing in 2022.

Its "an alternate history retelling of the early Space Race from the POV of the Soviet Union".

I haven't watched them yet myself, but you have spurred my interest in this field now so its in my PTW. I hope you find them interesting. If not, my bad xD

 

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Been meaning to post this here but I kept forgetting...  I finally got around to watching Aldnoah Zero just before the virus thing hit.  Not quite my cup of tea but they did get a lot of the physics mostly right.  The main aspect that I am intrigued by however was the thought of an aristocracy enforced/enabled by technology keyed to the genetics of a certain bloodline.  Anyone know of any other animes that explore this meme?  Preferably without crossing the line into fantasy..

https://myanimelist.net/anime/22729/AldnoahZero

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On 1/11/2020 at 9:15 PM, efaardvark said:

Space Brothers (borderline, could be considered simply slice-of-life or drama, but a focus on science and engineering as central to the setting and plot development saves it.)

The following article references the prequel movie becoming available  for streaming & also mentions that a physical release will be forthcoming

https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2020-05-05/hidive-to-stream-space-brothers-no.0-anime-film/.159279

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Posted (edited)

One of the questions I always get from people when I talk about "hard" SF is what I consider "hard".  I tend to use words like "real", but with science education being what it is(n't, especially in the US) that's a difficult boundary line for a lot of people to discern.  Also, the other part of "SF" is "fiction", which apparently in some minds grants a lot of leeway, even to the point of obliterating any science content.  Next thing you know we're off the rails in Star Wars or Star Trek or even LotR territory and people don't understand why I'm all  😭  ( :) )

The trick is to step right up to that boundary and - while keeping ones feet firmly planted on the stable ground on this (real) side of it - look out and speculate on where the path might lead on the other side.  In other words, look at the cutting-edge R&D being done and speculate where that might lead, then write a science fiction story describing the path we might wind up taking from here if some of that research pans out.

Which brings me to the instigation for this post.  This year's NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program has released their "phase I" funding selections for 2021.  Phase II and III selections for previous years are here.  Such programs are a great source for SF writers looking for story ideas.

Edited by efaardvark
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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, LonelyPoet said:

Does Dr. Stone count? Also Robotics Notes, is pretty cool.

I’d say both were SF.  Dr. Stone was pretty “soft” but if you gloss over the initial premise (stone/suspended animation) used to set it up then it was ok.  More of a tech-tree walk than science per-se though.

RN was actually more “hard” than DS in my mind, at least for most of it.  It did have a few weird bits of its own but the augmented reality parts and the engineering realities of building the robot were solid.

Edited by efaardvark
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An upcoming series that might be worth a look

https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2021-03-16/tsuki-to-laika-to-nosferatu-novels-about-vampire-cosmonaut-gets-tv-anime/.170710

Granted the whole vampire characterization pretty much sabotages the realism aspect but an alternate version of the space race between nations is at least an angle that doesn’t seem to get used much. Might be worth checking out.

Edited by Ohayotaku
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Well, I don't know how hard would you consider Pacific Rim: The Black, to be.

Onde you consider Gundam less hard, probably Pacific Rim (which, to me, is Gundam + Evangelion + giant monsters, in concept) would be a little bit less too.

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