Rocket Science?

There are two interesting posts over at Ian Sales’s blog.

The first is an attempt to (re)define “hard” SF. As far as he sees it – and I largely agree – this is SF that is bound, more or less, by known physical laws, by the restraints inherent in, for example, Physics and Chemistry.

In this regard any use of the trope of, for example, faster than light travel is – despite decades of convention and use in what might otherwise be considered hard SF stories – not hard SF in the strictest sense, as, to our best knowledge, the speed of light is an insurmountable barrier.

This is not to decry other types of SF (which are perfectly legitimate) merely to say that they go beyond the bounds of the known and, in the case of Space Opera in particular, which cleaves the paper light years with carefree abandon, actually tend towards wish-fulfillment. Though of course there is the necessity of getting characters from here to there in a reasonably efficient, non-boring manner.

It is amusing to recall here what is perhaps the most famous phrase in Science Fiction – certainly in its dramatic form, “Ye cannae change the laws of Physics, Captain.” This from a TV programme which made a habit, nay a virtue, of portraying just that.

Ian makes a distinction between hard sciences (Cosmology, Physics, Chemistry) and softer ones such as Psychology, Archaeology and Anthropology. While agreeing that the term is most often interpreted this way I wouldn’t myself say that stories featuring these could not be hard SF.

The second of his posts is an announcment that he will be editing an anthology of… hard SF; to be called Rocket Science.

No need to rush. Submissions will not be accepted till 1st August.

Rocket Science is itself a term that has often irritated me as it is most often heard in the phrase, “It’s not rocket science, is it?” as if rocket science was at the cutting edge, inherently incomprehensible. As Ian points out in his post, the science of rocketry – as opposed perhaps to some of its technological aspects – has, due to its basis in chemical reactions whose energetic outcomes are limited and, moreover, fixed – not evolved much in a century.

I know it’s use is as much metaphorical as anything else but I’ve always felt tempted to respond to anyone who trots out the, “It’s not rocket science,” line, that rocket science isn’t rocket science.

Rocket Science, however, may be.

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