Hard sci-fi

Come November, I will be at the Bangalore Literary Festival in conversation with Sri Lankan sci-fi author Navin Weeraratne. I am told Navin – “like you,” according to one of the organisers – is a proponent of hard sci-fi, the science fiction subgenre that draws upon legitimate scientific ideas and principles.

A less obsessive reader might not mind the difference, especially if the author’s invitation to suspend disbelief is smooth. But I draw a thick line between hard and soft sci-fi because science is more than, rather quite different from, technology, and I believe the ‘sci-fi’ label is warranted only if the principles of science are carried over as well, into everything from world-building to character-building. Heck, the act – and art – of deriving consequences from a finite set of first principles in a different universe and for a set of fictitious characters could be the point of a book in itself.

Soft sci-fi, on the other hand, is quite fond of inventing technologies to depict fantastic landscapes and cultures and is closer to fantasy fiction than to sci-fi.

Admittedly these are only lines in the sand but I believe the virtues of sci-fi could be extended to include many kinds of storytelling that the typical sci-fi author, usually dabbling in the softer parts of the subgenre, may not be inclined to explore.

Now, while I’ve expressed this view in public on a few occasions of late, I don’t know enough about the subgenre and its literary, historical and philosophical virtues – certainly not enough to speak to Navin Weeraratne on stage. The man has nine books to his name! Fortunately the event is over a month away and I have time to prepare. I dearly hope I don’t make a fool of myself onstage, in a room full of the ‘literary types’.