People love to debate what is "real" science fiction. Is hard SF the only real SF? Where is the line between soft science fiction and science fantasy, and should both simply be called fantasy?Read the whole thing. Henderson goes on in a very readable fashion to explore the differences between the three genres, an exercise I find enlightening. I suspect, though, that many of my friends and family would find it nitpicky. "Why bother with all this fine categorization?" I can hear them asking. "Isn't it enough to know that you like it?" Well, not exactly. Sure, much ink (or whatever passes for it on the InterWebz) has been pointlessly spilled splicing ever-finer genre hairs. But stories with different sorts of components are also different sorts of, well, stories. Content matters. There's a world of difference between the soft SF of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, the hard SF of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars and the science fantasy of C.S. Lewis' Perelandra. Delineating the three (and others like them) ultimately serves readers themselves.
According to the Henderson Institute of Knowing Knowledge, there are three general levels of science fiction. There used to be six, but one was erased in a time paradox, one was converted into pure energy, and one was confiscated by Area 51 and cannot be discussed. The three remaining levels are:
• Hard Science Fiction
• Soft Science Fiction
• Science Fantasy
The three levels are not to be confused with definitions like cyberpunk, steampunk, space opera, social scifi, military scifi, etcetera scifi. Those are science fiction subgenres, not levels, and all of the subgenres can potentially fall into any of the three levels. And now I feel like I'm trying to describe ninth dimensional space, so let's move on.
(Picture: CC 2008 by Horia Varlan)