Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
Nerhesi
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Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Nerhesi » Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:13 am

This was brought on by a conversation with a fellow poster, to which I am very thankful for being able to chat with despite have very different viewpoints on our preferred scifi technology paradigm :)

To keep it simple, I just wanted to chat a bit about what is "Hard Scifi" and what is not "soft Scifi". And also, why I believe Traveller is hard scifi.

What are the indicators of hard scifi?
Hard Scifi, is about internal consistency. If I have access to grav drive technology in ships drives. I should have personal grav belts, grav cars, and so on. If I have armor materials or shielding on spaceships, I should be able to get those on people, tricycles and so forth.

What is NOT required for scifi?
A relationship to current technology, practices or discoveries.
The existence of shields, transporters, armor, new particles, reasoning, etc... does not in any way immediately make something not hard. Any sufficiently advanced technology would appear to us as magic. As long as that magic is consistent in it's use, it is "hard scifi".

What makes things "soft"? (Lack of consistency)

The biggest one you see people cringe at are thrusting drives. Basically - the kind of rockets/engines we have. The second something like that exists that can move a 500kton object at any speed (or oh God, launch off a planet) - that should mean you can now create a ballistic device that will blow away small moons. I once (I wish I had a link) saw a little study of the effect of one of those ships simply passing by earth or our moon.

Having teleporters but not making full use of the technology Is it used in surgery? Can it store matter? can it copy it? Do you have things that make matter.. great - so now would anyone die if I can just store their "pattern" and replicate it whenever I need?

These inconsistencies usually become super apparent when you see "unique" examples of a certain technology, then it doesn't appear in any other area. (Like the deflection ability of a light saber, not being propagated to other defense mechanism).
--------

So to me, traveller, has a very limited amount of internal inconsistencies when compared to say Star Wars or Star Trek or Battletech (which is harder than the previous two for example - surprisingly).


Anyways, just thought this would be an interesting discussion to have.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Lord High Munchkin » Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:30 am

Some 'Traveller' settings are harder than others... '2300AD' is certainly much "harder" than the '3rd Imperium', which is in turn far "harder" than 'Judge Dredd'.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby hiro » Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:52 am

Internal consistency should be a given for any genre of game if you want it to be believable. Or rather, it should scale with your own sense of what you are prepared to hand wave and what you are not. Suspension of belief is the key for me on the degree of hardness, Star Wars was great when I was 11, nowadays its just plain silly and the writing is hopeless...

Hard sci-fi to me is a reasonable extrapolation of current technology, projected X years into the future.

We can't yet make fibres that will allow a beanstalk to orbit but I can envisage a time when we can.

FTL is probably the one case where we all have to grin and say "Yeah, sure, why not?" and think no further on it. Yeah, maybe it will be possible but we're talking quantum leaps not evolution. (Yeah, OK, I know that evolution makes those leaps too but you know what I mean).

Do I think we'll have contact lenses instead of monitors? Yes.

Will computers become smart? In that a very good expert system is hard to distinguish from a person, yes. Self aware? Not sure about that, that opens up all kinds of questions for me about whether we have souls or not and as I'm not sure we as people do, I'm not sure I can see machines with them.

Ya get my drift?

edited to add:

It's also about believability of plot. That there are repercussions for your characters actions and that the worlds the GM creates have depth and . Some might call this gritty and getting away from the sci-fi but it merges for me. I've played in plenty of games where the object was to have a giggle, not to take it seriously. This is cool but the more you want to reduce the hand waving and make the game believable then you're going to introduce an element of "serious" to it which isn't everyone's cup of tea. It's like the difference in watching True Detective and The Following. Both are dark but really? Ryan Hardy would be on paid leave after the first officer involved shooting and out of the plot in the first episode two series ago whereas Rust and Marty covered their tracks and became the heroes despite Marty blowing the head off of Ledoux...
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Tue Apr 22, 2014 7:06 am

Traveller is all kinds of sci-fi. Just pick a world on the map. It'll have its own sci-fi possibility on it, if not multiple ones.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Condottiere » Tue Apr 22, 2014 9:49 am

It's a compromise, based on the aesthetics of a more antiquated scifi generation, since I think cyberpunk, even Shadowrun with it's overlay of fantasy, is probably closer to the actual future.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy that particular aesthetic, which was visualized as a rather dour, minimalist, sterile pictures that accompanied the texts. GURPS turned that vision somewhat grubby.

That's probably why I really didn't like the concept of widespread Rebellion, nor vampire starships; except, if it's a sort of one off adventure. But that may be more because I prefer a Pournellesque approach. Or Poul Anderson.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:37 pm

Condottiere wrote:It's a compromise, based on the aesthetics of a more antiquated scifi generation, since I think cyberpunk, even Shadowrun with it's overlay of fantasy, is probably closer to the actual future.
That's true to an extent, although I think that some aspects of classic cyberpunk literature look a bit dated now. William Gibson himself has pointed out that payphones appear several times in his cyberpunk fiction but there's not a single mobile phone in sight - although he made a number of visionary predictions, he underestimated the impact that mobile devices, social media, and ubiquitous low-cost surveillance would have on human society.

I'm still amazed at how much John Brunner got right in his trilogy of near-future novels published in the 1970s - read Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look UP, and Stand on Zanzibar for three uncomfortable dystopian visions. Some of the details of his technological predictions are off, but the broad details are still very plausible.
Condottiere wrote:That doesn't mean I don't enjoy that particular aesthetic, which was visualized as a rather dour, minimalist, sterile pictures that accompanied the texts. GURPS turned that vision somewhat grubby.
To me, Traveller has always implied a grimy, industrial future that I associate with the visual imagery that I associate with the first two Aliens films and the recent version of Battlestar Galactica. Ridley Scott's Prometheus got the visual aesthetic right, even if the movie didn't really work in other respects.
Condottiere wrote:That's probably why I really didn't like the concept of widespread Rebellion, nor vampire starships; except, if it's a sort of one off adventure. But that may be more because I prefer a Pournellesque approach. Or Poul Anderson.
Traveller has always attempted to simulate a particular style of literary SF associated with works from the 1950s and 1960s - notably Poul Anderson's Technic Civilisation series, Jack Vances Demon Princes series, E.C. Tubb's Dumarest series, A Bertram Chandler's Commodore Grimes series, H. Beam Piper's Star Viking, Andre Norton's Solar Queen novels, et al. It was never intended to simulate the kind of high-octane cinematic space opera that achieved widespread public exposure with Star Wars.

Even when it was written, Traveller was a bit of a throwback - it was a love letter to the literary SF of a previous generation. Traveller studiously avoids contamination by the New Wave SF authors who were challenging the genre's assumptions at the time it was written - you won't find many influences from contemporary SF authors such as Samuel Delaney, John Varley, Pamela Sargeant, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Harlan Ellison, et al. It also ignores the British socialist / anarchist SF of Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss. Basically, Traveller looked back with fondness on a simpler age where extrapolation of the kind of social concerns that dominated 1970s SF (feminism, multiculturalism, colonialism, gender identity, etc) were discouraged in favour of extrapolation of future technologies. Traveller offered a conservative middle class American view of the future with a vaguely libertarian leaning despite the presence of interstellar empires with a quasi-feudal social structure.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:44 pm

hiro wrote:FTL is probably the one case where we all have to grin and say "Yeah, sure, why not?" and think no further on it. Yeah, maybe it will be possible but we're talking quantum leaps not evolution. (Yeah, OK, I know that evolution makes those leaps too but you know what I mean).
It's worth mentioning that any realistic treatment of FTL travel must address the possibility of time travel since FTL travel implies the ability to travel in a Closed Timelike Curve (CTC). It's possible to handwave this to an extent by declaring that the Novikov self-consistency conjecture is correct and that closed timelike curves are impossible to generate in practice - causality must always be self-consistent to all observers in all possible inertial reference frames. However, this is not necessarily true in the real universe - we just don't know yet...
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Tom Kalbfus » Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:00 pm

Condottiere wrote:It's a compromise, based on the aesthetics of a more antiquated scifi generation, since I think cyberpunk, even Shadowrun with it's overlay of fantasy, is probably closer to the actual future.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy that particular aesthetic, which was visualized as a rather dour, minimalist, sterile pictures that accompanied the texts. GURPS turned that vision somewhat grubby.

That's probably why I really didn't like the concept of widespread Rebellion, nor vampire starships; except, if it's a sort of one off adventure. But that may be more because I prefer a Pournellesque approach. Or Poul Anderson.
Well magic isn't real, so I wouldn't call shadowrun "hard science fiction". Cyberpunk on the other hand is based on a narrow set of assumptions, for instance weak governments and all powerful megacorporations. I don't see governments getting weaker, I see them getting stronger and more oppressive, that is the problem. Lots of libertarians would like some of the assumptions of weaker governments, and they call that a good thing. Cyberpunk is an obsolete view of the future based in the 1980s. For instance the movie Robocop was a cyberpunk setting. OCP was a megacorp running the Detroit Police, and also the one that build Robocop and most of the opponents he fought.
Last edited by Tom Kalbfus on Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Tom Kalbfus » Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:10 pm

Prime_Evil wrote:
hiro wrote:FTL is probably the one case where we all have to grin and say "Yeah, sure, why not?" and think no further on it. Yeah, maybe it will be possible but we're talking quantum leaps not evolution. (Yeah, OK, I know that evolution makes those leaps too but you know what I mean).
It's worth mentioning that any realistic treatment of FTL travel must address the possibility of time travel since FTL travel implies the ability to travel in a Closed Timelike Curve (CTC). It's possible to handwave this to an extent by declaring that the Novikov self-consistency conjecture is correct and that closed timelike curves are impossible to generate in practice - causality must always be self-consistent to all observers in all possible inertial reference frames. However, this is not necessarily true in the real universe - we just don't know yet...
One could eliminate real FTL travel altogether, by assuming the sci fi universe is a Matrix like environment, that the planets and starships aren't real in the first place. One idea I've had is a sort of Dyson Sphere, and array of solar collectors completely surrounds a star with the equivalent surface area of one billion Earths, only the inside of the sphere is not a habitable environment, just solar panels and vacuum. The Solar panels do power a vast computer network that simulates reality however, and in that simulated reality, you could have a setting like Traveller. The 11,000 worlds of the Imperium would be easy to simulate for a Dyson Sphere of this sort, and the people within such an environment wouldn't detect anything abnormal, as far as they are concerned they are travelling in space ad exploring the galaxy. Most don't know how the FTL drives work. How they work is very simple, they are built into the computer program that runs the setting. the light years crossed aren't real and neither are the planets traveled to, though they seem real to the participants. Most things work according to the laws of physics as we know them, but jump drives and artificial gravity number among the exceptions.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:39 pm

IIRC, it was Asimov who coined the term, for fiction, to as where technology was a central aspect of the story.

None of this is hard sci-fi by that standard, nor does anyone want that.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Balfuset790 » Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:46 pm

dragoner wrote:IIRC, it was Asimov who coined the term, for fiction, to as where technology was a central aspect of the story.

None of this is hard sci-fi by that standard, nor does anyone want that.
Agreed. To me, 'Hard' Sci-Fi is where the technology is pivotal to the story-telling of the setting.

Eclipse Phase, for example, is hard Sci-Fi not because it has no FTL travel and is based on Transhuman philosophies. But because the Singularity and the technology it spawned is ingrained in the stories you tell in the setting, you have to consider things like how mind uploading works and how travel via digitial transfer affects passage, your characters and the way you weave stories.

Whereas I'm currently reading a book by Gary Gibson called Stealing Light. The technology of the humans in that game is similarly 'hard'... no FTL, no true AI, very extrapolated from reality level technology. There is a species with 'technology as magic' but I feel that that's permissable in hard sci-fi if only because Arthur C. Clarke coined the original phrase. But it's Space Opera because the focus is on the characters and their impact on the setting in a grand, epic sense. The only real technological focus is the fact that the story revolves around an FTL capable starship humanity shouldn't have.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Galadrion » Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:25 pm

Nerhesi wrote:What are the indicators of hard scifi?
Hard Scifi, is about internal consistency. If I have access to grav drive technology in ships drives. I should have personal grav belts, grav cars, and so on. If I have armor materials or shielding on spaceships, I should be able to get those on people, tricycles and so forth.
I would modify this slightly. Internal consistency is not an absolute requirement, so long as the discrepancy is addressed. As an example, in David Weber's Mutineer's Moon series, the Achultani clearly have unevenly applied technology - indeed, this is pointed out by characters within the story - but there is a well-reasoned justification for that discrepancy.

One possible justification for for star/spaceships having different capabilities from personal vehicles would be scaling issues - the techniques and/or materials involved can only be effectively miniaturized to a certain level before losing so much capability that more conventional methods are more effective. (This, incidentally, is the basis for my own rationalization of the size limits on starships - below 100 dT and above 1,000,000 dT, the fields involved in the creation and control of the jump bubble become chaotic and unstable. Until that instability is overcome, smaller or larger starships are not feasible - or are too hazardous for anyone sane to voluntarily use.)
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:51 pm

Balfuset790 wrote: Eclipse Phase, for example, is hard Sci-Fi not because it has no FTL travel and is based on Transhuman philosophies. But because the Singularity and the technology it spawned is ingrained in the stories you tell in the setting, you have to consider things like how mind uploading works and how travel via digitial transfer affects passage, your characters and the way you weave stories.

Whereas I'm currently reading a book by Gary Gibson called Stealing Light. The technology of the humans in that game is similarly 'hard'... no FTL, no true AI, very extrapolated from reality level technology. There is a species with 'technology as magic' but I feel that that's permissable in hard sci-fi if only because Arthur C. Clarke coined the original phrase. But it's Space Opera because the focus is on the characters and their impact on the setting in a grand, epic sense. The only real technological focus is the fact that the story revolves around an FTL capable starship humanity shouldn't have.
I think a main thing is that doing something like throwing away almost every ship design, people would not like. But none of this is designed by engineers, and being an engineer myself, I'm glad for it. Even the career paths would be more likely to create staid professionals rather than wild adventurers, things have to give way to the game.

Eclipse phase is neat, but it becomes a bit too fiddly, esp with character generation; but I willingly steal concepts for my Traveller game.

I think Clarke's quote maybe get's misused in some cases, with magic coming from a supernatural source, like a god or something; though I actually have a very high tech type of "space gypsies" that use their tech to actually appear lower tech. But, Space Opera, or any other sort of type of sci-fi story, if fun to play in the game, it is the most fun. Too much I dislike the sort of grognardy attitude that says "you are doing it wrong"; when the only real wrong is to not have fun.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Sigtrygg » Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:50 pm

Traveller is not hard sci-fi, it uses too many magic technologies to qualify. The rough rule of thumb I've seen quoted is you can only have one magic technology for it to be hard sci-fi.

Traveller has the following:

Artificial gravity - hard sci-fi would be constant acceleration or spin gravity
Jump drive - hard sci-fi would be fractional c stl antimatter powered drives.
Acceleration compensators, pure force field magic tech - hard sci-fi would dump these.
Magic heat sinks, no mention of how waste heat from a multi gigawatt reactor is got rid of - hard sci-fi would require radiators or heat sinks of some type.
Magic manoeuvre drives - hard sci-fi would be a reaction drive, either fusion or antimatter powered.

Add to that implausible laser weapons, magical 50kg missiles that can accelerate at high g for extended periods of time, meson weapons, meson screens, nuclear dampers,,, I may have missed a couple.

Compare T2300 to CT/MgT - it is a hard sci-fi setting.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby hdan » Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:56 pm

Sigtrygg wrote:Traveller is not hard sci-fi, it uses too many magic technologies to qualify. The rough rule of thumb I've seen quoted is you can only have one magic technology for it to be hard sci-fi.

Traveller has the following:

Artificial gravity - hard sci-fi would be constant acceleration or spin gravity
Jump drive - hard sci-fi would be fractional c stl antimatter powered drives.
Acceleration compensators, pure force field magic tech - hard sci-fi would dump these.
Magic heat sinks, no mention of how waste heat from a multi gigawatt reactor is got rid of - hard sci-fi would require radiators or heat sinks of some type.
Magic manoeuvre drives - hard sci-fi would be a reaction drive, either fusion or antimatter powered.
Really though, Artificial Gravity, Acceleration Compensators and Maneuver Drives are all the same magic - the ability to control the warping of space/time. If you squint, you could even put Jump into that category, though it assumes things about the structure of space/time.

The heat sinks though, those are their own type of magic.
/hdan
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:08 pm

hdan wrote:
Really though, Artificial Gravity, Acceleration Compensators and Maneuver Drives are all the same magic - the ability to control the warping of space/time. If you squint, you could even put Jump into that category, though it assumes things about the structure of space/time.

The heat sinks though, those are their own type of magic.
Or you just wrap it in techno-babble: Antigravity - Negative Mass Emulation (note that "Spin Gravity" doesn't exist); Jump - False Vacuum Metastability Event; and Heat Sinks - Dimensional Heat Coils. Just to say it can't be done now, doesn't mean it can't be done. But I know if I try to force my players to do Young's Modulus, I'll lose them.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Sigtrygg » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:15 pm

Hard science fiction is based on the laws of physics as we understand them, extrapolated with novel applications of that technology.

Science fantasy starts with technobabble, the more you require technobabble to explain stuff the softer your sci-fi.

IF CT explained the breakthrough technology as gravitic theory and linked acceleration compensators, manoeuvre drives and jump drives to be variations of a theme you could argue that you have your one technology breakthrough for hard sci-fi. The setting needs a bit of a retcon to do this but it does help.

But by the time you are including grav focussed lasers and gravitic heat sinks you have crossed a line in my opinion to the soft side of science fiction.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Infojunky » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:29 pm

Ok as I Stated before in another thread is that Hard SF is SF where few if any liberties are taken with known science. It can be considered a scale.

As for internal consistency, that actually is more about fiction that science in that in fiction the story must make sense. (This is true in science as well but often it doesn't make quite as good a story).

Traveller is at best hard-ish SF, in that there are a number of technologies that operate outside the fundamental rules of natures as we currently know them. But in these areas we know what they are and are factored into the setting such that they are internally coherent. Even with this fundamental relationship's as described by science still apply to Traveller.

As for Traveller's relationship to Cyberpunk, Traveller is very. All one needs to do is go back and read the classic adventures and the Noir pops right out at you. Cyberpunk is defined by the characters and the setting not the Tech.

But as this is Traveller at least half of y'all are gonna disagree with me, that's what makes it grand.
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby Sigtrygg » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:37 pm

One last one then - psionics.

Definitely science fantasy ;)
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Re: Hard Scifi. What is it and why Traveller is Hard Scifi

Postby dragoner » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:38 pm

Except we don't understand things like gravity, we see it's effect, but that's it. Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity don't meet in a easy manner, which is problematic for sci-fi, because that is where in operates.

Traveller has a lot more fundamental issues, like the structural deficiency of the A2; it is what it is. 2300 piles on some more, like using "Hover" as an analog for Grav Vehicles, or spin habs that ignore basic trig in mechanical design. I don't really care though, people should play what is fun to them. If you ask the propulsion engineers from Neil Armstrong Hall, a lot of them will say it is all crap (which I have over a pint); so sci-fi people shouldn't be so quick to turn on each other, we are all we have. :)

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