March 2022 Harriett Book Club

Before our book club meeting in March, I asked our members for help via our WhatsApp group chat: how do we define science fiction? I’d started to read a few chapters of Broken Stars, an anthology of 16 Chinese science fiction stories translated and edited by Ken Liu, and I just didn’t think some met my definition of science fiction.

One member kindly sent me two articles: one was Wired’s The Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness and the other was Futurism’s The Scale of Hardness in Science Fiction. Really interesting explanations but I became even more confused. What qualifies as hard and soft science fiction?

Broken Stars is a collection of very diverse writing styles and attempts to showcase a wide spectrum of (Chinese) science fiction genres, so much so it can seem unbalanced in delivery as a whole.

Moonlight by Liu Cixin, for instance, will no doubt fall under the familiar hard science fiction category with its play on time travel and apocalyptic visions. But what about Salinger and the Koreans by Han Song, a wild, comical take on North Koreans dominating the world with little depth in imagination and no references to physics and astronomy? How about Broken Stars by Tang Fei that explores the concept of fate and star movements?

Which category do they fall under: dystopia fiction, space opera, military SF, alternative history, post-apocalyptic, science fantasy…?

A really good point our book club members made was perhaps the categories don’t really matter. What seems speculative today may become realistic in the future as science is constantly evolving. And perhaps the magic of science fiction lies in the blurred lines and the broad, vague definitions.

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Join us in April as we discuss Korean writer Seo Su-jin’s Korean Teachers (tr. Lizzie Buehler), which you can purchase from our online store.

Everyone is welcome to join our book club. We meet online every last weekend of the month. For more updates, follow us on Instagram and Facebook!