Hard sf may be a broad field and getting broader daily -- I remember when people said C. J. Cherry's Cyteen wasn't hard sf because cloning was 'fantasy science' (5) -- but it will always be a genre written by and for people who are passionate (albeit at times foolishly passionate) about science and technology.Is that true? It certainly sounds plausible to me. I've certainly met "engineering types" that are much happier in a simple universe made up of numbers and circuits and metal than the fluids and squishiness of the biological world.
(5) Actually, I think there may be another, non-political factor behind the longstanding reluctance to include stories based on biology in the hard SF cannon. Part of it is a straightforward and perfectly understandable aesthetic impulse; until the advent of genetic engineering and mathematical biology, there was a truly deplorable absence of equations in most biology texts, which made biology-based sf stories a hard sell for the numerophilic hard-cord hard SF fan. However, I can't quite buck the suspicion that part of hard SF's historic biology phobia was mere squeamishness. The kind of squeamishness so entertainingly encapsulated in the old Star Trek episode, Amok Time, where Spock precedes a highly euphemistic discussion of salmon spawning procedures with the shamefaced admission that his illness "has to do with biology . . . Vulcan biology."
Oh, and the dialog from Amok Time"? Here is a sample of the dialog where Spock dances around the basics of Vulcan biology:
"There are precedents in nature, Captain... the giant eel-birds of Regulus Five. Once each eleven years, they must return to the caverns where they hatched. On your Earth, the salmon. They must return to that one stream where they were born, to spawn – or die in trying."It's silly dialog, but I suspect it was written as much to get around television censorship of anything having to do with s-e-x as squeamishness on the part of the writers and fans. I could be wrong, of course, since Star Trek has a long history of really crappy biology. (But happily for me, lots of blog fodder).
"But you're not a fish, Mr. Spock–"
"No – nor am I a man... I'm a Vulcan. I had hoped I would be spared this, but the ancient drives are too strong. Eventually, they catch up with us... and we are driven by forces we cannot control – to return home, and take a wife... or die."
(pause) "I haven't heard a word you said – and I'll get you to Vulcan, somehow."
- Spock and Kirk
Tags:science fiction, biology, Chris Moriarty, Star Trek