We currently have two main science fiction sub-genres tags, being and , the usage of which is unclear and poorly defined. The tag wiki for makes an attempt at defining it but isn't very clear and seems to invite RWSE questions.

Hard science fiction is a term for works in the science fiction genre which apply a strict, rigourous, consistent scientific model for the universe. The term is formed by analogy to the distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences - approximate ways of characterizing stories with a position on a scale from "softer" to "harder", not a binary classification.
tag wiki excerpt

The wiki for goes on to list the following three things:

  • Asking for of hard sci-fi.
  • Asking questions about how particular hard sci-fi relates to currently understood physical laws.
  • Asking questions about how the science of a story relates to current technology.

The first seems to be the logical usage for this tag, in the same way we have various fantasy sub-genre tags which are used for story-identification purposes (which seems logical). However, the latter two seem to promote the asking of RWSE questions which are explicitly off-topic.

Their is no tag wiki for and the only thing we have to work with is the wiki excerpt outlined below.

Soft science fiction is a term for works in the science fiction genre which do not apply a rigourous scientific model for the universe. It can also be used to describe work where the science fiction aspect is incidental to the story (the same story could be told without the science fiction elements).
tag wiki excerpt

This provides no usage guidance for the tag but rather what the usage of the phrase itself is.

What should we do with these tags? Should we make them story-id only? Should their usage be the same/similar? If we choose to make them story-identification sub-genre tags should we also open them to the usage that is currently being used for?

  • 5
    That description is quite poor. The distinction between hard and soft SF has nothing to do with the difference between hard and soft science. The "softness" of SF is a measure of how much it deviates from what we actually understand about how the universe works. It's about the level of consistency with reality, not internal consistency.
    – Buzz
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 17:11
  • @buzz, I’m confused, I’ve not written any of these wikis/excerpts
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:00
  • 1
    No, of course not. However, if we are discussing how the tags are used, it seems apposite that the tag wiki descriptions are really bad.
    – Buzz
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:06
  • @Buzz yes, of course. The tag wikis would need to be overhauled based on the new usage, that is always the case. It was the awful tag wikis that led to this question
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:56
  • The tags are useless because nobody knows what they mean. Heck, we don't even have definitions of "science fiction" or "fantasy" or "speculative fiction".
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:57
  • @user14111 well we have "definitions" it's in their tag wikis. They're just very subjective.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 21:04
  • I don't think we need a definition of hard sci-fi. It's a generally-accepted term used by people who already know what it means in context. What we need to define is if all these non-identification questions are actually using it properly (to me, many seem like tacked-on meta tags describing a work).
    – user31178
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 20:07
  • @CreationEdge that's what it says in the title: "Defining the proper usage" or am I missing something here?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 21:15
  • @Edlothiad The conversation directly above my comment, that went onto a tangent about definitions.
    – user31178
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 14:55
  • @user14111 - since you're high level expert on STory ID as far as I recall, can you chime in whether that tag is even helpful to answer such questions? If not, it should just be burninated, it clearly isn't useful outside of Story ID Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 12:28
  • @DVK-on-Ahch-To it doesn't have to be useful to "answer" such questions. Someone with as high-rep as you do should know better to simply go around "burninating" tags. Sub-genre tags not only help define the scope but also improve the searchability of story-id questions. People can definitely be experts in sub-genres and aids us in the organisation of our questions with tags.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 12:49
  • @Edlothiad - I'm generally skeptical about the concept of genres and sub-genres, independent of tags, to be honest. Too many works belong to multiple sub-genres. But as I don't normally deal with Story-ID questions, I'm preferring to defer to an expert opinion (namely, the user with the tag badge :) Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 13:13
  • @DVK There's 3 users with a tag badge, are we going to get them to sit together and have a discussion. And in this topic. A book can't really be in both soft- and hard-sci-fi, as per how they work.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 13:28
  • @Edlothiad - scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/172778/… . I expect the answer will be "Yes" but not certain. Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


tl;dr hard-sci-fi should be kept.

Just because a definite line, that would unambiguously work for every single work of fiction, cannot be drawn, doesn't mean that some things cannot be classified as hard sci-fi. Keeping the hard-sci-fi tag is probably more important, as the bulk of modern science fiction ventures so far into the "soft" waters, verging on fantasy, that a distinction is useful.

To me the question here creates the impression of a 50:50 partition, but I would say it's more like 10:90, which means that keeping one tag while scrapping the other would be reasonable.

I do not think limiting the tag to story id questions is necessary.

  • Can you explain a little why you think the question suggests 50-50? And why you think it shouldn’t be limited to Story Id questions?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 6:28
  • 1
    Well to your first question, I read this sentence "We currently have two main science fiction sub-genres tags, being hard-sci-fi and soft-sci-fi" this way. If you didn't mean to imply that, never mind. It doesn't really change my answer. And regarding "story id", I really don't see why it would make sense to limit them to begin with. I would find them useful, if I wanted to ask about a specific aspect of a hard sci-fi work, where it being hard sci-fi is relevant. For example: "What was Asimov's operational model for his droids?" As opposed to hard, In soft you can wibbly-wobbly it away.
    – bitmask
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 8:24
  • I have another question as to your usage for hard-sci-fi outside of story-id is it only for genre specific questions?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 14:19
  • What do you mean by "genre specific question"?
    – bitmask
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 9:31
  • Questions specifically about the genre. Not tagging all questions about the-Martian with hard-sci-fi etc. But rather history-of, trope and the like.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 9:33
  • I don't know. I suppose it should be depending on the question and the intention of the person asking. I suppose "Why is the Marian's hair brown?" (Disclaimer: I haven't watched the Martian!) would not tie into hard-sci-fi, while "What is the purpose of instrument X in this scene from the Martian?" probably would.
    – bitmask
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 9:38
  • I personally think hat second option is a bad idea, 1. considering the massive re-tag effort, 2. the ambiguity (how much science discussion is needed, when does it breach the Real World Science Explanation policy) and 3. The inconsistency with other genre/sub-genre tag based off the fact we don't want questions about works tgged with genre tags, otherwise everything will have to be tagged.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 9:41

Just get rid of them.

We don't have "sci-fi" and "fantasy" tags, in part because the boundary between science fiction and fantasy is difficult to draw, in part because they are largely useless, and in part because adding them everywhere is a nuisance.

  • If we can't draw a line between sci-fi and fantasy, how can we possibly hope to draw a line between hard and soft sci-fi?
  • The amount of information these tags would add to a story ID question is, in my opinion, very slight. might be useful for someone looking for classic sci-fi such as Heinlein and Asimov, but author tags would probably do that better. describes a huge swath of modern science fiction and in most cases will be much less useful than the approximate year of publication. Of course, classic soft sci-fi and modern hard sci-fi do exist, but I don't see these tags as useful in those cases either.
  • These will be quite widely applicable and therefore nearly as annoying to maintain as would be.
  • First of we do have scifi and fantasy tags, they can be found here: science-fiction-genre and here: fantasy-genre. You've also assumed these tags have to be used by adding them to every question, that's a ridiculous assumption to make and not one that the question brings up or the usage of any of our tags ever. You've completely ignored the story-id part of the question and it is therefore a downvote from me.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 22:25
  • First off* is what the first words should read.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 8:56
  • @Edlothiad: Those tags are not for questions about sci-fi or fantasy works. They are for questions about the genres as a whole. If you want to make a case for tagging questions about the subgenres of hard and soft sci-fi only, and not for works that fall into those subgenres, that would be an entirely different question from the one which you have asked here (which is clearly about per-work tagging as evidenced by the involvement of Story ID).
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 20:57
  • It would appear you've entirely misunderstood the question. I never suggested tagging every work about science fiction with either one of these tags. In my final questions I only suggest very few things. "_ Should we make them story-id only? Should their usage be the same/similar? If we choose to make them story-identification sub-genre tags should we also open them to the usage that science-fiction-genre is currently being used for?_" If anything I have asked exactly what you claim I haven't.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 21:04
  • @Edlothiad: No, you have misunderstood my comment and answer. The tags which you cited above are never (supposed to be) used in connection with any particular work at all. They are for questions about the genres as a whole, and not for questions about a particular work. A story ID question is, by definition, a question about a particular work, and is therefore not in the same vein as the tags you linked to.
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 21:35

We should keep them

I propose we keep them and use them as we have other (sub-)genre tags, such as

That being listed there, I propose we continue to use both and for any story-id questions which would fall under the sub-genres (as decided by the OP) and for any questions which people may have baout the genre for which they can use in conjunction with the or tags (or any other relevant tags).

The tag wiki excerpts should be edited to make them fit the guidelines (and provide actual usage information) and say that the tags can be used for both Story-id and general genre questions.

We would however need to define some form of definition for the tag wikis. They need not be black and white, but some way for users who end up in the tag-wiki are able to see how one would define the general nature of both tags (which are reasonably opposite). What we would not have to do is set a boundary for where hard becomes soft, as story-id-ers could be asked to go into the details of the hardness or softness of the work, and any genre specific questions about the border would tag both works.

Reasoning for allowing the Story-id side of the tag has been listed several times by Captain Edge: In Should we admit that story-identification breaks tagging conventions and make new guidelines? and What's up with the What's up with the [sword-and-sorcery] tag? and by one of our top story-id users, FuzzyBoots, here: What should we do about tags on story-id questions?.

As stated by CreationEdge in one of his many excellent answers about tags:

Our top tags on this site are so large that they and their related tags are often curated by "specialists", people that take an interest in that work and are knowledgeable about it. We have different levels of granularity and grouping in these tags, and should keep that in mind when discussing whether or not to keep a tag.
Do we really need the Marauders map tag?

It is my opinion that sub-genre tags help give us some granularity to our largest tag, (), By using sub-genre tags as well as media tags we can not only narrow the search for those answering but also for those who may have read it seen something and come to look back for it. Furthermore, people using our story-id section to look for recommendations (as they are off-topic to ask on the main site) can look for genres and mediums they're most interested in. It helps us sort our questions.



Hard SF deals with the "hard" sciences, i.e., physics, chemistry, engineering, etc. Example: Larry Niven's Ring World.

Soft SF deals with the "soft" sciences, i.e., sociology, psychology, etc.
Example: George Orwell's 1984.

The terms are often used, as well, to delineate between actual science and scientific fantasy: compare Heinlein or Asimov to Star Wars.

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