Originally Posted by Fiacha
I would like to read more hard sf but, what I feel to be, flaws keep getting in the way of the story and so I read lots of outright fantasy instead.
Outright fantasy has whole different set of problems but I'll save them for a more appropriate discussion.
Today there are 3 writers of hard sf that epitomize its modern incarnation in my opinion: A Reynolds, S. Baxter and G. Egan and they tend to know what they are writing about, though they still write fiction even when making a novel out of General Relativity as Mr. Egan did in Incandescence
using a habitat circling a spinning black-hole to allow its inhabitants to discover General Relativity by simple measuring experiments. That novel is available now as e for 6$ from Baen/Night Shade btw and I enjoyed it a lot.
I still believe that the essential difference between fantasy and sf is not the accuracy of science, technology, society... but "philosophy".
SF is mostly "materialistic", philosophically speaking - there are physical laws out there independent of our will - and hard sf focuses a lot on those laws, their consequences and how we engineer our way around, while less hard sf assumes they are there and goes on with the story, but still assumes they are there.
In fantasy, the power of will, love, thoughts, unity with the general magical field however defined affect reality in essential ways. So most fantasy presumes "consciousness" or "will" or "thought" as an intrinsic feature of the Universe/Multiverse, while most sf follows modern science in accepting only matter/energy as intrinsic and consciousness, life and such as emergent artifacts.
Of course there are many wrinkles to this general definition above and lots of exceptions, but generally I think it's essentially accurate.