After Matt Dovey asked me whether The Martian was Difficult SF, our mutual friend (and, to my knowledge, nobody’s nemesis) Stewart C Baker asked me about Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars trilogy:
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy might be a more Difficult SF read than The Martian (although I haven’t read the latter).
It has a huge, sprawling cast which recognizes that people exist outside the USA (although said cast, to be fair, largely splits over Cold War era space stuff, with Russia and the US still playing a disproportionate role which seems dated today). Red Mars and its sequels also strike me, at least, as “emotionally plausible” with a satisfying ending, and Robinson is never afraid to pull out all the literary stops.
I have to admit: it’s been nearly twenty years since I read the trilogy, but I recall that the mission devolves in part based on deeply held personal beliefs without a clear right or wrong, lending weight to its emotional plausibility; the characters never feel like cardboard cutouts; and Robinson cares a good deal about his language at a literary level. The panoramic Martian landscapes are way more fully realized than in The Martian. (Which, again, I loved and I’m not criticizing here!)
So, yeah, the Mars trilogy points the way toward Difficult SF. Thanks for the excellent question, Stewart!