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The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF Paperback – August 15, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This massive tome contains some of the good, the bad and the ugly stories that have helped give "hard" science fiction its reputation as a refuge for writers more comfortable with a slide rule than with a pen. The collection starts off strongly enough, with Ursula K. Le Guin's "Nine Lives," a lovely story about cloning, and it doesn't get into real trouble until it reaches Hal Clement's "Proof," which is a textbook case of the maxim proposed by Gregory Benford in his introduction, that "hard SF focuses on minimally characterized figures acting against a landscape of universal, scientific truths." The anthology then bounces through mostly lesser stories by luminaries of the field (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Wolfe, Dick), several pieces by SF's pioneers (Kipling, Wells, Poe, Verne), and a small number of landmark works like William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" (the story credited with starting the cyberpunk movement). Impressive tales by J. G. Ballard, John M. Ford, Bruce Sterling, Donald M. Kingsbury and Kate Wilhelm improve matters considerably, but then the anthology closes, inexplicably, with Verner Vinge's dated "Bookworm, Run!" Though the book's title claims that "wonder" is in "the ascent" in hard science fiction, there's little sense of forward motion--perhaps because of the odd, nonchronological arrangement of work. While hard-core hard-SF fans will no doubt find plenty to excite them here, most readers are in for the ascent of ennui.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Hard sf is represented here from its origins with the likes of Hawthorne's "Rappacchini's Daughter" to J. G. Ballard's dour "Prima Belladona," a recasting of the original tale. Hartwell and Cramer shrewdly place each story; Edgar Allan Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom," for instance, is the field's "founding document," and Hal Clement's "Proof" is proof that carefully worked out science, linked to the imaginative exploration of a single what-if, is what the field is all about. Even so, with writers such as Clement and Robert Heinlein at its philosophical heart, this anthology casts its net wide enough to include the best of the cyberpunkers, writers such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, as well as mavericks, such as Philip K. Dick, represented here with a mathematical tease called the "The Indefatigable Frog." A focused, disciplined collection brilliantly introduced by the editors and Gregory Benford; readers will be treated to the progression of the field and vastly entertained, too. John Mort --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 990 pages
  • Publisher: Orb Books (August 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312855095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312855093
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 2.3 x 10.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,925,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kathryn Cramer is a writer, anthologist, & Internet consultant who lives in Pleasantville, New York. She won a World Fantasy Award for best anthology for The Architecture of Fear, co-edited with Peter Pautz; she was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for her anthology Walls of Fear. She co-edited several anthologies of Christmas and fantasy stories with David G. Hartwell and now does the annual Year's Best Fantasy and Year's Best SF with him. She is on the editorial board of The New York Review of Science Fiction, (for which she has been nominated for the Hugo Award many times). She is a consultant with the Scientific Information Group for Wolfram Research.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Terry Sunday TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
If you're a fan of hard science fiction, you need to own "The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF." Period. Even if you have, as I do, a large collection of hardcover and paperback science fiction books that collectively contain many of the stories reprinted in this volume, you still need it.

As you might expect, many of the stories are from the "Golden Age" of the 1940's and `50's: you'll find classics such as Hal Clement's "Proof" (1942), James Blish's "Surface Tension" (1952) and Tom Godwin's haunting "The Cold Equations" (1954). Representing later years are such riveting tales as Theodore L. Thomas' "The Weather Man" (1962), Bob Shaw's "Light of Other Days" (1966) and Donald Kingsbury's "To Bring In the Steel" (1978). The 67 stories in "The Ascent of Wonder" make up a fantastic smorgasbord of the best hard science fiction of all time. But wait, there's more...there are three essays, totaling about 30 pages, on hard science fiction, written by editors David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer and noted author Gregory Benford. Each story also contains a relatively short (half a page or so) but exceptionally insightful introduction. These alone make "The Ascent of Wonder" worth having.

With 990 pages of small, dense type, this volume is big and heavy. But even if you have to put an extra brace on your bookshelf to hold the weight, you should buy it. Quite simply, there is no better compilation of the imaginative, speculative, science-based stories that form the genre's "visionary core."
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By D. Greenebaum on June 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book presents a massive collection of excellent "hard" science fiction stories. (The precise definition of "hard" s-f is left as an exercise to the alert reader.) While the stories are unimpeachable, the introductions and section headings written by the editors range from merely dull to painful. Buy the book, love the book, read the stories, skip the editorial matter.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 15, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This weighty tome, is absolutely packed with some of the definitive stories of hard science fiction. The introductions to the stories illustrate the trends from the late 19th century to today.

Although there is an annoying misuse of the word 'affect' for 'effect', the story reviews are illuminating as to the great authors and their stories.

To have read this book is to have gained an overview of the evolution science fiction, to see where it all came from, to see the stories that started the subgenres, to know what IS the core of SF, hard SF.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Denton on April 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
I found some great stories here that were new to me. It's a good collection of stories but there are a number of well-written stories here that are not Hard Science Fiction. The title is misleading. The editors seem to have no sympathy with the genre. In their introductions to the stories they seem to sneer at the whole genre from their elevated literary viewpoint. They are entitled to their opinions, but then, why did they do this collection? I suppose a collection entitled "A Gentle Introduction to the Better Sort of Science Fiction by Those Who Know Better Than You", or "Science Fiction that You Don't Need to be Embarrassed to Show your English-major Friends", wouldn't have much of a market. The snobbery and put-downs are really annoying.

So, as has been suggested, skip the editorial commentary, let the stories speak for themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Raymund Eich on April 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
Anthologies can be reviewed two ways: (1) as individual stories, or (2) as an editorial creation encompassing story selection, organization, and commentary.

As an editorial creation, this anthology is lacking. After three cogent introductions by the two co-editors and sf writer (and contributor to this volume) Gregory Benford, story selection and organization fall short. A reader might have expected a straightforward chronological approach, which would have had merit as a way of showing the ongoing genre conversation unique to sf, or at least a set of thematic groups (partial notes of which can be found in the afterword). Here, though, there's no apparent organization of the stories, with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gene Wolfe, Hal Clement, and Raymond Z. Gallun pressed in cheek-by-jowl.

Story selection is hit-or-miss. Very early stories (Hawthorne, Poe, Wells, Kipling, Verne) belong for historical relevance, if nothing else, although their quality is generally higher than most of the stories by the Campbell/Astounding writers ("Proof" was Clement's first sale, which excuse isn't available for the Gallun, Latham, Campbell, Breuer, Garrett, and Jones). As far as hits go, some stories have clear literary and/or sfnal merit--LeGuin's "Nine Lives", Shaw's "Light of Other Days," Clarke's "The Star," Pohl's "Day Million," Benford's "Exposures." The list is not exhaustive, but does indicate the anthology's sweet spot is stories written during 1960-1980.

Another comment about the editorial direction: who is the intended reader? A hard sf purist would turn up his nose at the Ballards, McCaffery, Dick, Gibson, and LeGuin. A new sf reader curious about hard sf would be put off by the poor quality of the stories from the Campbell/Astounding writers mentioned above.
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