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Age of Wonders: Exploring The World of Science Fiction Paperback – October 15, 1996

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Paperback, October 15, 1996
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Do you know what the term "fannish" means? How about "filk" or "fen"? Or "Twonk's Disease"? If not, there's a good chance you're a mundane, which is to say you're not a hardcore SF fan. For you, David G. Hartwell--one of the field's finest editors and most stalwart champions--has written Age of Wonders, a book about the inner workings of the SF cognoscenti. It is an intriguing look into the rabid subculture spawned by science fiction that also offers insights into why some people give up reading SF in their teens, while for others it becomes a lifelong passion.


"A landmark work. daring, imaginative, witty--it is the best commentary on the field yet written."--Roger Zelazny, creator of the Amber series

"David G. Hartwell has taken his cosmic mind on a marvelous exploration of science fiction as it was, as it is, and as it may well be. I was enthralled by Age of Wonders all the way through."--Frank Herbert, author of Dune

"An insider's view of the science fiction scene today--full of insights, sidelights, convention nights--by one of the ablest minds in the business. Engaging and engrossing."--Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; Revised edition (October 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312862350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312862350
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,922,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I grew up during the age of the Mercury and Apollo projects, a time before space launches, except for one disaster, become so routine I doubt they'll be any HBO specials about them. My fascination with the Cronkited-narrated adventures over my tiny black and white tv led to a fascination about outer space and, in particular, science fiction. Which is why David G. Hartwell titles his book, "Age of Wonders," noting the pre-adolescent's awe of emerging technical feats (in my time it was space travel, today it is cyberspace) that gets him (and it's usually male) hooked on reading science fiction to the exclusion of school and girls, which he's too nerdy to attract anyway. Hartwell's subject here is "hard science fiction," generally defined as imaginative postulations as how technology will be used in the future to solve a problem and how the subsequent changes wrought affect human behavior. This excludes Tolkien elves, McAffery dragons, or Gibson cyber cowboys, although there is a chapter on fantasy as well as the New Wave literary movement of the 60s that sought to transcend "space opera." But if you're interested in Robert Heinlein, watch Star Trek reruns, or go to fan conventions, this is the book for you. This is accessible literary criticism that any 12 year old can comprehend, even though it's written by an English professor. It's also quite funny, at times, as a review of the Table of Contents will tell you with chapters such as, ""Science fiction Writers Can't Write for Sour Apples" and "Let's Get SF Back in the Gutter Where It Belongs." In addition to the essays, there's a recommended reading list and an appendix about the business of SF publishing (Hartwell is an editor for TOR). An interesting read for fans, and a way for them to interest their friends who wonder what the fascination is all about.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of my readers posted a comment on a previous post of mine on Ray Bradbury which made me aware of the book Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (Tor Books, 1996), by David Hartwell. I was able to pick up the 1984 version published by Walker and Company through Amazon (which I was surprised to find was autographed by the author), and I am pleased to recommend this book as one which provides some significant insights into science fiction. For those unfamiliar with Hartwell,

David G. Hartwell is the senior editor at Tor/Forge Books and the publisher of The New York Review of Science Fiction. A recipient of 2006 Hugo Award, and the World Fantasy and Eaton awards, he is the author of Age of Wonders, the editor of The World Treasury of Science Fiction, and the coeditor of two anthologies of the best Canadian science fiction, Northern Stars and Northern Suns.

Age of Wonders is written by a science fiction insider to help introduce and explain the genre to outsiders. it is written in a way that is as informative as it is entertaining. For me, two insights of Hartwell were especially noteworthy. The first relates to the cultural significance of science fiction fandom and conventions. While acknowledging a "surface frivolity," Hartwell suggests that there is something far more significant at work. In his view:

There is no parallel more apt than the underground movements of the last two hundred years in Western civilization: the Romantics, the Modernists, the Beats. (Note to literary historians: This would make an interesting study.
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Format: Paperback
This is apparently a mid 90s update to a mid 80s book.

Divided into three major sections :-

The Source and Power of SF's Appeal

Exploring the Worlds of Science Fiction


Writers, Fans and Critics

He also has some short appendices about important early works, including pre-20th century, a bit about the development of commercial fantasy, on editing, and his list of best books.

It is quite interesting. He looks at why people like SF, pointing out that such people do seem to think a bit differently, and the problems 'outsiders' have in coming in cold to SF work, and the fact that if you read a lot - he calls these people 'omnivores or chronics' that you will have your assumptions and beliefs challenged and lots of people absolutely do not want that. Also the fact that academic or literary critics that are 'outsiders' will have read far less material than such people.

He looks at the influence of 'fans' in the 'keen convention or discusser of' sense, and also the 'New Wave War', after SF moved out of the golden age, as well as some leading critics.

As far as style of writing goes, he mentions that a disagreement between H. G. Wells and Henry James could be seen to be at the heart of it, early on. Or, ornate style and character over a 'clear, journalistic style of prose' and having a plot and story. Of course pointing out that some SF writers do have both.

Anyway, well worth a look, and it would be interesting to know if his opinions are the same around ten years later, given the digital influence now.
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