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

4.1 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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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: #1,354,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Terry Sunday TOP 1000 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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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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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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Format: Paperback
David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer are experienced science fiction anthologists, well-known for their annual "Year's Best SF" collections. In this themed anthology, they trace the development of "hard science fiction" through 1994. In three separate introductions by Gregory Benford, Cramer, and then Hartwell, this subgenre is defined and redefined. Fascinating stuff.

Then come the stories, sixty-seven of them. Each is introduced by a tightly-written, part-page description of the author's life, beliefs, and other written works. There are some very good stories here. I'll list five that I liked very much. Your top five may well be different.

Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" illustrates the danger of taking along just enough of everything--air, fuel, mass--on a space trip. There is always the unexpected.

Poul Anderson's "Kyrie" demonstrates how love can last forever--and we find this not the least bit comforting.

In James Blish's "Surface Tension" the main characters are marooned in an alien world and must overcome obstacles and opposition to build the ship that can rise above their world into the unknown. Will their ancient metal records help them or hold them back?

Arthur C. Clark takes "The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told" and strips it down to its essentials.

Isaac Asimov serves up perhaps the longest short-short science fiction story ever told as he slowly builds the tension while we wait for a supercomputer's answer to "The Last Question."

At nearly a thousand pages, this collection requires some serious reading commitment. If you like good science fiction, it's worth it. These stories are all worth reading and most bring the sense of wonder characteristic of good, imaginative writing. True to their hard SF tradition, the authors don't "fake" the science one bit more than is necessary.
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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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