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The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard…

The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF (1994)

by David G. Hartwell (Editor), Kathryn Cramer (Editor)

Other authors: Poul Anderson (Contributor), Isaac Asimov (Contributor), J.G. Ballard (Contributor), Greg Bear (Contributor), Gregory Benford (Introduction)52 more, Gregory Benford (Contributor), Alfred Bester (Contributor), James Blish (Contributor), Miles J. Breuer (Contributor), David Brin (Contributor), Edward Bryant (Contributor), Arthur C. Clarke (Contributor), Hal Clement (Contributor), Philip K. Dick (Contributor), Gordon R. Dickson (Contributor), Michael F. Flynn (Contributor), John M. Ford (Contributor), Robert L. Forward (Contributor), Raymond Z. Gallun (Contributor), Randall Garrett (Contributor), William Gibson (Contributor), Tom Godwin (Contributor), Richard Grant (Contributor), Nathaniel Hawthorne (Contributor), Robert A. Heinlein (Contributor), James P. Hogan (Contributor), Dean Ing (Contributor), Raymond F. Jones (Contributor), Donald M. Kingsbury (Contributor), Rudyard Kipling (Contributor), C.M. Kornbluth (Contributor), Philip Latham (Contributor), Ursula K. Le Guin (Contributor), Katherine Maclean (Contributor), Anne McCaffrey (Contributor), Larry Niven (Contributor), Lewis Padgett (Contributor), Edgar Allan Poe (Contributor), Frederik Pohl (Contributor), Rudy Rucker (Contributor), Hilbert Schenck (Contributor), Bob Shaw (Contributor), Clifford D. Simak (Contributor), John T. Sladek (Contributor), Cordwainer Smith (Contributor), Bruce Sterling (Contributor), Don A. Stuart (Contributor), Theodore Sturgeon (Contributor), Theodore L. Thomas (Contributor), James Tiptree Jr. (Contributor), George Turner (Contributor), Jules Verne (Contributor), Vernor Vinge (Contributor), Ian Watson (Contributor), H.G. Wells (Contributor), Kate Wilhelm (Contributor), Gene Wolfe (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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A thousand-page anthology devoted to a subgenre feels like an argument to me. A shorter book would claim to be nothing more than a sampling, while even a thousand-page book devoted to whole genre of science fiction couldn't rightly claim comprehensiveness. But with one thousand pages and over sixty stories from a single subgenre, The Ascent of Wonder can claim to be defining that subgenre's entire form and purpose. Unfortunately, it gets off to a rough start: I found the introductions (there are three!) by Gregory Benford and Kathryn Cramer more befuddling than illuminating, but I keyed in on a passage from David Hartwell's introduction: "Hard sf is about the beauty of truth. It is a metaphorical or symbolic representation of the wonder at the perception of truth that is experienced at the moment of scientific discovery" (30). I don't know that I entirely agree, but it's an intriguing formulation that explains why Hartwell and Cramer picked the stories they did for this anthology.

Judging by the stories included here, Hartwell and Cramer's definition of hard sf is a lot more capacious than my own. I love Cordwainer Smith, and "No, No, Not Rogov!" is indeed about the "perception of truth that is experienced at the moment of scientific discovery," but the inclusion of stories like this make me think that definition isn't specific enough-- I don't think Smith cares about science except as a source of beautiful imagery and fantastic ideas, and if sf is to be "hard" I feel like it needs something more than that. It's not that Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" or Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" or Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question" are bad stories, or even stories uninterested in science, but it's that they're not invested in following the implications of actual science in a way that, say, Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" is-- a story that despite its flaws (or maybe because of them) epitomized the hard sf ethos of logic over all else. There are times I found myself wishing Hartwell and Cramer had included some kind of counterpoint story: if "Nine Lives" by Ursula K. Le Guin (a story that has clones in it, but no science behind them) or "The Very Slow Time Machine" by Ian Watson (which has a neat concept at its heart, but not as far as I can tell, one from actual science) or "The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told" by Arthur C. Clarke (which is an unfunny joke about unfunny jokes) are all hard sf, then what isn't? Show me the other side of the subgenre so I can see its edges more clearly.

That said, with over 150 years of stories to pick from, Cramer and Hartwell assembled an excellent collection of stories, and despite some dubious enclosures, I do feel I understand the parameters and possibilities of hard sf more than I did before reading. Some were by authors I knew and loved already: James Blish's "Beep" has a clever and interesting conceit that would make Steven Moffat's head spin. Donald Kingsbury's "To Bring in the Steel" was a surprising tale of a Paris Hilton-esque media floozy discovering a new side of herself on an asteroid mine; after enjoying Psychohistorical Crisis so much, I ought to seek out more of his work. "Waterclap" was an interesting Isaac Asimov story I hadn't read before, but let down by the fact that Asimov can imagine a moon colony and an underwater colony, but can't imagine a woman having any role in either outside of childbearing... in 1970! Le Guin's "The Author of the Acacia Seeds" wasn't a story, but had neat enough ideas (about ant language!) to succeed regardless. And I'm always happy to reread James Blish's "Surface Tension," which is in my sci-fi top five. David Brin's "What Continues, What Fails..." shows science fiction at its best as well, combining future reproduction with black hole physics to deliver a testimony for the human need to reproduce and leave a mark on the universe. (I did appreciate that unlike most anthologists, they included the contextual material with Rudyard Kipling's "With the Night Mail," though I wish they hadn't dumped it all at the end, after the actual story.)

There was the occasional outright bad one: Rudy Rucker's "Message Found in a Copy of Flatland" was sort of a non-story, not doing anything that Flatland itself didn't do; I got the feeling that it was in the book because being a novel, Flatland itself couldn't be. And James P. Hogan's "Making Light" is an unfunny joke stretched out way too long with dubious claims to be science fiction, much less hard sf. I think it's only in here because Hogan didn't write much short fiction, so Cramer and Hartwell had limited options (his novel Inherit the Stars is probably one of the best examples of the subgenre).

I was kind of a sucker for stories involving academia, I guess for obvious reasons. "Davy Jones' Ambassador" by Raymond Z. Gallun was surprisingly interesting, a tale of a professor (who's married to a dean) chasing a giant leviathan. I particularly loved Katherine Maclean's "The Snowball Effect," a rare sociological hard sf tale about a sociology department head defending his program against budget cuts by an overeager administrator by accidentally transforming a local knitting club into a global power. Michael F. Flynn's "Mammy Morgan Played the Organ; Her Daddy Beat the Drum" was surprisingly moving tale of a physics professor hunting ghosts as he destroys his academic career.

This review just scratches the surface of the good stuff contained within. (I want to read more Bob Shaw and Gordon R. Dickson now, for example, and I was very glad to see H. G. Wells's "The Land Ironclads" in this context.) Presumably no anthology is perfect, but I suspect this one comes closer than most: it's probably a better sf anthology than any I've read outside of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame series. I discovered a lot of new stories, developed a new appreciation for a subgenre I've thought little about, and have some new authors to look up.
  Stevil2001 | May 19, 2017 |
What a tome! It's a pretty interesting narration of the history of sci-fi. It's just a little too ambitious - let's not start with Nathaniel Hawthorne. The breadth makes an interesting collection but unless I plan on being marooned on Ellfive Prime, I'll stick to volumes with a readable typeset. I'm not 30 anymore, y'know?
  mobill76 | Apr 22, 2014 |
I had been somewhat disappointed by the same editors' The Space Opera Renaissance, but I had picked this up in hardback at a used book store and it finally made its way to the top of my "to be read" pile. And while it took me several weeks to get through this massive volume, I am happy to report that I found this collection to be quite a but stronger.

Roughly three quarters of these stories were new to me, and most of these were pretty darn good, with 'The Cold Equations", "Kyrie", "The Very Slow Time Machine", "The Pi Man", and the two stories from John M. Ford (whom I have somehow never read before) being my favorites. But even the stories I wasn't crazy about were illustrative of some aspect of the subgenre in question. The introductory material was also well done.

Recommended for any serious fan of the genere. ( )
  clong | Dec 23, 2012 |
This was my textbook in a literature class on science fixture. It's a good choice for a general survey of science fiction, especially in a compare/contrast sort of way. It really does illustrate the evolution of sci-fi, particularly the development of common themes. The stories within include a lot of classic, well-known tales. Some were better than others. On a whole, most of the stories were not ones I would have read outside of a class setting, which is why I rated this at only 2 1/2 stars. Readers more fond of science fiction than myself will likely enjoy this more than I did. ( )
  TheBooknerd | Jul 8, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hartwell, David G.Editorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cramer, KathrynEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, PoulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Asimov, IsaacContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballard, J.G.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, GregContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benford, GregoryIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benford, GregoryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bester, AlfredContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blish, JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Breuer, Miles J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brin, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bryant, EdwardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clarke, Arthur C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clement, HalContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dick, Philip K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dickson, Gordon R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Flynn, Michael F.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ford, John M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Forward, Robert L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gallun, Raymond Z.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garrett, RandallContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gibson, WilliamContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Godwin, TomContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grant, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hawthorne, NathanielContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heinlein, Robert A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hogan, James P.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ing, DeanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, Raymond F.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kingsbury, Donald M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kipling, RudyardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kornbluth, C.M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Latham, PhilipContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Le Guin, Ursula K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maclean, KatherineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCaffrey, AnneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Niven, LarryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Padgett, LewisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Poe, Edgar AllanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pohl, FrederikContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rucker, RudyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schenck, HilbertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shaw, BobContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Simak, Clifford D.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sladek, John T.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, CordwainerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sterling, BruceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stuart, Don A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sturgeon, TheodoreContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thomas, Theodore L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tiptree Jr., JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Turner, GeorgeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Verne, JulesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vinge, VernorContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Watson, IanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wells, H.G.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wilhelm, KateContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wolfe, GeneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Russo, CarolCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed


The Hungry Guinea Pig by Miles J. Breuer

Nine Lives by Ursula K. Le Guin

Light Of Other Days by Bob Shaw

The Star {short story} by Arthur C. Clarke

Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Proof by Hal Clement

It's Great to Be Back by Robert A. Heinlein

Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Henry Kuttner

The Singing Diamond by Robert L. Forward

The Life And Times Of Multivac by Isaac Asimov

Davy Jones' Ambassador by Raymond Z. Gallun

Procreation by Gene Wolfe

Down And Out On Ellfive Prime by Dean Ing

Send Me a Kiss by Wire {short story} by Hilbert Schenck

A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe

The Planners by Kate Wilhelm

Exposures by Gregory Benford

The Xi Effect by Philip Latham

Beep by James Blish

Transit Of Earth [short story] by Arthur C. Clarke

Drode's Equations by Richard Grant

The Weather Man by Theodore L. Thomas

Prima Belladonna by J. G. Ballard

Gomez by C. M. Kornbluth

To Bring In The Steel by Donald Kingsbury

The Cold Equations [short story] by Tom Godwin

Message Found In A Copy Of Flatland by Rudy Rucker

Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey

Waterclap by Isaac Asimov

Stop evolution in its tracks! by John Sladek

The Very Slow Time Machine [short story] by Ian Watson

The Land Ironclads by H. G. Wells

Atomic Power by Don A. Stuart

The Hole Man by Larry Niven

The Beautiful and the Sublime by Bruce Sterling

Dolphin's Way by Gordon R. Dickson

The Author of the Acacia Seeds [short story] by Ursula K. Le Guin

Heat of Fusion [short story] by John M. Ford

Occam's Scalpel by Theodore Sturgeon

All the Hues of Hell [short story] by Gene Wolfe

giANTS by Edward Bryant

Time Fuze by Randall Garrett

Kyrie by Poul Anderson

Desertion by Clifford D. Simak

The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats by James Tiptree Jr.

The Person from Porlock by Raymond F. Jones

The Cage of Sand by J. G. Ballard

Day Million [short story] by Frederik Pohl

Surface Tension by James Blish

In the Year 2889 by Jules Verne

No No Not Rogov! by Cordwainer Smith

The Pi Man by Alfred Bester

With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 AD [short story] by Rudyard Kipling

In a Petri Dish Upstairs by George Turner

The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told by Arthur C. Clarke

Relativistic Effects by Gregory Benford

The Indefatigable Frog by Philip K. Dick

Making Light by James P. Hogan

Chromatic Aberration by John M. Ford

The Last Question (When the World Ends) by Isaac Asimov

Johnny Mnemonic [short story] by William Gibson

The Snowball Effect by Katherine MacLean

The Morphology Of The Kirkham Wreck by Hilbert Schenck

What Continues... And What Fails... [novelette] by David Brin

Bookworm Run! by Vernor Vinge

Mammy Morgan Played the Organ, Her Daddy Beat the Drum {short story} by Michael F. Flynn

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031285062X, Hardcover)

Featuring more than sixty groundbreaking short stories by modern science fiction's most important and influential writers, The Ascent of Wonder offers a definitive and incisive exploration of the SF genre's visionary core.

From Poe to Pohl, Wells to Wolfe, and Verne to Vinge, this hefty anthology fully charts the themes, trends, thoughts, and traditions that comprise the challenging yet rich literary form known as "hard SF."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:05 -0400)

Over 70 stories chronicling the evolution of hard science fiction, the term for futuristic stories based on scientific reality. The authors range from early pioneers such as Jules Verne to moderns like Poul Anderson.

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