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The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF
edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Tor Books, 990 pages

David G. Hartwell
David G. Hartwell is an editor at Tor Books, as well as being a highly-respected author in his own right. He wrote Age of Wonders (1984), and has been editor/anthologizer of such works as The Dark Descent, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, Northern Stars (with Glenn Grant), and the new annual volume, Year's Best SF.

David Hartwell Website
An Interactive Introduction to The Ascent of Wonder
ISFDB Bibliography
The New York Review of Science Fiction

Kathryn Cramer
Kathryn Cramer is co-editor (with David G. Hartwell) of Spirits of Christmas (1989) and Walls of Fear (1990). Her story, "The End of Everything" (1990), appeared in Asimov's SF magazine.

Kathryn Cramer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Wonderbook: The Magazine for Curious Readers

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alex Anderson

Every now and then, someone in the genre publishing industry comes up with a grandiose idea. Either sitting over cappuccino in some overly artsy little cafe where everyone is clad head to toe in black or slobbed out in grubbies huddled around the dinner table over decaf, it doesn't really matter. "Let's collect the greatest works of science fiction/fantasy/horror/mystery/etc. and release a big fat book that will be truly definitive," one says to another.

In most cases the idea never blossoms into a plan and for those that do bear fruit, most, in the immortal words of Bart Simpson, suck. It's a credit to David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors of Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF that the fruit of their grandiose idea doesn't -- suck, that is.

One of the first things Hartwell and Cramer had to acknowledge were the reasons behind the failure of the various other collections (I could name them but they know who they are) that have attempted to quantify the genre. These publications all failed for the same reason: omission. They had to accept that collecting Science Fiction as an entity required an ability to address all its various sub-genres: space opera, cyberpunk, hard SF, soft SF, dark SF, humorous SF, gay/lesbian SF, erotic SF, etc., ad nauseum infinitum. Needless to say, this demands the commitment of a great many pages and this is primarily where those other, unnamed "definitive" anthologies have stubbed their collective toes.

All the successful anthologies in today's publishing industry limit themselves, sometimes severely. They are open only to stories that have won significant awards, like the The Year's Best SF and triennial Hugos anthologies, or cyberpunk stories like Mirrorshades, or...well, who can name them all?

Hartwell and Cramer got around this by planning more than one book. The first, Visions of Wonder edited by Hartwell and Milton Wolf, covered SF on a more general basis.

Another area of contention for those toe-stubbing, falling-down-on-the-job-and-just-generally-sucking-failure-anthologies is the taste of the editors in question. What makes the cut as important or significant is largely a measure of personal likes and dislikes and, in some cases, limited to this or that era when the editors in question could keep up with the industry. The time when one person could read every important piece of writing in a year is long past. James Blish was an important figure in early science fiction and it's a tragedy that many readers' only exposure to him is those really bad Star Trek books based on episodes of what we now call 'the original series.' His name belongs on the table of contents of this kind of anthology, but would you include Blish over someone like William Gibson? Believe it or not, it's been done.

But not here. Here you'll find Gibson, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Wells, Bear, Dick, Clement, Simak, Poe, Niven, Ballard and, yes, Blish. All the greats, and more. Sixty-nine names that are worth reading, and worth knowing.

The only beef I have with this anthology, and it's not so much with this volume of the anthology series as the series itself so far, is, of course, a missing name. Where is Harlan Ellison? Like him or hate him, surely he is one of the more important writers of science fiction to have ever touched a typewriter. And his not being a scientist is no excuse -- just look at the table of contents and you'll see that. While the vast majority of his work has to be considered sociological SF (which would certainly qualify it for Visions of Wonder) I don't see how a piece like "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" is not "the hard stuff."

Well maybe Hartwell and crew couldn't get the reprint rights. Perhaps something will be included in the next volume or the one after that. One can only hope such a blight, a crime of omission, doesn't continue to mar an otherwise brilliant effort.

Copyright © 1998 by Alex Anderson

Alex Anderson is a long-time SF reader just pompous enough to believe other people may want to read the meanderings he scribbles down between fits of extreme lethargy he calls contemplation.

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