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Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction Hardcover – Jan 1985


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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Walker & Co (Jan 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802708080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802708083
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 17.1 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,987,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 April 1998
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Why The Golden Age of SF is 12 years old (and male). 8 April 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
David Hartwell and the Wonder of Science Ficton 23 Jun 2011
By John W. Morehead - Published on Amazon.com
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.)

To outsiders, and to the media in most treatments of science fiction and other genre fans as little more than obsessive geeks or nerds, Hartwell recognizes that there is something of social and cultural significance in the not-so-underground movement that is science fiction fandom. I applaud his insight, and echo his call for historians and scholars in other disciplines to undertake a comparative analysis of science fiction in literature and other forms of expression as a legitimate social movement.

The second significant insight comes in Chapter 3, "Worshiping at the Church of Wonder." Breaking with past characterizations that science fiction and religion are incompatible, Hartwell says that,

A sense of wonder, awe at the vastness of space and time, is at the root of the excitement of science fiction...

To say that science fiction is in essence a religious literature is an overstatement, but one that contains truth. SF is a uniquely modern incarnation of an ancient tradition: the tale of wonder. Tales of miracles, tales of great powers and consequences beyond the experience of people in your neighborhood, tales of the gods who inhabit other worlds and sometimes descend to visit ours, tales of humans traveling to the abode of the gods, tales of the uncanny: all exist now as science fiction.

Science fiction's appeal lies in its combination of the rational, the believable, with the miraculous. It is an appeal to the sense of wonder.

Here again I think Hartwell is on to something, particularly in the decades since he first wrote these thoughts as science fiction has continued to find increasing connections to wonder, myth, and even religion. For those who doubt this, in science fiction cinema consider two examples from Steven Spielberg. His Close Encounters of Third Kind presents the possibility of alien life and visitation of the Earth framed in religious ways, from the choir-like music at key points of the film, to the descent of the alien mothership that is reminiscent of the towering spires of ancient church cathedrals. As another example, in Minority Report the film raises questions of foreknowledge, free will, and priesthood, normally the stuff of religion in the past, but now nestled comfortably in science fiction discourse.

Given Hartwell's insights into science fiction it would be interesting to see him update this volume to account for developments since the time of publication (perhaps the 1996 edition touches on some of this) to include the increasing popularity of fan conventions that some have seen paralleling religious pilgrimage, the incorporation of religious elements within science fiction by writers with religious and esoteric commitments, and the rise of hyper-real and fiction-based religions that draw upon science fiction and related genres, at times as sacred text.

For those interested in probing science fiction in more depth I recommend Hartwell's Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction as an important part of any research bibliography.
Not Free SF Reader 13 Sep 2007
By Blue Tyson - Published on Amazon.com
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

and

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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Useful for explaining to friends and family why you read SF 28 Sep 2002
By Glen Engel Cox - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It was bound to happen. As I sat down to type up this commentary, I paged through my Day-Timer to find the notes I had written on the books I had read. I came across the reference to this...and a blank page. So what do I remember, now over two months later? I picked up this book long ago in paperback, read the first chapter or so, and sent the book to my mother. My parents have been quite understanding of my interest in science fiction, but I don't believe they've ever quite understood it. The first chapter, and indeed the rest of the book, is a wonderful introduction to science fiction and the culture it engenders. I don't know if my mother has ever read this, but I'm glad that it was there to send to her. I picked up this book again three years ago from an ad in Locus. It sat on my bookshelf until this past semester, when I did a study of science fiction fandom for my sociology class. Hartwell's excellent study then came in quite handy as a reference tool and quotebook for the paper that I wrote. Useful? Quite. I recommend it as probably the best study so far on science fiction fandom, mainly because it is the only one. Other books make reference to the subculture; only Hartwell dedicates an entire book to it. If you've ever wondered why fans are as they are, this might be your answer.
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