Less A Theory Of SF Evolution Than A Kind Of Literary Creationism
Since I didn’t have much joy with those introductions to The Ascent Of Wonder I thought I would see what some other people thought. Here is Gary K Wolfe from his Locus review:
Both Hartwell and Cramer, in their introductions, agree that hard SF is widely perceived by readers and writers as somehow being at the core of the SF enterprise, but beyond that they never quite let themselves get pinned down to a usable definition… Most SF readers are likely to come away, as I did, convinced more than ever that hard SF is a fuzzy set – but that it’s not this fuzzy… we’re left we a fuzzy set with clear center and no boundaries at all – there’s no principle of exclusion, no acknowledgement that any subset of SF exists other than hard SF. In other words, there’s a fair amount of fudging going on here.
And here, having noted that Benford and Cramer “both assume we know what hard sf is”, is Paul Kincaid from his Vector review:
It is, therefore, left to Hartwell in his main introduction and in the individual story introduction, which appear to be mostly his work, to provide the agenda for the anthology, to define hard sf and place the disparate stories within that definition. Unfortunately, he presents no one coherent argument, but a series of conflicting perspectives… If hard sf is so fluid in intent, in style, in content, then we are hardly dealing with one clearly defined subset of science fiction, we are dealing with a number of subsets which may share some characteristics, and which may huddle close to each other, but they are not the same thing. The argument may work if we are talking about the core of science fiction, it is a multiform genre after all, but it was to fail if Hartwell is presenting just one branch, one aspect of sf which stands central to sf but is somehow clearly distinct from all other forms. Trying to pull all these statements and counter-statements together we are left, therefore, with no straightforward, easily graspable account of what hard sf actually is, as opposed to sf in general.
I still have those individual story introductions to look forward to. Here is Wolfe again:
The soft-shoe routine really go into high gear in the story introduction, which seem to contain the real keys to the editorial process but which are much less clearly focussed that the straightforward informative comments which helped make Hartwell’s horror anthologies so valuable. At times rambling and pedantic – as though it’s necessary to reassert the editors’ authority at every opportunity – the notes sometimes seem directed towards the general reader, sometimes toward the aficionado, and sometimes toward no one at all.