Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Less A Theory Of SF Evolution Than A Kind Of Literary Creationism

with 4 comments

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.

Oh joy.

Written by Martin

14 February 2010 at 11:06

4 Responses

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  1. Seriously? Three introductions and story introductions? How tiresome.


    14 February 2010 at 17:00

  2. Indeed.

    I did summon up the strength to read to the end of his main introduction so I though I would share a few more quotes. To start, here is a weird statement that is symptomatic of the strange way the introduction is constructed:

    As Karl Poppers said of philosophical Marxism, it is a system that cannot be disproved by any conceiveable historical event, even the end of the entire universe. (35)

    In a way it is just an unfortunate typo but it is also a weird tautology and an out of nowhere comparison. Then back to the assertions:

    there is not fully rounded characterization in hard sf because that would reduce the impact of the general (mankind versus the universal) structure that underlies all hard sf. (34)

    This is deeply unconvincing, even taking into account he amusingly and without apparent irony prefaces this with a note that this is “not so much a conscious literary strategy”. And then this:

    This is another of the qualities of hard sf that puts it at the core of the sf genre: It is only truly of interest to people with faith in science, faith that knowledge has meaning. (35)

    That tiny portion of the reading public that has faith that knowledge has meaning!


    15 February 2010 at 11:15

  3. […] to that earlier post, having read a third of the stories and a third of the story introductions I am no clearer on what […]

  4. […] The nine hundred odd pages of fiction that followed were similarly confounding and left critics scratching their head. Cramer and Hartwell are sticking to their guns though. The editors may have restricted themselves […]

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