Friday, December 14, 2007

David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer (Ed)'s "The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF": Annotated table of contents & review

ToC below lists only the stories (not essays) included in the book - 67 in all.

A note on editors' choice.

Editors' definition of "hard sf" is rather liberal. Not only will I not call some stories merely science fiction, there are ones that are clear fantasies! I am aware different individuals define this differently - so take even my classifications with a punch of salt. I tag stories as "science fiction", "hard science fiction", "fantasy", & "non-genre".

Table of contents (67 stories, best first, unread last).

Where I'm aware of an online copy, I provide download links. Links on author, editor, publisher, or year fetch more matching fiction. Where I've a separate post on a story, link on story title goes there. My rating (ABC; A => worth the time, C => don't bother) is in brackets.
  1. Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" (A); download text or MP3; Astounding, August 1954; science fiction: Officially, the story makes the point that the nature's laws have no concern for human rules or values. Reading the story feels like it's a tragedy brought about by uncaring human administration. Intensely emotional.
  2. Henry Kuttner & C L Moore's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (A); download HTML, or read online at scribd; Astounding, February 1943; science fiction: This story was originally published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett - joint pseudonym of spouses Henry Kuttner and C L Moore. Cognitive processes impossible to human adults can be taught to very young children.
  3. Edgar Allan Poe's "A Descent into the Maelström" (A); download; Graham's Lady's & Gentleman's Magazine, May 1841; hard science fiction: A man survives by staying cool in the face of nightmare. Arthur Clarke's "Maelstrom II" is a sort of space age sequel to this original by Poe.
  4. James P Hogan's "Making Light" (A); Judy-Lynn del Rey (Ed)'s "Stellar #7: Science Fiction Stories", August, 1981; fantasy, humor: GOD's problems dealing with heavenly bureaucracy!
  5. Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question" (A); download; Science Fiction Quarterly, November, 1956; science fiction: An AI is given a rather fundamental problem - figure out a way to reverse entropy without expanding energy! Very entertaining.
  6. Arthur Clarke's "The Star" aka "Star of Bethlehem" (A); download text/MP3; Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955; science fiction: Humans discover alien artifacts on an extra-Sol world.
  7. Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" (A); United States Magazine & Democratic Review, December 1844; also included in the collection "Mosses from an Old Manse and other stories" - download collection; fantasy: A western adaptation of Indian folk tale of "vish kanya" ("poisonous girl"). Very well told, but with tragic ending.
  8. James Blish's "Surface Tension" aka "Lavon" (A); download MP3; Galaxy, August, 1952; science fiction: When a stellar colonization ship crashed on an uninhabitable water world with no chance of anyone surviving more than a few weeks, the colonists do the next best thing - create microscopic water-borne life forms adapted to local world that are essentially human! Now these microscopic "men" are ready to discover who their ancestors were.
  9. Philip K Dick's "The Indefatigable Frog" (A); Fantastic Story Magazine, July 1953; hard science fiction, humor: A parody of the ancient "Dichotomy paradox" of Zeno.
  10. H G Wells' "The Land Ironclads" (A); download; The Strand, December 1903; hard science fiction: Very readable description of battle that is evenly matched - till one side produces a super-weapon. The super-weapon is a tank-like device - but in a battle that otherwise uses horses & cyclists.
  11. Jules Verne & Michel Verne's "In the Year 2889" (A); download; The Forum, February 1889; science fiction: Description of a day in the life of a rich man 1000 years from the date of story's publication. Many predictions of this future history are already common place.
  12. [novelette] C M Kornbluth's "Gomez" (A); C M Kornbluth's "The Explorers" (1954) (coll); humor: An alternate version of the tale of Shrinivasa Ramanujan.
  13. [ss] Bob Shaw's "Light of Other Days" aka "Slow Glass" (A); download; my url; Analog, August 1966; science fiction: A glass that slows down light so much it takes years to pass through! Leave a newly made glass next to a lake for a year; then install it on your window in a city - & you get to see real lake scene for a year. And not a static one - everything that happened there over the year will be replayed, before you see your local surroundings.
  14. Arthur Clarke's "Transit of Earth" (A); Playboy, January 1971; hard science fiction: A man watches the transit of earth & moon across the disk of sun from the surface of mars. As the last act of his life.
  15. Larry Niven's "The Hole Man" (B); Analog, January 1974; science fiction: A space age take on ancient children's story of naughty monkey - poking your nose at certain places can be harmful! Humans have found a gravitational wave generator on Mars of alien origin, abandoned for eons. At its heart is a "quantum black hole" - device vibrates it to generate gravity waves. Careless poking around has released it into the mars' interior - mars will soon be a black hole!
  16. Robert Heinlein's "It's Great to Be Back" (B); The Saturday Evening Post, 26 July 1947; hard science fiction: A couple discovers that home is where the heart is.
  17. Gordon R Dickson's "Dolphin's Way" (B); Analog, June 1964; science fiction: Main theme is - communications with aliens are likely to be far tougher than assumed, because we live in different environments, & environments affect the kind of signals we exchange. In a less important thread, a human is disappointed after first contact with aliens, because aliens have chosen dolphins over humans as the species they want to communicate with.
  18. Anne McCaffrey's "Weyr Search" (B); Analog, October 1967; fantasy: Description of human society on an extra-Sol world that has lost contact with mother world, & has fallen to barbarism. Quite readable. If you are into dragons, feudal lords, & some magic, you will probably enjoy it more than I did.
  19. James Blish's "Beep" (B); Galaxy, February 1954; science fiction: Rather complicated story about a future viewing device, & how benign security agencies wield it for the good of the society. The only saving grace is readable language; I found the plot uninteresting, though it is revealed after a lot of suspense.
  20. Rudyard Kipling's "With the Night Mail" (B); McClure's, November 1905; hard science fiction: This story is also included in Kipling's collection "Actions and Reactions"; download collection. Description of a perilous trans-atlantic journey in a kind of aircraft. Most interesting part of the story is the various aircraft accessory ads that appear after the main story ends.
  21. Clifford D Simak's "Desertion" (B); Astounding, November 1944; science fiction: A rather imaginative story. Humans have research setup on the hard "surface" deep inside Jupiter! They live in domes. To move around, they must transform their physique to become suitable. A machine can take an earth animal & produce a Jovian life form, & vice versa!! But each time a human is sent to explore Jupiter in the open using this method, he vanishes! After several incidents, the man in charge decides to go himself with his dog. Of course, he will also desert; living the Jovian way is so much more interesting than living in a human or dog body!
  22. Alfred Bester's "The Pi Man" (B); F&SF, October 1959: Circadian rhythms may not be the only way cosmic radiation affects us - at least some of us!
  23. Ian Watson's "The Very Slow Time Machine" (B); Christopher Priest (Ed)'s "Anticipations" (1978): It's been a while since I read it. If I recall correctly, a time machine has arrived in a current lab with a single passanger who can be talked to via written placards via machine's window but not verbally, & his responses are so slow it takes generations of humans to get meningful information. We eventually learn that the visitor is god, ... or something.
  24. Edward Bryant's "giANTS" (C); Analog, August 1979; science fiction: To protect US from army ants advancing from south, a man has devised a chemical that will turn each ant into a horse-sized giant - so gravity will kill them! Never mind if the world will have space to hold all these horse-sized ants.
  25. Frederik Pohl's "Day Million" (C); download audio as part of a larger package; Rogue, February/March 1966; science fiction: Sort of early cyberpunk. In distant starfaring future, humans have genetically tweaked themselves so much, they don't quite look familiar. We see the "marriage" of a mermaid human to a starfarer male human - marriage is the only time they ever meet, & the ceremony is essentially an exchange of their simulation data - then each goes its own separate way, never to meet again. Whenever you want the company of another, you just interface with a machine & load the partner's data - experience all you can together, including sex! Of course, you will usually have married many times - so you have many partners' data!
  26. Kate Wilhelm's "The Planners" (C); Damon Knight (Ed)'s "Orbit 3" (1968); science fiction: I didn't quite get the point of this story. Human experimenters have been raising colonies of monkeys & apes in an effort to make them smarter. They've figured out a way to extract some substance from a smart animal's body & inject into the dumb one - so dumb one will become smarter! There is a separate thread of curing a mentally deficient human child. And tangents about protagonist's family problems.
  27. Greg Bear's "Tangents" (C); Omni, January 1986; science fiction: A very gifted boy, under tutelage of mathematician dealing in multi-dimensional space can see in the forth dimension! He sees creatures & life there. Rigs up a musical instrument to attract their attention. The two will eventually go with them traveling in 4D space - off our limited 3D space!
  28. David Brin's "What Continues, What Fails..." (C); Interzone, December 1991; science fiction: Rather muddled story with a lot of jargon about black holes. A pair of women researchers of far future have figured a way of looking inside a black hole, & have seen a separate universe there! Plus a parallel track of one of the pair bearing a child (clone in her own womb) - highly wanted because her "tenaciousness" genes are in high demand. Plus description of the many wonders of this far future.
  29. William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" aka "Molly Millions" (C); download; Omni, May 1981; science fiction: A criminal gang is out to get a man. Jargon filled, in ghetto settings, & utterly unreadable. Downloadable version contains a lot of spelling errors.
  30. Arthur Clarke's "The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told" aka "A Recursion in Metastories" (C); Galaxy, October 1966; non-genre: A recursive rejection letter from an editor to an author. I actually am wondering about the editors' rationale for including this story!
  31. Isaac Asimov's "Waterclap"; If, Apr 1970: I'd read it rather long back to recall many details of the plot. An experimental human habitat at the bottom of ocean, & someone's attempt to sabotage it. Title refers to the name given to sound of water rushing in when the airlock is opened to allow interior flooding.
  32. Isaac Asimov's "The Life and Times of Multivac"; The New York Times, Jan 1975: I read it so long back, I don't recall any details.
  33. Cordwainer Smith's "No, No, Not Rogov!"; download; If, February 1959: It's been a while since I read it. If I recall correctly (but am not sure), it's about a Russian scientist developing some sort of weapon who ends up tuning to a music program from future.
  34. Ursula K Le Guin's "Nine Lives"; originally Playboy, November 1969; this revised version is from Donald Wollheim & Terry Carr (Ed)'s "World's Best Science Fiction: 1970": not read.
  35. Hal Clement's "Proof"; Astounding, June 1942: not read.
  36. Gene Wolfe's "Procreation"; Ellen Datlow (Ed)s "The Omni Book of Science Fiction #4" (1985): not read.
  37. Raymond Z Gallun's "Davy Jones' Ambassador"; Astounding December 1935: not read.
  38. Robert L Forward's "The Singing Diamond"; Omni, February 1979: not read.
  39. Dean Ing's "Down & Out on Ellfive Prime"; Omni, March 1979: not read.
  40. Hilbert Schenck's "Send Me a Kiss by Wire"; F&SF, April 1985: not read.
  41. Philip Latham's "The Xi Effect"; Astounding, January 1950: not read.
  42. Gregory Benford's "Exposures"; IASFM, 6 Jul 1981: not read.
  43. Richard Grant's "Drode's Equations"; Marta Randall & Robert Silverberg (Ed)'s "New Dimensions 12" (1981): not read.
  44. Theodore L Thomas' "The Weather Man"; Analog, June 1962: not read.
  45. J G Ballard's "Prima Belladonna" aka "Vermillion Sands"; Science-Fantasy #20, 1956: not read.
  46. Donald M Kingsbury's "To Bring in the Steel"; Analog, July 1978: not read.
  47. Rudy Rucker's 'Message Found in a Copy of "Flatland"'; The 57th Franz Kafka (1983) (Is it a collection?): not read.
  48. John W Campbell, Jr's "Atomic Power" (as by Don A Stuart); Astounding, December 1934: Note the author is John W Campbell, writing under a pseudonym. Not read.
  49. John T Sladek's "Stop Evolution in Its Tracks"; Interzone #26, 1988: not read.
  50. Miles J Breuer's "The Hungry Guinea Pig"; Amazing, January 1930: not read.
  51. Bruce Sterling's "The Beautiful & the Sublime"; IASFM, June 1986: not read.
  52. Ursula K Le Guin's "The Author of the Acacia Seeds"; Terry Carr (Ed)'s "Fellowship of the Stars" (1974): not read.
  53. John M Ford's "Heat of Fusion"; IASFM, September 1984: not read.
  54. Gene Wolfe's "All the Hues of Hell"; Byron Preiss (Ed)'s "Universe" (1987): not read.
  55. Theodore Sturgeon's "Occam's Scalpel"; If, August 1971: not read.
  56. Randall Garrett's "Time Fuze"; If, March 1954: not read.
  57. Poul Anderson's "Kyrie"; Joseph Elder (Ed)'s "The Farthest Reaches" (1968): not read.
  58. Raymond F Jones' "The Person from Porlock"; Astounding, August 1947: not read.
  59. J G Ballard's "The Cage of Sand"; New Worlds, June 1962: not read.
  60. Alice Sheldon's "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats" (as by James Tiptree, Jr); Robert Silverberg (Ed)'s "New Dimensions 6" (1976): not read.
  61. George Turner's "In a Petri Dish Upstairs"; Lee Harding (Ed)'s "Rooms of Paradise" (1978): not read.
  62. Gregory Benford's "Relativistic Effects"; Alan Ryan (Ed)'s "Perpetual Light" (1982): not read.
  63. John M Ford's "Chromatic Aberration": not read.
  64. Katherine MacLean's "The Snowball Effect"; Galaxy, September 1952: not read.
  65. Hilbert Schenck's "The Morphology of the Kirkham Wreck"; F&SF, September 1978: not read.
  66. Michael F Flynn's "Mammy Morgan Played the Organ, Her Daddy Beat the Drum"; Analog, November 1990: Not read. Based on my experience with Flynn's other stories, I don't think I'll bother with it.
  67. Vernor Vinge's "Bookworm, Run!"; Analog, March 1966: not read.

Fact sheet.

First published: June 1994.
Related: Works of David Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer.