Review: The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF – Parts 2 and 3

As mentioned, Part I is the stuff I actually read (and most of it, liked enormously.) Part II is stories I didn’t bother reading before.

Davy Jones’ Ambassador – Ramond Z. Gallun – This is one of the very few stories you will ever read where “They’ll put you in a box and study you!” is met with a calm, “Yes. I intend to study them, as well. It will be interesting.” So in this case there are two steely-eyed resourceful engineer heroes….and one of them is a Deep Thing.

The Weather Man – It’s actually a three-fer, as it has a smug politician, a mad (female) scientist, an elderly retired scientist (I was waiting for him to be consulted about the developments, but this did not transpire) and an invincible space engineer.

The Singing Diamond – Eh. This is what I have against most space babes: they’re kind of wimpy and will, at the drop of an ultradense gravity bomb, give up on space exploration and hover around Earth to listen to microscopic alien motes buzz. Sing. Whatever.

Exposures – Greg Bear – This one is quite good once you get to the meat of it, but it’s slow and dense and it took some effort to get into.

Down and Out on Ellfive Prime – Dean Ing – This one’s quite good in theory (and has two Competent Space Heroes), but it’s sloppily executed.

Prima Belladona – Uh. Okay.

The Land Ironclads – H. G. Wells invents tank warfare. He doesn’t quite get it all right, but he got the snivelling journalists bang-on.

Procreation – Gene Wolfe: Okay. This one misses out on being straight lit fic mostly because it involves parallel universes and the ingress and egress of the protagonists from them. Nevertheless….

Atomic Power – John W. Campbell: For someone who repeatedly insisted Tom Godwin not rescue the girl in The Cold Equations, Campbell is pretty cavalier about hitting the reset button after life on Earth as we know it is irreparably altered and untold billions of people have died horribly.

GiANTS – Edward Bryant – guess what this one’s about. No, go on. Guess. No, you were actually wrong, because it’s a philosophical romance shot through with elements of science and morbidity. Also, the square-cube law is weaponized.

Day Million – Frederik Pohl – Dude, freaking chill. Seriously.

Weyr Search – Anne McCaffrey – Why are the Pern books regarded as either scifi or good? This story sucked, the characters were repulsive, and the writing was bland.

The Hungry Guinea Pig – Miles J. Breuer, M. D. – I read this story and I regretted it. You have two guesses as to why, and here are three hints to help. One is the title, and the second is the fact that the mad scientist also won a medal in WW2 in the artillery. The last hint is that the square-cube law is gleefully violated and no one seems to really care.

Kyrie – Poul Anderson – Ugh. See, I can handle alien star systems being supernova’d. I can handle the Earth getting blown up. I can handle the girl getting spaced, because that’s a quick death. I can even handle the Earth being torn apart atom from atom and life as we know it being slowly and painfully extinguished. But being crushed to death in a black hole while your dilated sense of time registers it for eternity and you are telepathically linked to someone on the outside who is going be to hearing your screams for eternity–that’s a no from me, dawg.

Dolphin’s Way – Gordon R. Dickson – I read this, or I must have, because it’s Gordon R. Dickson. But I can’t really remember it and I don’t particularly want to try.

The Life and Times of Multivac – Isaac Asimov – I think I read this one. It was aight.

Drode’s Equations – This is goddamn lit fic, what the hell. Get outa here.

Making Light – James P Hogan – Hehhhhhh.

The Last Question – Isaac Asimov – Also heh.

And then there’s Part III – These sound boring, and their first few paragraphs don’t help, and I didn’t read them ever and probably never will.

The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats – James Tiptree, Jr. – Oh, no. I read the guinea pig story. You are NOT getting me on this one.
Cage of Sand – J. G. Ballard. Considering this is where not one but two bookmarks have ended up, it gets to stay on this list. Also the title sounds likeĀ Rope of Sand, a vaguely homoerotic film noir starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Henreid (not a bad film, BTW.)
No, No, Not Rogov! – Cordwainer Smith – I vaguely remember skim-reading this one–the title is the last line–but everything Cordwainer Smith has always left a bad taste in my mouth.
Mammy Morgan Played the Organ, Her Daddy Beat the Drum – Michael F Flynn – Is there, possibly, anywhere, somehow, a title less likely to attract a scifi reader’s attention? I mean, I’m not demanding “Blood Swords of the Gods of Death Against the Dying Suns,” but if you’re writing in the genre at least try. At least Carnacki the Ghost-Finder knew to be properly evocative. “The Thing Invisible,” “The Gateway of the Monster.” “The House Among the Laurels.” Refer to the monster, not to what the monster does…especially if the monster/ghost is doing something as mundane as playing piano. Organ. Whatever.
The Pi Man – Alfred Bester – Bester is a complete meh at the best of times.
– A bunch more that I’m not bothering to list out because….they sound boring.