December 1, 2021
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Age of Wonders

by David G. Hartwell

This amiable, expert look at the world of science fiction as it was in the mid-1990s runs from the history and economics of the genre to the unique genre fandom that shapes expectation and reception. I was surprised to see the weight that Hartwell, a consummate insider, accords to the fan phenomenon, which has always defined itself as outsider and — very much unlike Hartwell — anti-literary. Yet the influence is undeniable, and Hartwell shows why that matters. The superb annotated bibliography is helpful.

What I miss here are the sensible discussions about trends and mechanics that Hartwell used to write for The New York Review Of Science Fiction. I remember, for example, a fascinating column discussing how a genre in which short novels flourished in the 1960s — remember Ace Doubles? — came to demand thick bricks (and treble volumes) shortly afterward. Perhaps this seemed too much inside baseball, and too far from the book’s argument for the seriousness of science fiction.