The Hard SF
The Hard SF Renaissance is a collection of 41 stories from the 1990s with a mission to seek out and explore the limits of the new age of wonder stories that followed the Cyberpunk revolution, which followed the Character based "New Wave" which followed...with a few more intervening steps...the Golden Age of Science Fiction...the old Hard SF.
In the process of exploring the reaches of Hard SF, Editors David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer have put together a collection of terrific stories, only a few of which I'd already read. I keep swearing I'll read more short stories and fewer novels, but it never happens, so collections like this are a real boon for me.
It's also a boon that these this is exactly the sort of SF I like. To go back to over-generalizing for a moment, Golden Age SF got the science right, more or less, but missed the complexity of human systems. The character based decades that followed focused on the human equation, but showed such a mistrust of science that they might as well have been called anti-science fiction. As Michael Swanwick points out in his "User's Guide To The PostModerns" cited in the preface to the collection, "The most extreme example of generational conflict came, of course, in the 1960s, when the controversy over the New Wave escalated to near-violence." Then the Cyberpunks arrived in the 1980's and "marched into the Eternal City and found it undefended. The lion gates were open; there were no archers on the walls. The citizenry turned out to throw to flowers, and petty officials proffered the key to the city. The barbarians were dumbfounded."
Talking to David Hartwell about the book (see our interview this issue) he pointed out that no form of SF ever really dies off. During any given movement, you can find stories from other schools still getting published, which is another way of saying that people don't lose interest in the stuff they like, just because new stuff comes along. This is especially true of Hard SF, and when Cyberpunk came along, it was called, among other things, "Radical Hard SF". Its proponents thought they were storming the gates of propriety in black leather jackets...but it would be closer to the truth to say that they were liberating the occupied city, for though it's true they were punks...they were our punks.
Cyberpunk could take the city, but having declared success, as they did when Gibson's Neuromancer swept the Hugos and Nebulas, but they couldn't hold it...nor did they want to. Punks, by definition, are ill equipped to build a future...though they are sure fun to party with while tearing down the establishment. The New Hard SF is all about building a future. It's not that it's trustful of governments and organizations, but that it recognizes the need for solutions again, and that tearing down is only half the process of reconstruction.
While Mirrorshades, the definitive Cyberpunk anthology was put together, extra authors had to be dragooned to make up an even dozen, Hartwell's minimum for a movement. Not so here, with old names and new, masters and newcomers and an abundance of talent. The shift in the science is what you'd expect, with lots of cyberstuff and genetics elbowing its way in amongst the still prevalent physics. The politics are interesting and varied, more libertarian than not, but the message that comes through is that it takes all kinds to make a movement, and all kinds are welcome, as long as they play by the rules.
The Hard SF Renaissance authors are, as Hard SF has ever been, largely male. Nancy Kress, Joan Slonczewski, and Sarah Zettel make up 10% of the book. In SFWA's newsletter, I just read an article by Susan Linville about the historical trending of women in SF...and that during the 90's 10% was about what Analog (the more gung-ho-hard-SF zine) was maintaining. So, the collection represents reality, and when I asked Hartwell if it was a reality that needed to be addressed, he pointed out that despite efforts to increase the participation of women in writing, as soon as any given push is over the numbers drop back to 25% or so of published stories. Go figure.
Read The Hard SF Renaissance for it for Hartwell and Cramer's introductions, read it to prove to yourself that the field has managed to find its roots and reach for the stars at the same time, or read it for the pure enjoyment of SF written "with the net up", but definitely go out and read it.
And you'd better do it soon, so you'll have time to read David and Kathyrn's next collection...The Space Opera Renaissance.
Introduction: NEW PEOPLE, NEW PLACES, NEW POLITICS / Paul McAuley: GENE WARS / Greg Egan: WANG'S CARPETS / Poul Anderson: GENESIS / Kim Stanley Robinson: ARTHUR STERNBACH BRINGS THE CURVEBALL TO MARS / Stephen Baxter: ON THE ORION LINE / Nancy Kress: BEGGARS IN SPAIN / Gregory Benford: MATTER'S END / Arthur C. Clarke: THE HAMMER OF GOD / James Patrick Kelly: THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR / Ben Bova: MOUNT OLYMPUS / Robert Reed: MARROW / Joan Slonczewski: MICROBE / Charles Sheffield: THE LADY VANISHES / Bruce Sterling: BICYCLE REPAIRMAN / David Brin: AN EVER-REDDENING GLOW / Kim Stanley Robinson: SEXUAL DIMORPHISM / G. David Nprdley: INTO THE MIRANDA RIFT / Robert J. Sawyer: THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS / Geoffrey A. Landis: A WALK IN THE SUN / Joe Haldeman: FOR WHITE HILL / Brian Stableford: A CAREER IN SEXUAL CHEMISTRY / Paul McAuley: REEF / Hal Clement: EXCHANGE RATE / Greg Egan: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL / Michael Swanwick: GRIFFIN'S EGG / Alastair Reynolds: GREAT WALL OF MARS / Peter Watts: A NICHE / Stephen Baxter: GOSSAMER / James P. Hogan: MADAM BUTTERFLY / Ted Chiang: UNDERSTAND / Karl Schroeder: HALO / David Langford: DIFFERENT KINDS OF DARKNESS /Vernor Vinge: FAST TIMES AT FAIRMONT HIGH / David Brin: REALITY CHECK / Paul Levinson: THE MENDELIAN LAMP CASE / Sarah Zettel: KINDS OF STRANGERS / Alien Steele: THE GOOD RAT / Michael Flynn: BUILT UPON THE SANDS OF TIME / Bruce Sterling: TAKLAMAKAN / Frederik Pohl: HATCHING THE PHOENIX / Gregory Benford: IMMERSION
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Vol. 10: No. 8, August,