In Search of Wonder

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In Search of Wonder

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First edition cover
Author Damon Knight
Illustrator J. L. Patterson
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction Literary criticism
Publisher Advent
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 180
ISBN 978-0-911682-31-1

In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction is a collection of critical essays by American writer Damon Knight. Most of the material in the original version of the book was originally published between 1952 and 1955 in various science fiction magazines including Infinity Science Fiction , Original SF Stories, and Future SF. The essays were highly influential, and contributed to Knight's stature as the foremost critic of science fiction of his generation. [1] The book also constitutes an informal record of the "Boom Years" of science fiction from 1950-1955.

Damon Knight American science fiction writer, editor and critic

Damon Francis Knight was an American science fiction author, editor and critic. He is the author of "To Serve Man", a 1950 short story adapted for The Twilight Zone. He was married to fellow writer Kate Wilhelm.

Science fiction Genre of speculative fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrials in fiction. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific other various innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas."

<i>Infinity Science Fiction</i> magazine

Infinity Science Fiction was a short-lived American science fiction magazine. It was published from November 1955 to November 1958 and released a total of 20 issues. The editor of the magazine was Larry T. Shaw. Beginning in 1970, using the "Infinity" title, Lancer Books issued a series of anthologies of (mostly) original short sf stories edited by Robert Hoskins, which were presented as "the lineal descendant of Infinity Science Fiction of fond memory."


In the opening chapter, Knight states his "credos", two of which are:

That science fiction is a field of literature worth taking seriously, and that ordinary critical standards can be meaningfully applied to it: e.g., originality, sincerity, style, construction, logic, coherence, sanity, garden-variety grammar.

That a bad book hurts science fiction more than ten bad notices.

One essay in the book is "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt", a review of the 1945 magazine serialization of A.E. Van Vogt's The World of Null-A , in which Knight "exposed the profound irrationality lying at the heart of much traditional science fiction". [2]

<i>The World of Null-A</i> book

The World of Null-A, sometimes written The World of Ā, is a 1948 science fiction novel by Canadian American writer A. E. van Vogt. It was originally published as a three-part serial in 1945 in Astounding Stories. It incorporates concepts from the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski. The name Ā refers to non-Aristotelian logic.

In 1956 Knight was awarded a Hugo as "Best Book Reviewer" based largely on the essays reprinted in this book.

Publishing history

In Search of Wonder was originally issued by Advent:Publishers in hardcover in 1956. Advent reissued it in both hardcover and trade paperback in 1960. The second, expanded, edition was published by Advent in hardcover in 1967, with trade paperback reprints following in 1968 and 1974. The second edition was more than 120 pages longer and included six added chapters. Advent published a third, further expanded edition, nearly 100 pages longer than the second edition, in 1996. [3] The third edition adds roughly 30,000 words of text and augments the bibliography and index; it incorporates six new chapters and expands Knight's discussion of longtime editor John W. Campbell Jr.. [4] Orion released an ebook edition in 2013. [3]

Advent:Publishers is an American publishing house. It was founded by Earl Kemp and other members of the University of Chicago Science Fiction Club, including Sidney Coleman, in 1955, to publish criticism, history, and bibliography of the science fiction field, beginning with Damon Knight's In Search of Wonder.


On defining science fiction:

On criticism:

On science fiction writers:

A. E. van Vogt Canadian writer

Alfred Elton van Vogt was a Canadian-born science fiction author. His narrative style was compelling and stimulating, and in this way, influenced later science fiction writers, notably Philip K. Dick. He is regarded as one of the most popular, influential and complex practitioners of the mid-twentieth century, the genre's so-called Golden Age.

Ray Bradbury American author and screenwriter

Ray Douglas Bradbury was an American author and screenwriter. He worked in a variety of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery fiction.

On science fiction novels:

<i>I Am Legend</i> (novel) novel by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend is a 1954 science fiction horror novel by American writer Richard Matheson. It was influential in the development of the zombie-vampire genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. The novel was a success and was adapted into the films The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007). It was also an inspiration behind Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Richard Matheson American fiction writer

Richard Burton Matheson was an American author and screenwriter, primarily in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. He is best known as the author of I Am Legend, a 1954 science fiction horror vampire novel that has been adapted for the screen four times, as well as the film Somewhere In Time for which he wrote the screenplay based on his novel Bid Time Return. Matheson also wrote 16 television episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Steel". He adapted his 1971 short story "Duel" as a screenplay directed by Steven Spielberg for the television film Duel that year. Seven of his novels and short stories have been adapted as motion pictures: The Shrinking Man, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Bid Time Return, A Stir of Echoes, Steel, and Button, Button. The movie Cold Sweat was based on his novel Riding the Nightmare, and Les seins de glace was based on his novel Someone is Bleeding.

<i>The Blind Spot</i> book by Austin Hall

The Blind Spot is a science fiction novel by American writers Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint. The novel was originally serialized in six parts in the magazine Argosy beginning in May 1921. It was first published in book form in 1951 by Prime Press in an edition of 1,500 copies, though fewer than 800 were bound and the remainder are assumed lost. The sequel, The Spot of Life, was written by Hall alone.

On British writers:


Following is a list of chapters in the first edition (1956).

Introduction by Anthony Boucher
Author's Note
  1. Critics
  2. The Classics
  3. Chuckleheads
  4. Campbell and His Decade
  5. Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt
  6. Half-Bad Writers
  7. One Sane Man: Robert A. Heinlein
  8. Asimov and Empire
  9. More Chuckleheads
  10. When I Was in Kneepants: Ray Bradbury
  11. The Vorpal Pen: Theodore Sturgeon
  12. Anthologies
  13. Genius to Order: Kuttner and Moore
  14. Kornbluth and the Silver Lexicon
  15. The Jagged Blade: James Blish
  16. Overalls on Parnassus: Fletcher Pratt
  17. Microcosmic Moskowitz
  18. New Stars
  19. Curiosa
  20. The Giants
  21. Pitfalls and Dead Ends
  22. What next?

The second edition (Advent, 1967) included the additional chapters:

"Symbolism" is chapter-long essay on the symbolism in James Blish's short story "Common Time", first published in a 1967 issue of Science Fiction Forum.


Anthony Boucher described the original edition as "a comprehensive picture of the book publication of science fiction in the 1950's, valuable as a historical record, stimulating as a detailed analysis of faults and virtues, and delightful simply as good reading matter in its own right", [5] P. Schuyler Miller reviewed the book favorably, saying that Knight "applies his rules honestly and mercilessly", although he also noted that Knight's close focus on technical aspects of writing sometimes ignored an author's ability to "cast a spell . . . even if the carpentry and design is shoddy". [6]

Reviewing the second edition, Algis Budrys declared that "Damon Knight sets an as yet unequalled standard" for sf criticism, and praised Knight both for "his exact appreciations of the well done" as well as "how influential [he] was when summing up the subtle but suddenly obvious flaws in work that had seemed pretty good". [7] Barry Malzberg wrote that "Damon Knight is probably our field's first and best critic and . . . this book is the most important nonfiction ever published in the category". [8]

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James Blish American author

James Benjamin Blish was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is best known for his Cities in Flight novels, and his series of Star Trek novelizations written with his wife, J. A. Lawrence. He is credited with creating the term gas giant to refer to large planetary bodies.

Lester del Rey Novelist, short story writer, editor

Lester del Rey was an American science fiction author and editor. He was the author of many books in the juvenile Winston Science Fiction series, and the editor at Del Rey Books, the fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey.

<i>Xero</i> (SF fanzine)

Xero was a fanzine edited and published by Dick Lupoff, Pat Lupoff and Bhob Stewart from 1960 to 1963, winning a Hugo Award in the latter year. With science fiction and comic books as the core subjects, Xero also featured essays, satire, articles, poetry, artwork and cartoons on a wide range of other topics, material later collected into two hardcover books.

The first Golden Age of Science Fiction, often recognized in the United States as the period from 1938 to 1946, was an era during which the science fiction genre gained wide public attention and many classic science fiction stories were published. In the history of science fiction, the Golden Age follows the "pulp era" of the 1920s and 1930s, and precedes New Wave science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1950s are a transitional period in this scheme; however, Robert Silverberg, who came of age in the 1950s, saw that decade as the true Golden Age.

NESFA Press American science fiction book publisher

NESFA Press is the publishing arm of the New England Science Fiction Association, Inc. The NESFA Press primarily produces three types of books:

<i>Adventures in Time and Space</i> book by Raymond J. Healy

Adventures in Time and Space is an American anthology of science fiction stories edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas and published in 1946 by Random House. A second edition was also published in 1946 that eliminated the last five stories. A Modern Library edition was issued in 1957. When it was re-released in 1975 by Ballantine Books, Analog book reviewer Lester del Rey referred to it as a book he often gave to people in order to turn them onto the genre. It is now once again out of print.

This is a bibliography of works by Damon Knight.

A fix-up is a novel created from several short fiction stories that may or may not have been initially related or previously published. The stories may be edited for consistency, and sometimes new connecting material, such as a frame story or other interstitial narration, is written for the new work. The term was coined by the science fiction writer A. E. van Vogt, who published several fix-ups of his own, including The Voyage of the Space Beagle, but the practice exists outside of science fiction. The use of the term in science fiction criticism was popularised by the first (1979) edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls, which credited Van Vogt with the creation of the term. The name comes from the modifications that the author needs to make in the original texts to make them fit together as though they were a novel. Foreshadowing of events from the later stories may be jammed into an early chapter of the fix-up, and character development may be interleaved throughout the book. Contradictions and inconsistencies between episodes are usually worked out.

<i>First Flight: Maiden Voyages in Space and Time</i>

First Flight: Maiden Voyages in Space and Time is an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by Damon Knight, first published in paperback by Lancer Books in August 1963. It is a compilation of the first published stories of ten authors in the genre. It was reprinted in November 1966 and reissued as Now Begins Tomorrow in November 1969 by the same publisher. An expansion of the work, retaining Knight's introduction and adding the initial stories of ten additional authors, was later prepared by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander and published as First Voyages by Avon Books in May 1981.

Definitions of science fiction Wikimedia list article

There have been many attempts at defining science fiction. This is a list of definitions that have been offered by authors, editors, critics and fans over the years since science fiction became a genre. Definitions of related terms such as "science fantasy", "speculative fiction", and "fabulation" are included where they are intended as definitions of aspects of science fiction or because they illuminate related definitions—see e.g. Robert Scholes's definitions of "fabulation" and "structural fabulation" below. Some definitions of sub-types of science fiction are included, too; for example see David Ketterer's definition of "philosophically-oriented science fiction". In addition, some definitions are included that define, for example, a science fiction story, rather than science fiction itself, since these also illuminate an underlying definition of science fiction.

<i>The Other Side of the Moon</i> (anthology) book by August Derleth

The Other Side of the Moon is an anthology of science fiction stories edited by American writer August Derleth. It was first published by Pellegrini & Cudahy in 1949. Many of the stories had originally appeared in the magazines The Graphic Christmas, Astounding Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Wonder Stories, Weird Tales, Blue Book, Planet Stories, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly or in the collections The Fourth Book of Jorkens by Lord Dunsany and The Witchfinder by S. Fowler Wright.

<i>Kinsmen of the Dragon</i> book by Stanley Mullen

Kinsmen of the Dragon is a fantasy novel by author Stanley Mullen. It was published in 1951 by Shasta Publishers in an edition of 3,500 copies. The book had originally been announced by Mullen's own Gorgon Press. The superb jacket art was by Hannes Bok.

<i>Empire of the Atom</i> book by A.E. van Vogt

Empire of the Atom is a science fiction novel by Canadian American writer A. E. van Vogt. It was first published in 1957 by Shasta Publishers in an edition of 2,000 copies. The novel is a fix-up of the first five of van Vogt's Gods stories which originally appeared in the magazine Astounding. The remaining Gods stories are collected in The Wizard of Linn. Author and critic James Blish observed that the plot of the Gods stories resembled that of Robert Graves' Claudius novels. Author and critic Damon Knight said that the plot was "lifted almost bodily" from the plot of I, Claudius. A genealogy chart of the ruling family of the Empire of Linn is included.

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 18 (1956) is the eighteenth volume of Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories, which is a series of short story collections, edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, which attempts to list the great science fiction stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. They date the Golden Age as beginning in 1939 and lasting until 1963.

Science Fiction Forum was a critical journal of science fiction. It was created by Damon Knight and James Blish in 1957. Lester del Rey was also an editor.

Orbit 1 is a 1966 science fiction short story anthology edited by American writer Damon Knight.

<i>Seekers of Tomorrow</i> book by Sam Moskowitz

Seekers of Tomorrow: Masters of Modern Science Fiction is a work of collective biography on the formative authors of the science fiction genre by Sam Moskowitz, first published in hardcover by the World Publishing Company in 1965. The first paperback edition was issued by Ballantine Books in October, 1967. A photographic reprint of the original edition was issued in both hardcover and trade paperback by Hyperion Press in 1974. Most of its chapters are revised versions of articles that initially appeared in the magazine Amazing Stories from 1961-1964.


  1. Gunn, James, ed. (2003). The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 4: From Here to Forever. Scarecrow Press.
  2. Clute, John (April 17, 2002), "Damon Knight: Intellectual gadfly of science fiction", The Independent
  3. 1 2 ISFDB publishing history
  4. NESFA listing
  5. "Recommended Reading", F&SF, November 1956, p.99
  6. "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction , March 1957, pp. 141-43
  7. Budrys, Algis (December 1967). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 187–194.
  8. "The Future in Books", Amazing Stories , January 1969, p.144