In Search of Wonder

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In Search of Wonder

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.


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]

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]


On defining science fiction:

On criticism:

On science fiction writers:

On science fiction novels:

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]


  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