Has science fiction’s sensawunda lost its sense of wonder?

Paul Raven @ 22-11-2008

Tomorrow, The Stars - old science fiction anthology coverEveryone looks for something a little different from their fiction fix, science fiction readers included. But science fiction is also a special case, because it has been traditionally tied to the “sense of wonder” – that gosh-wow feeling engendered by reading about something previously inconceivable. Indeed, sensawunda used to be described by some writers and critics (whether correctly or not) as the core differential between science fiction and ‘regular’ fiction. [image uploaded by Jim Linwood]

But is that still the case? For example, the Mundane SF manifesto would appear to argue against sensawunda’s necessity and relevance to modern readers. And here’s Nancy Kress musing on the Somalian pirates’ tanker hijack:

Maybe the world has gotten too grubby and jaded for “awe.” Or I have. At any rate, a “sense of wonder” is no longer what I look for in fiction, including SF. I don’t want to be dazzled by things I never thought of before, even though often that seems to be what SF values. I want to be emotionally moved, involved at a visceral level with the characters and the situation, not with novelty or landscapes or gadgets or derring-do.

Speaking personally, I’ve no objection to sensawunda in my science fiction, but the older I get and the more I read (fiction or otherwise) the more my tastes seem to align with Nancy’s – I want stories about people first and foremost. Sensawunda is an extra – a side-dish, if you like, or a piquant sauce.

What about you lot? Has reality and endless CGI movies jaded you, too, or do starships and rayguns still flick your switches?