When I was a kid, sometime back in the Triassic, I read a story about the hi-jacking of a space ship by rebel freedom fighters. I can't remember the name of the story or the author (although the names Gordon Dickson and Murray Leinster both come to mind -- which? or someone else?) What I do remember was my fifteen-year-old sense of awe: Something that really huge could just be stolen?
Now that Somalian pirates have actually stolen a huge oil tanker, holding 25 people hostage and using organized crime as the transfer point for millions of dollars in ransom, my visceral response is not "awe." Outrage, disgust, fear are closer. The Somalian pirates' motive is greed, and the SF story hi-jackers' was (I think) patriotic freedom. However, it's the lack of "awe" that interests me at the moment.
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. Take, for instance, Elizabeth Bear's Hugo-winning story "Tide Line." I loved this story for the portrait of the dying sentient war machine who passes on its heritage to a child. Whatever devastated the Earth and sent it back to the Stone Age is barely mentioned. I'm sure that war was awesome, but it was probably also boring -- UNTIL it's brought down to the level of personal suffering.
So -- not a sense of wonder. A sense of vulnerable humanity. Which, now that I think about it, that space-ship piracy story probably lacked -- or else I would remember something, anything, about at least one character?