Nineteen-sixty-four — 50 years ago, this year — was a cusp year between the Fifties (1954–63) and Sixties (1964–73).
Recently, I published a list of my favorite Older Kids’ novels from 1964. One of the books on that list, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, also appears on my Best Sixties Adventure list; and another, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, appears on an appendix to that list.
Here’s a list of my favorite 1964 adventure novels for grownups.
- Thomas Berger’s revisionist Western adventure Little Big Man. Jack Crabb, a 111-year-old survivor of Custer’s Last Stand, narrates his mock-heroic, picaresque adventures. As his roles vary over the course of his wanderings, from Cheyenne warrior to Army scout to small-time huckster, so does the style of Crabb’s (unreliable) narrative. Adapted as a movie in 1970 by Arthur Penn.
- Philip K. Dick’s science fiction adventure Martian Time-Slip. In which the Mars of hoary sf mythologizing becomes a Waste Land populated by visionary bushmen, a truth-telling ten-year-old schizophrenic (who sees “a hole as large as a world; the earth disappeared and became black, empty, and nothing… Into the hole the men jumped one by one, until none of them were left. He was alone, with the silent world-hole.”), and a humble repairman who must put reality back together… even as it dissolves into “gubble.”
- Jim Thompson’s crime adventure Pop. 1280. Nick Corey, who is sheriff of some Texan (probably) backwater, would have his neighbors (and us) believe that he is a lazy, simple-minded good ol’ boy who nevertheless manages to deal effectively with a shrewish wife, a tough re-election campaign, and local criminals. In fact, he is a cunning and ruthless sociopath.
- Ian Fleming’s dark, claustrophobic James Bond espionage adventure You Only Live Twice. In the course of avenging his wife’s murder, Bond takes on a highly unlikely new identity: a Japanese coal miner. Eleventh novel in the series; the last one published during the author’s lifetime. Helped start the ninja meme in the West. Cyril Connolly on the book: “reactionary, sentimental, square, the Bond-image flails its way through the middle-brow masses.”
- Len Deighton’s 1964 satirical spy novel Funeral in Berlin. Deighton’s unnamed protagonist travels to Berlin to arrange the defection of a Soviet scientist… and stumbles upon a complicated game of maneuvers between the Israeli secret service, ex-Nazis, and Russian security. Guy Hamilton’s 1966 movie adaptation starred Michael Caine.
- J.G. Ballard’s science fiction adventure The Burning World. Part of an early-career series of eco-catastrophe novels by the author, who until 1962 worked as an editor at the British scientific journal Chemistry and Industry. An extreme worldwide drought is caused by industrial waste flushed into the ocean; an oxygen-permeable barrier of saturated long-chain polymers has formed, which prevents evaporation and destroys the precipitation cycle. A longer version was published in 1965 as The Drought.
- William Burroughs’s cut-up science fiction adventure Nova Express. Inspector Lee tracks down members of the Nova Mob — regulating viruses, known as Sammy the Butcher, Izzy the Push, and The Subliminal Kid, who represent society, culture, and government. Third and best installment in the Nova trilogy, which begins with The Soft Machine (1961, revised 1966) and The Ticket That Exploded (1962, revised 1967). Luc Sante sums up the message of the trilogy like so: “You are the host of a virus; the virus is life; you are fucked.”
- Donald E. Westlake’s Parker crime caper adventure The Score, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark. Recruited by a mysterious figure, Parker recruits a group of twelve experts in order to run a heist on an entire town in North Dakota. Slow-moving, compared to earlier Parker books — there’s a lot of planning and waiting — but when the job goes wrong, things start jumping. Fifth in the Parker series; published in the UK as Killtown. Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation is worth a read.
- John Christopher’s Sweeney’s Island is a sardonic inversion of the Robinsonade genre of adventure. I’m a big fan of Christopher’s YA trilogies from this era, which is why I picked up this book — which turns out to be a grownup version of Lord of the Flies. A group of wealthy London socialites are invited on a sailing trip which strands them on an uninhabited tropical island; things get post-apocalyptic. Lost avant la lettre.
- John D. MacDonald’s crime adventure The Deep Blue Good-by. The first in a long, much-beloved series of pulp novels about “salvage consultant” Travis McGee, a Korean War vet who lives on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale and recovers stolen property and missing persons — forebear to Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen’s Florida adventurers. Here, McGee races to discover buried treasure before a murderer gets there first.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1964 adventures that you particularly admire. Also, please check out these additional lists: Best 1905 Adventures | Best 1915 Adventures | Best 1925 Adventures | Best 1935 Adventures | Best 1940 Adventures| Best 1945 Adventures | Best 1955 Adventures | Best 1964 Adventures | Best 1965 Adventures | Best 1975 Adventures | The 200 Greatest Adventure Novels of All Time.
TOP 450 ADVENTURES — BY SUBGENRE: 101 Science Fiction | 70 Crime | 65 Fantasy | 60 Espionage | 40 Atavistic & Historical | 25 Frontier & Western | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt | 20 War & Ruritanian | 18 Picaresque | 11 Robinsonade & Survival |
MORE LIT LISTS FROM THIS AUTHOR: Index to All Adventure Lists | Best 19th Century Adventure (1805–1903) | Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure (1904–13) | Best Nineteen-Teens Adventure (1914–23) | Best Twenties Adventure (1924–33) | Best Thirties Adventure (1934–43) | Best Forties Adventure (1944–53) | Best Fifties Adventure (1954–63) | Best Sixties Adventure (1964–73) | Best Seventies Adventure (1974–83) | 101 Science Fiction | 70 Crime | 65 Fantasy | 60 Espionage | 40 Atavistic & Historical | 25 Frontier & Western | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt | 20 War & Ruritanian | 18 Picaresque | 11 Robinsonade & Survival. ALSO: Best Older Kids’ Lit 1963 | Best Older Kids’ Lit 1964 | Best Older Kids’ Lit 1965 | Best 1905 Adventures | Best 1915 Adventures | Best 1925 Adventures | Best 1935 Adventures | Best 1940 Adventures| Best 1945 Adventures | Best 1955 Adventures | Best 1964 Adventures | Best 1965 Adventures | Best 1975 Adventures | Best Scottish Fabulists | Radium-Age Telepath Lit | Radium Age Superman Lit | Radium Age Robot Lit | Radium Age Apocalypse Lit | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophe Lit | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Cold War “X” Fic | Best YA Sci-Fi | Hooker Lit | No-Fault Eco-Catastrophe Lit | Scrabble Lit |