This page is a work in progress. Please let me know what 1964–1983 sci-fi novels I’ve overlooked!
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— JOSH GLENN
NEW WAVE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: 75 Best New Wave (1964–83) Sci-Fi Novels | Back to Utopia: Fredric Jameson’s theorizing about New Wave sci-fi | Douglas Adams | Poul Anderson | J.G. Ballard | John Brunner | William Burroughs | Octavia E. Butler | Samuel R. Delany | Philip K. Dick | Frank Herbert | Ursula K. Le Guin | Barry N. Malzberg | Moebius (Jean Giraud) | Michael Moorcock | Alan Moore | Gary Panter | Walker Percy | Thomas Pynchon | Joanna Russ | James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) | Kurt Vonnegut | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics.
ALSO SEE: 50 Best Scientific Romances (1864–1903) | Radium Age Sci-Fi: 100 Best Novels of 1904–33 | Golden Age Sci-Fi: 75 Best Novels of 1934–1963 | 75 Best New Wave Sci-Fi (1964–83) Novels | The 200 Greatest Adventure Novels of All Time | 101 Science Fiction Adventures
The following classics from the science fiction genre’s so-called Golden Age (1934–63) era are listed here in order to provide some historical context.
- E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Triplanetary (1934; as a book, 1948)
- Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Space (1934—on; first book p. 1947)
- Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (1937)
- Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (1940–on; as a book, 1950)
- A.E. van Vogt’s Slan (1940; as a book, 1946)
- Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (1942–on; as a book, 1951)
- Clifford D. Simak’s City (1944–51; as a book, 1952)
- Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1946–on; as a book, 1950)
- George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
- George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949)
- John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (1951)
- Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1951)
- Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man (1952; as a book, 1953)
- Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
- Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953)
- Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave (1953; as a book, 1954)
- Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1954)
- Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955)
- Philip K. Dick’s Solar Lottery (1955)
- Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (1956)
- Philip K. Dick’s The World Jones Made (1956)
- Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957)
- Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint (1959)
- William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959)
- Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan (1959)
- Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)
- Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon (1959)
- Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
- Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961)
- Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962)
- Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962)
- Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963)
- Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes (1963)
The New Wave era in Adventure’s science fiction sub-genre began in 1964 (when Michael Moorcock took over the editorship of the British sf magazine New Worlds; Jack Kirby also had something to do with it, in science-fiction comics) and lasted through 1983. (Cyberpunk begins in ’84, with Gibson’s Neuromancer.) What was New Wave? The best sf adventures published during the Sixties were characterized by an ambitious, self-consciously artistic sensibility. Many of my favorites — including Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik; William S. Burroughs’s Nova Express; Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven; Samuel R. Delany’s Nova; and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five — concern themselves, at the level of both content and form, with the nature of perception itself.
Note that William S. Burroughs’s writings — prior to 1964 — were perhaps the most influential on the genre’s New Wave era. J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Leigh Brackett, and Alfred Bester have also been credited.
PS: Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat-Death of the Universe” (1967) is a definitive British New Wave story.
Check out Judith Merrill’s (ed.) England Swings SF collection (1968).
Harlan Ellison’s (ed.) Dangerous Visions (1967) — helped define US New Wave sci-fi movement.
- J.G. Ballard‘s The Burning World (1964). A difficult book to read, in many respects — with the saving grace that it is not a Golden Age sci-fi “cozy catastrophe, i.e.,” in which the apocalypse proves to be a kind of wish fulfillment for an alienated male protagonist. As the story begins, a British suburb begins to grapple with the fact that an unending drought — brought on by human pollution — will result in rivers running dry, crops failing, and humankind succumbing to famine and disease. Some years later, a small band of survivors from that suburb traverses vast salt plains in search of potable water. As in Beckett’s Endgame, our post-apocalyptic protagonist, the resigned and taciturn Dr. Ransom, and his companions — including a deranged architect who takes to wearing jeweled robes; and a crippled man who walks on stilts — discover that everything they’ve ever believed is meaningless. Fun fact: An expanded version, retitled The Drought, was published in 1965. Ballard’s other early catastrophe novels include The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), and The Crystal World (1966).
- Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip (1964). One of my top favorite PKD novels, Martian Time-Slip is set in an arid Martian colony where Establishment-approved information is crammed into youthful heads by teaching machines. Forget the plot, which involves time travel… or a vision/hallucination of time travel, anyway. Dick presents the book’s action through flash-forwards and from the perspectives of the three main characters. At the level of form, we’re confronted with the question: What is reality? Ten-year-old Manfred Steiner, is labeled autistic because he doesn’t properly respond to the machines; in fact, he has precognition abilities. Jack Bohlen, a repairman, is hired to develop a device for communicating with Manfred; Bohlen, too, is disturbed by the teaching machines — because his schizophrenia reveals to him the machine-like quality of normal, well-adjusted people; and because he, like Manfred, perceives the passage of time in an unconventional way. A third character, union leader Arnie Kott, wants to use Manfred’s abilities to get the edge on a business deal. Meanwhile, the oppressed native Martians recognize the malleability of time — and therefore understand the value of Manfred’s gifts. Fun fact: The novel was first published under the title All We Marsmen, serialized in the August, October and December 1963 issues of Worlds of Tomorrow magazine.
- William Burroughs’s Nova Express (1964). Beginning in 1961, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin experimented with a “dreamachine” producing complex patterns of color behind one’s eyelids. As the user entered something like a hypnagogic state, the patterns would “read” as intensely meaningful — even if that meaning was inarticulable. The effect of Burroughs’s Nova Trilogy (1961’s The Soft Machine, 1962’s The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express) on readers is dreamachine-like; you don’t read it so much as soak in it. Even if you could un-do the “fold-in” technique that Burroughs employed, you wouldn’t discover a coherent plot: Instead, there are characters (Sammy The Butcher, The Brown Artist, Izzy The Push, and other members of the viral Nova Mob; Inspector Lee of the Nova Police), comedy bits, drug-induced hallucinations, and language experiments. All wired together by an overarching paranoia regarding the cultural, social, biological, and neurological mechanisms via which the many are conditioned and controlled by the few. The Nova Mob are “control addicts”; can Inspector Lee — who sees conspiracies everywhere — dismantle their diabolical word-and-imagery machine, aka culture itself? Fun fact: Together with The Soft Machine (1961) and The Ticket That Exploded (1962), this novel is part of The Nova Trilogy. 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.”
- Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). In the far future, interstellar travel is made possible thanks to the spice melange — the psychoactive properties of which allow pilots to safely route faster-than-light travel. Melange is also responsible for the witchy powers of the Bene Gesserit, an ancient sisterhood that has carried out a breeding program designed to produce the Kwisatz Haderach (a messiah-like figure). Dune, the first in a series of six best-selling novels, recounts how young Paul Atreides arrives on Arrakis, the only planet where spice is mined, only to see his father — the new governor of the planet — killed and his family’s (awesome) retainers scattered. With the help of his Bene Gesserit mother, not to mention the Fremen, the planet’s giant-worm-riding natives, Paul seeks revenge against the evil Baron Harkonnen… while discovering the truth about the Kwisatz Haderach. Dune is… potboiler about a family’s declining empire, a fantasy about the founding of a new social order, a band-of-brothers yarn, and a criticism of humankind’s despoliation of nature. Phew! Fun fact: Science fiction’s first hardcover bestseller; parts of it were first serialized in Analog. Dune was adapted into David Lynch’s cult 1984 movie of the same title. It won the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel.
- Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965). Via an odyssey of nested hallucinations, Dick burns the Gnostic idea that the world is the creation not of God, but of an evil, lesser deity, forever into the reader’s mind. The title character is a demiurge who brings to mankind a “negative trinity” of “alienation, blurred reality, and despair.” Probably my favorite PKD novel, after A Scanner Darkly.
- Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 (1966). Starship captain, codebreaker and telepath Rydra Wong discovers that a software code used by an enemy civilization’s hackers is actually a language… one which alters perception and thought, enhancing your abilities but turning you into a traitor! Babel-17 is an adventure yarn — including everything from hand-to-hand combat to full-scale spaceship battles — but at the same time it’s a philosophical novel challenging the reader to imagine what kind of culture might speak a language lacking a pronoun, or any other construction for “I.” Fun fact: Babel-17 was joint winner of the Nebula Award in 1966 (with Flowers for Algernon) and was also nominated for the Hugo Award in 1967.
- Philip K. Dick’s The Unteleported Man (1966). War between the US and the Soviet Union has led to UN rule of the planet, renamed Terra. Theodoric Ferry, a capitalist mogul, is teleporting millions to Whale’s Mouth, the universe’s only other inhabitable planet, a Garden of Eden where Terrans can start over. Freya Holm, an agent with the private police agency Listening Instructional Educational Services (LIES), Inc., speculates that Ferry may be an alien… and that Whale’s Mouth may not be all that it seems. Rachmael Ben Applebaum, owner of an outer-space freighter company that has been disintermediated by teleportation technology, decides to travel to Whale’s Mouth the old-fashioned way… i.e., he will be the only unteleported man. The UN, meanwhile, attempts to defeat Ferry via a mind-control device of their own: a pulp sci-fi novel! Fun fact: Originally published as a novella, in 1964, by the sf magazine Fantastic.
- J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World (1966). In the Cameroon Republic, a British doctor discovers that entrance to the forest is being discouraged… but he can’t figure out why. Seeking his friends, who run a leper colony, he travels upriver and discovers a forest of glass. Trees, grass, water, animals and men are slowly encased in glittering crystals. The universe, its myriad of possibilities, is crystallizing into sameness. Serialized in the first Moorcock-edited issue of New Worlds.
- Philip K. Dick’s Now Wait for Last Year. In the near future, Terra — a unified Earth, the supreme elected leader of which is UN Secretary General Gino Molinari — has become entangled in an unwinnable war between an insect race (the Reegs) and a humanoid race (the ’Starmen) who may be out to exploit Terra’s natural resources. Dr. Eric Sweetscent, a surgeon who specializes in replacing worn-out bodily organs with artificial ones, is secretly asked to tend to Molanari, who has developed a psychosomatic ailment in which he suffers along with anyone near who him who is in any kind of pain. Sweetscent’s wife, meanwhile, takes a drug which — it turns out — causes the subject to move forwards, backwards, and sideways through time. She brings Sweetscent along with her…
- Ursula K. Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World (1966).. When ethnologist Gaveral Rocannon visits the primitive planet Fomalhaut II, his ship is destroyed by agents of Faraday, an upstart planet threatening the peaceful galaxy. Rocannon sets out to find the enemy’s secret base on Fomalhaut II. As he journeys across the planet, he encounters various fantasy-esque species, including the dwarfish Gdemiar, the elven Fiia, and the nightmarish Winged Ones; his advanced science makes him a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court-type wizard. However, when he reaches the enemy base he must revert to a sophisticated interstellar op. Fun fact: Sci-fi fans will be familiar with the concept of an “ansible” — i.e., a faster-than-light communicator. Le Guin first introduced the term here.
- Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection (1967)
- Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (1967). See Gordon Dahlquist’s HiLobrow post about this book.
- Philip K. Dick’s Counter-Clock World (1967)
- Chester Anderson’s The Butterfly Kid (1967)
- Samuel R. Delany’s Nova (1968)
- John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968)
- Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme (1968)
- Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
- Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar (1968)
- Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968)
- Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang (1969)
- Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor (1969)
- Philip K. Dick’s Ubik (1969)
- Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five (1969). Billy Pilgrim witnesses the firebombing of Dresden in WWII while “time-tripping” to the distant planet of Tralfamadore, where he is put in a zoo and mated with a movie star. Sardonic inversion of the genre; considered the author’s masterpiece.
- Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). A much-admired novel set on a frozen planet whose denizens are neither female nor male: they have gender identities and sexual urges only once a month. When a Terran envoy, Genly Ai, and an exiled native politician, Estraven, escape from a prison together, they battle snow and ice together; and as Estraven changes from male to female, Ai questions the binary assumptions that structure his own worldview. Harold Bloom said, of this book: “Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time.”
- Brian Aldiss’s Barefoot in the Head (1969)
- Josephine Saxton’s The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (1969)
- Philip K. Dick‘s A Maze of Death (1970). A naturalist, a typist, a linguist, a geologist, and ten other colonists living on the mysterious planet Delmak-O — or supposedly on Delmak-O — begin to kill themselves, or get killed. Are they criminally insane and part of a psychiatric experiment? Are they the crew of a spaceship that has become stranded in orbit around a dead star? Can the deities of their religion really be contacted through a network of prayer amplifiers, or is this part of the hallucination? What’s the deal with the gelatinous 3-D printers known as “tenches”?
- Joanna Russ‘s And Chaos Died. Two planets come into conflict. One is highly industrialized; creativity and individuality are suppressed; and a police state monitors citizens’ actions. The other is a proto-LeGuin-esque anarchist utopia, on which the natural world is revered, unique individuality is encouraged, and psychic powers have been discovered and nurtured. The latter aspect of the plot gives the novel its trippy, difficult-but-rewarding flavor — because Russ explores exactly what it might feel like to be clairvoyant dropped into a totalitarian culture!
- John Sladek’s The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970). While his persona is being recorded as computer data, Bob Shairp, a government worker, dies in a freak accident. Can he be reconstructed? That’s the ostensible plot of Sladek’s romp across late Sixties America — which satirizes then-burgeoning right-wing forces in the military, evangelism, and radical anticommunist groups. (Ronald Reagan, of all people, is president!) Long before Iain M. Banks and others explored the possibilities of mind uploading, Sladek conjures up a scenario in which Shairp’s persona-data is encoded into a virus, which is then used to infect a host body. Fun fact: The book’s title, in case you haven’t already guessed, is an obscene pun.
- Poul Anderson‘s Tau Zero (1970). When the colonization starship Leonora Christine is caught in an uncontrollable acceleration, the reader learns a lot about relativity and time dilation, not to mention details about the ship’s engines and radiation shielding. The crew’s original plan was to spend five years in transit, during which time 33 years would have passed on Earth; instead, they travel millions (billions?) of years into the future. While the universe outside the ship prepares to collapse and re-Big Bang, the ship’s constable must maintain order and morale among the crew. It’s a kind of On the Beach story, set in outer space. Fun fact: Anderson’s novel is regarded as a quintessential example of technology-driven “hard” sci-fi.
- J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) — one of the most important British New Wave works.
- Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven (1971). Operating under the influence of Philip K. Dick, LeGuin wrote an uncanny, thought-provoking novella about George Orr, a Portland, Oregon man who has begun self-medicating in an attempt to prevent himself from dreaming. Why? Because some of his dreams have been altering reality — and George is the only one who notices. (For everyone else, things have always been the way they are now.) Visiting the well-meaning psychologist and sleep researcher Dr. Huber, George is persuaded to embark on a program of “effective dreaming” aimed at improving the state of the world. Unforeseen consequences ensue. (This will not surprise fans of LeGuin’s fantasy and science fiction, which stresses the ambiguity of every utopian ideal, and the dark forces at work within even the noblest soul.) For example, in an effort to dream about peace on Earth, Orr conjures up a fleet of invading alien spacecraft… which does unite humankind, but at what cost? Also — does the “real world” exist at all, or did Orr dream it up after a 1998 nuclear war? Fun fact: First serialized in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, March 1971 and May 1971. The book has sci-fi elements — it’s set in 2002, Dr. Huber employs a device called the Augmentor — but it’s fantastical. The 1980 PBS production of The Lathe of Heaven was well-regarded; LeGuin was closely involved.
- Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins (1971). The protagonist of this proto-postmodernist philosophical novel, Dr. Tom More, a hard-drinking psychiatrist in the affluent town of Paradise, Louisiana, has diagnosed his fellow Americans with the malady of “angelism/bestialism” — an extremist tendency towards either spirit-like abstraction or animal appetite, brought on by contemporary America’s sociocultural placidity and flacidity. In the near future of the 1990s, politics have become fragmented to the point of neo-tribalism, mainline churches have become secularized to the point of banality or else overly dogmatic, and liberals and conservatives alike are prone to shocking acts of (what they imagine to be justified) violence. In an effort to restore a sense of moderation, More invents the Ontological Lapsometer, a handheld device that can not only diagnose precisely how spiritually screwed-up you are… but also, with the twist of a dial, treat you for it. Meanwhile, African Americans stage an armed uprising, and college-educated young whites gather in swamp communes. When chaos engulfs Paradise, More retreats to an abandoned motel… with three beautiful women. Fun fact: “Beware Episcopal women who take up with Ayn Rand and the Buddha. A certain type of Episcopal girl has a weakness that comes on them just past youth…. They fall prey to Gnostic pride, commence buying antiques, and develop a yearning for esoteric doctrine.”
- Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
- Michael Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer (1971)
- Robert Silverberg’s A Time of Changes (1971)
- M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City (1971). In the distant future, a medieval-style way of life has risen from the ashes of civilization. There is a barbarian Queen of the North; and, ruling over Viriconium, the ever-changing Pastel City, a beautiful Queen of the South. Scavengers scour the ruins for power blades, energy cannons, and airboats. When news comes that the North plans to deploy scavenged alien automata against the South, a brooding poet-warrior, Lord tergeus-Cormis, travels with a mercenary, Birkin Grif, in search of a mad dwarf who is expert in ancient weaponry. The adventurers encounter mechanical birds, brain eaters, and a wizard of sorts; and they discover that a complex, lethal technology from the past lives on. This is an affectionate, but also sardonic reimagining of the fantasy genre — nothing is resolved, things get murkier instead of more clear, heroes are unheroic. Fun fact: Harrison’s Viriconium series — it includes A Storm of Wings (1980), In Viriconium (also known as The Floating Gods, 1982), and the story collection Viriconium Nights (1985) — has been aptly described as “fantasy without the magic and science fiction without the ‘future’.”
- Philip K. Dick’s We Can Build You (1972)
- John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up (1972)
- Jack Kirby’s Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth (1972–1978)
- Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Chronicles adventure The English Assassin (1972). The third of Moorcock’s four novels featuring dandy, scientist, rock star, and adventurer (Buckaroo Banzai, eat your heart out) Jerry Cornelius is subtitled A Romance of Entropy. This is true in two senses: Cornelius is an agent of the cosmic force that opposes culture, civilisation, empire, religion, and other manifestations of order; and the book itself is chaotic — a pastiche of stories working at cross-purposes. Cause and effect are out of whack, here; ambiguity is the whole point. Unlike running, jumping, shooting action heroes, Jerry Cornelius is an idler; at the beginning of The English Assassin, he is fished out of the ocean — dead (eat your heart out, Jason Bourne) — and he can barely be bothered to get out of bed, despite such goings-on as a nuclear attack on India and a Scottish war of independence fought with zeppelins… each apocalyptic scenario set on a different version of the Earth. He does stop a peace conference — violently — though. We spend a lot of time with Cornelius’s coterie, including the titular assassin (IMHO) Una Persson. The book’s message, if any, is delivered by Catherine: “Goodbye, England.” Fun fact: The Cornelius Quartet includes The Final Programme (1968), A Cure for Cancer (1971), and The Condition of Muzak (1977). There are other Cornelius stories, too.
- Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972)
- Barry N. Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo (1972)
- J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973). The author’s earlier novels were sardonic inversions of Adventure’s survivalist sub-genre. But whereas those other books (The Drowned World, The Crystal World, etc.) were cataclysms set in the future; Crash takes place in the cataclysmic present, i.e., in a social order where catastrophe has become normalized. When “Ballard,” our narrator, is involved in a car crash, he is drawn into the orbit of Dr. Vaughan, leader of a cult of crash victims who are sexually aroused by re-enacting fatal celebrity car crashes.
- Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). Set during the waning days of WWII, Pynchon’s infamous masterpiece is an espionage adventure revolving around the quest to uncover the secret of a mysterious device (the “Schwarzgerät) that is to be installed in a German V-2 rocket with the serial number “00000.” (The book’s title refers to the parabolic trajectory of a V-2, as well as to the introduction of randomness into physics via quantum mechanics.) But the book is also a picaresque adventure following naive Tyrone Slothrop, a naive Allied Intelligence operative, as he wanders — under surveillance — around London and Europe.
If adventure novels in the Sixties troubled their readers’ faith in fixed, universal categories, and in certainty, Seventies adventure replaced these relics with difference, process, anomaly. The science fiction of the era — Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, Samuel R. Delany’s Trouble on Triton, Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Christopher Priest’s Inverted World, Olivia E. Butler’s Wild Seed — was as far-out as it gets, the final flourish of New Wave before the advent of cyberpunk. All binary oppositions (past/present, liberal/conservative, innocent/guilty, utopian/anti-utopian) are overthrown. Ambivalence, indeterminacy, and undecidability of things: In Seventies adventures, these are the anti-anti-utopian new normal.
- Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)
- Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974). A pointed critique of typical utopian narratives. It’s set on Annares, a planet whose inhabitants value voluntary cooperation, local control, and mutual tolerance — but who have preserved their grooviness through an entrenched bureaucracy that stifles innovation. Le Guin’s protagonist temporarily abandons Annares for a nearby world, one that is superior in certain respects because its inhabitants value the free market. How to reconcile?
- J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island (1974)
- M. John Harrison’s The Centauri Device (1974)
- Christopher Priest’s Inverted World (1974)
- Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (1975). A postmodernist nexus between Joyce’s Ulysses and Panter’s Dal Tokyo, Dhalgren is set in an isolated city in the American Midwest — where some kind of catastrophe has happened. The Kid, an amnesiac, bisexual, possibly schizophrenic drifter, explores this damaged city, and interacts with its citizens: an Orpheus figure wandering through a surrealist, bewildering underworld of sorts. The Kid’s only hope of making sense of his experiences is to become an author… of the book we’re reading, or at least a version of it. Fun fact: The plot’s form is a Moebius strip. William Gibson has referred to Dhalgren as “A riddle that was never meant to be solved.”
- John Crowley’s The Deep (1975)
- J.G. Ballard’s High Rise (1975). An ultra-modern apartment block in London populated by well-to-do yuppies who rarely leave the premises gradually becomes a self-sustaining vertical city. At which point social relations between different groups of tenants worsen; they stratify into three castes — depending on which floor you live on. A new social order emerges, one in which “all life within the high-rise revolved around three obsessions — security, food and sex.” Sardonic inversion of the atavistic sub-genre.
- John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975)
- Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975). A postmodernist romp whose protagonist, named Joanna (like the author, one of the most outspoken feminists in science fiction), seeks equality by rejecting women’s dependence on men. She and three other women from parallel worlds (or science fiction sub-genres, if you will — a utopian future, a dystopian future, and an alternative-history present) cross over into each other’s existences. In doing so, each of them is confronted by her own unexamined assumptions about what it means to be a woman. An underground classic.
- James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon)’s Warm Worlds and Otherwise (1975). A story collection.
- Samuel R. Delany‘s Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia (1976). Part novel, part treatise, Triton brilliantly (if sometimes maddeningly) deploys post-structuralist theory in order to both illuminate and subvert the story of an unpleasant protagonist’s struggle to acculturate himself to life in a utopian colony on Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. Bron Helstrom, who had previously worked on Mars as a male prostitute, should be happy on Triton — where no one goes hungry, and where one can change one’s physical appearance, gender, sexual orientation, and even specific patterns of likes and dislikes. Helstrom’s problem is that he is an unregenerate individual, an asshole even, in a culture that deprioritizes the notion of the individual. (Shades of Stanislaw Lem’s Return from the Stars.) But Triton is less about Bron, in the end, than it is a critique of utopia, an exploration of the Foucauldian notion of heterotopia, and a semiotic intervention into science fiction’s unexamined ideologies. Should we feel sympathy for Bron, and reject Triton’s social order; or the other way around? Yes and no. PS: Almost forgot to mention that there is a destructive interplanetary war, between Triton and Earth, too. Fun fact: Originally published under the title Triton, the novel’s themes and formal devices are also explored in Delany’s 1977 essay collection, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw.
- Moebius’s Le Garage Hermétique (The Airtight Garage, 1976–79). Le Garage Hermétique is one of the two great capricious comic strips of the Seventies (1974–1983); Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo, which first appeared in 1983, is the other. Over a four year period, Moebius cranked out two to four pages per month; each month, he challenged himself to solve continuity problems that he’d playfully introduced previously, while also creating new problems. The main plot, to the extent that there is one, concerns the efforts of Major Grubert to prevent outside entities from invading the Garage Hermétique — an asteroid housing a pocket universe, which features, e.g., desert and forest biomes, a city, and a world made of machines. One of these invaders is Jerry Cornelius, a trickster figure whom Moebius lifted from Michael Moorcock’s sci-fi novels; Grubert and Cornelius join forces, eventually, to face a threat to the Airtight Garage. Each installment of the strip, many of which focus on Grubert and Cornelius’s hapless allies, is its own self-contained epic; they don’t necessarily add up to anything larger. Fun fact: Le Garage Hermétique first appeared, from 1976–1979, in issues 6 through 41 of the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Métal Hurlant; Americans first read it in the magazine Heavy Metal, starting in 1977.
- Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (1977). Set in a barely futuristic suburban LA of 1994, Scanner tells the story of “Fred,” a disillusioned narc who enjoys the company of the addicts with whom he lives as “Bob” — whose own drug intake contributes to a toxic brain psychosis complicated by Fred’s new assignment… to spy on Bob. The book ends with a dramatic dedication to Dick’s many friends who’d been killed or permanently damaged by drug abuse; the author’s own name is on the list.
- Michael Moorcock’s The Condition of Muzak (1977)
- Gary Panter’s comic Jimbo (1977–on). Panter’s “ratty line” illustrations helped define the style of L.A. punk. But the appeal of Jimbo — an all-American, freckle-faced punk wandering through a post-apocalyptic social order on Mars known as Dal Tokyo — is timeless. The first Jimbo comics appeared in the zine Slash and in Spiegelman/Mouly’s Raw; they have been collected in Jimbo (1982), Invasion of the Elvis Zombies (1984), Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise (1988), and Jimbo’s Inferno (2006). Panter is still producing Jimbo adventures today!
- John Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977)
- Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1978)
- J.G. Ballard’s The Unlimited Dream Company (1979)
- John Crowley’s Engine Summer (1979)
- Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979)
- Douglas Adams‘s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
- John Sladek’s Roderick, or The Education of a Young Machine (1980). A Candide-like satirical romp through late-Seventies America. Roderick, the first fully conscious robot, is reared as a human — and, somehow, passes for one among most of the population. Although he remains optimistic, Roderick is abused, exploited, and oppressed by almost everyone he meets. Fun fact: Sladek would follow up with Roderick at Random (1983). IMHO, the best parts of Neill Blomenkamp’s 2015 movie CHAPPiE are indebted to Roderick.
- Octavia E. Butler’s Wild Seed (1980). Anyanwu, a 350-year-old shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss, is lured from an African jungle to the colonies of America by the ruthless Doro, an immortal entity who changes bodies like clothes — and who wants to use Anyanwu for his breeding experiments. The history of slavery, recapitulated as alien abduction! The prequel to Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay’s Ark (1984), Survivor (1978), and Patternmaster (1976).
- Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980). Narrated, by 12-year-old Riddley, in a crude medieval-style English mixed with remnants of 20th century technological catchphrases and political jargon, the story is set centuries after a nuclear war has devastated world civilizations (or so we surmise). Although Riddley is his tribe’s “connexion man,” responsible for giving prophetic interpretations of the state religion’s traveling puppet shows, when he stumbles across efforts to recreate a weapon of the ancient world, he must go on the lam. Fun fact: Hoban first became well-known for his “Frances the Badger” series of children’s books.
- Gregory Benford’s Timescape (1980). In 1998, Earth is ravaged by algae blooms and large-scale extinction; a group of British and American scientists attempt to alter history by sending tachyon-induced warnings — about the overuse of pesticides — to the astronomical position the Earth occupied in 1962–1963. (Tachyons are hypothesized particles that move faster than the speed of light.) Meanwhen, at the University of California, San Diego, in 1962, a young scientist begins receiving what appear to be messages in Morse code. If the story drags, as an adventure, at times, it’s rewarding as a study of the real-life process of science… the advancement of which isn’t always logical. Fun fact: Gregory Benford is an astrophysicist. Timescape won the 1980 Nebula Award.
- Philip K. Dick’s VALIS (1981). Our narrator, Phil, a brilliant, self-reflexive sci-fi author who may be crazy, explores his own ideas… as well as those of the book’s protagonist, Horselover Fat, a brilliant, self-reflexive sci-fi author who may be crazy. Fat, it seems, has received a beam of pure reason from “God” — perhaps an alien satellite orbiting Earth — which has allowed him to see that 1970s California is an illusion; actually, we’re all slaves blindly toiling in a Black Iron Prison. So… the ancient Gnostics were right! (Right?) The true nature of the universe is a Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Superhumans living anonymously among us use pop culture to stay in touch with one another; the pulp novels of Philip K. Dick may be on to something; the writings of Heraclitus, Schopenhauer, Freud and Jung must now be recontextualized. (Right?) Fat sets off, with a few friends, to find answers: about God, suffering, art, the mind, the secret history of humankind, and — naturally — about David Bowie, particularly his 1976 movie The Man Who Fell to Earth. Fun fact: VALIS is the first installment in a never-completed trilogy of novels fictionalizing the philosophical explorations Dick made into this experience via a rambling treatise, The Exegesis. It isn’t necessary, in order to enjoy VALIS, to know this, but: in 1974 Dick experienced a series of hallucinations which presented themselves as encounters with a gnostic version of the divine.
- Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta (1982). Set in a near-future United Kingdom, ruled by the fascist Norsefire Party, which came to power after a nuclear war. An anarchist revolutionary, who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and calls himself “V,” begins a campaign of terrorism designed to bring down the government — and revenge himself on the scientists whose experiments led him to develop superhuman abilities. Illustrated mostly by David Lloyd.
- Greg Bear’s Blood Music (1983; as a novel, 1985)
MORE LIT LISTS FROM THIS AUTHOR: 200 Greatest Adventure Novels of All Time | 100 Best Radium Age Sci-Fi Novels (1904–1933) | 75 Best Golden Age Sci-Fi Novels (1934–1963) | 75 Best New Wave Sci-Fi Novels (1964–1983) | 55 Best Scientific Romances (1864–1903) | 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 Adventures | 70 Crime Adventures | 65 Fantasy Adventures | 61 Espionage Adventures | 40 Atavistic & Historical Adventures | 25 Frontier & Western Adventures | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger Adventures | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt Adventures | 20 War & Ruritanian Adventures | 18 Picaresque Adventures | 10 Robinsonade & Survival Adventures. ALSO: Best YYA Lit 1963 | Best YYA Lit 1964 | Best YYA Lit 1965 | Best YYA Lit 1966 | Best YYA Lit 1967 | THE OUGHTS (1904–13): 1905 | 1906 | 1907 | 1908 | 1910 | 1911 | 1912 | 1913. THE TEENS (1914–23): 1915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923. THE TWENTIES (1924–33): 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933. THE THIRTIES (1934–43): 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943. THE FORTIES (1944–53): 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953. THE FIFTIES (1954–63): 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963. THE SIXTIES (1964–73): 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973. THE SEVENTIES (1974–83): 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983. | 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 |