New Wave Sci-Fi: 75 Best Novels of 1964–1983

palmer2

Science fiction’s so-called New Wave era began in approximately 1964. Writing in 2003 about that “cusp” year, Michael Moorcock noted: “It will [soon] be 40 years since JG Ballard published The Terminal Beach, Brian Aldiss published Greybeard, William Burroughs published Naked Lunch in the UK, I took over New Worlds magazine and Philip K Dick published The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.” The era lasted through approximately 1983 — giving way to the cyberpunk era, the kickoff of which we might as well date to the 1984 publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

What is New Wave science fiction? Moorcock describes it as the era during which the genre “rediscovered its visionary roots and began creating new conventions which rejected both modernism and American pulp traditions.” Right! The best sf adventures published during the Sixties (1964–1973) and Seventies (1974–1983) — my 75 favorites are listed on this page, but this is by no means an exhaustive list — are characterized by an ambitious, self-consciously artistic sensibility; they often concern themselves, at the level of content and form, with the nature of perception itself; and they will blow your mind.

This page is a work in progress, subject to revision.

— 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

Please visit the HiLoBooks homepage; you’ll find Amazon links for all of our Radium Age series.

***

SOME PRE-NEW WAVE TITLES

The following titles from science fiction’s so-called Golden Age (1934–63) are listed here in order to provide historical context.

*

NEW WAVE SF: 1964–73

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965). The Earth is badly over-heated, and the UN — the global governing body — is conscripting settlers to colonize unpleasant nearby planets. Mars’s settlers have become addicted to Can-D, a drug that allows them to escape into a collective Barbie-and-Ken-esque hallucination, the contours of which are shaped by figures and “layouts” they purchase… from Perky Pat, a corporate empire run by the ruthless Leo Bulero (who also secretly manufactures Can-D). Bulero’s hired telepaths discover that merchant adventurer Palmer Eldritch has returned from a crash on Pluto with Chew-Z, a superior drug, one which can put Perky Pat out of business. However, when Bulero attempts to assassinate Eldritch, he is plunged into a nightmarish odyssey of nested hallucations… which causes him to question the very nature of reality itself. What’s up with Eldritch’s three “stigmata” — and where did he get Chew-Z? Plus: double agents, time travel, devolution, alien possession, and Gnostic musings about the notion of an evil demiurge! Fun fact: A freaky classic of psychedelic literature. Considered one of Dick’s most important books.
  6. delany babel

  7. Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 (1966). This short, psychedelic, linguistics-inspired space opera describes a distant future in which humanity has spread itself — for better and worse — throughout the galaxy. An alien culture called The Invaders is up to something that could prove potentially catastrophic to the (human) Alliance… but what? Starship captain, codebreaker and telepath Rydra Wong discovers that a software code used by the Invaders’ hackers is actually a language… one which alters perception and thought, enhancing your abilities but turning you into a traitor! Wong is assisted by a kick-ass crew of genetically modified adventurers — including some who are essentially ghosts in the machine. 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 for “I.” Fun fact: Babel-17 was joint winner of the Nebula Award in 1966 — along with Flowers for Algernon.
  8. 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. (See: Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Gods of Mars.) 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 Fantastic. I’ve written more about this novel in my essay “The Black Iron Prison” (n+1, July 2004).
  9. J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World (1966). Some readers find this novel too “action-adventurey” for their liking, others find it too surgical and psychological; I think it strikes a provocative balance between these tendencies. In an African colony, Sanders, a British doctor, discovers that entrance to the forest is being discouraged. Seeking his friends, who run a leper colony (to which he is strangely attracted), he travels upriver — echoes of Heart of Darkness are intentional — and discovers that trees, grass, water, animals and men are slowly being encased in glittering crystals. The universe, its myriad of possibilities, is crystallizing into sameness! Which, in a way, is just a literalization of a process already underway — the separation of alienated individuals from one another, industrial capitalism forcing everything and everyone to become the same. If leprosy is about entropy and decay, this crystallization is a kind of antidote… right? Ballard’s descriptions are eerily beautiful. Fun fact: Serialized in the first Moorcock-edited issue of New Worlds. This is Ballard’s third psychedelic-apocalyptic work, the first two being The Drowned World (1962) and The Burning World (1964).
  10. Philip K. Dick’s Now Wait for Last Year (1966). In the near future, Terra — a unified Earth, the elected dictator of which is UN Secretary General Gino “the Mole” Molinari — has become entangled in a war between an insect race (the reegs) and a humanoid race (the ’Starmen, from the planet Lilistar). Terra is on the wrong side of the war; their allies, the fascistic ’Starmen, may be out to exploit Terra’s natural resources. Dr. Eric Sweetscent, an organ-transplant surgeon asked to secretly 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, gets involved in Terra-Lilistar politics. His wife Kathy, meanwhile, becomes addicted to JJ-180, a new hallucinogen (which may have been invented by the reegs as a chemical weapon) that causes her to move forwards, backwards, and sideways through time… and she is forced to spy on Sweetscent — by the ’Starmen. Sweetscent and Molinari time-travel, as well… leading them to wonder how valuable the intel they’re picking up from alternative past and present histories is for their current situation. Fun fact: Dick was very fond of his Molinari character, whom he described as a blend of Christ, Lincoln, and… Mussolini, for whom he harbored a certain (non-fascist) sympathy.
  11. 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 the planet — so he can infiltrate it, and use their “ansible” to communicate with galactic authorities. As he journeys across the planet, he encounters various Tolkien-esque species, including the dwarfish Gdemiar, the elven Fiia, and the nightmarish Winged Ones; his advanced technology makes him a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court-type wizard. As he travels, and engages in various battles, Rocannon becomes a figure of legend. However, when he reaches the enemy base he must revert to a sophisticated interstellar op. Fans of Iain M. Banks: the Culture begins here. A fun foray into Three Hearts and Three Lions-esque science-fantasy, for Le Guin. Fun fact: This is the debut installment in Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle. Other authors, including Orson Scott Card, Vernor Vinge, and Kim Stanley Robinson, would borrow the “ansible” tech from this book.
  12. Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection (1967). Love it or hate it (Delany’s eighth novel has zealous fans and detractors), The Einstein Intersection is fascinating. Forty thousand years in the future, Lobey, a village herder and musician, goes on an Orpheus-like quest into the underworld — in search of his slain lover, Friza. As it turns out, this is a puppet-show of sorts: Lobey is a member of a (three-gendered) alien race who’ve taken on (two-gendered) human forms, and inherited human cultural myths as well. Of the latter, the aliens have made a hodge-podge: the stories of Orpheus, the Minotaur, Billy the Kid, Jean Harlow, Ringo Starr, Jesus Christ — these and other traditions of all dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living. This conceit alone might have made for a terrific mythopoetic sci-fi novel; however, Delaney introduces myriad other issues: genetics, radiation, identity and difference, rural and urban ways of life, perception and reality, life and death, dragons… too much, perhaps, for a relatively short novel. Delany’s prose style, too, confounds: sometimes improvisational and snappy, sometimes ham-fisted pulp fiction. The Einstein Intersection is pretentious — but in the best possible way. Don’t give up on it! Once you encounter Kid Death, you’ll be hooked. Fun fact: Winner of the 1967 Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Book.
  13. zelazny.cover

  14. Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (1967). On a planet colonized long ago by the South Asian crew and passengers of the spaceship Star of India (hailing from “vanished Urath”), some of the humans artificially evolve themselves into immortal, godlike beings — who conquer the planet’s indigenous races (characterized as “demons”) and force the descendants of the un-evolved crew and colonists into a Hindu-like caste system. All of this occurs over a vast span of time; the book is epic in scope — in fact, two of the chapters were first published as stand-alone novellas in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Eventually, the crew members assume the powers and names of Hindu deities; their main concern is preventing enlightenment, and scientific or technological advancement among their human subjects. However, one of the crewman rejects godhood, and — again, over time — introduces Buddhism to the masses as a liberatory wake-up call. Fun fact: Winner of the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Gordon Dahlquist describes Lord of Light as “dedicated to dragging all wizards out from behind their curtains.”
  15. Harlan Ellison’s (ed.) Dangerous Visions (1967). This is not a novel, but a collection of original science fiction stories by 30+ contributors. I include it on this list because it was influential on the genre’s New Wave movement; however, by the time I read it, in the mid-1980s, what was most shocking about these stories was the sexism and racism. Still, Philip K. Dick’s “Faith of Our Fathers” is a fascinating mashup about Chinese communism, psychedelics, and the truth of religion; Robert Silverberg’s graphic “Flies,” in which aliens experiment on a spaceman in order to learn about what makes humanity tick — and get it wrong, is a fun thriller; Samuel R. Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah…” conjures up a new sexual perversion involving a neutered astronaut; and Ellison’s own “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” is something of a tour de force — about Jack the Ripper’s disappointment when he escapes to the 31st century. Fritz Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones” is a chilling, funny fable… but Leiber wasn’t a New Wave writer, nor were some of the collection’s other contributors (Pohl, Anderson). I should also mention John T. Sladek’s “The Happy Breed,” which presciently describes our emotional dependence on apps. Fun facts: “Gonna Roll the Bones” won both a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for Best Novelette; and “Aye, and Gomorrah…” won the Nebula for Best Short Story. Ellison published a sequel, Again, Dangerous Visions, in 1972; a third, as yet unpublished sequel, is now infamous.
  16. Anna Kavan’s Ice (1967). Brian Aldiss writes, of Kafka’s oeuvre: “the baffling atmosphere, the paranoid complexities, the alien motives of others, make the novels a sort of haute sf.” Anna Kavan’s cult classic, Ice, closes the gap in that equation. As a new Ice Age dawns (sparked by a nuclear holocaust?), western civilization finds itself hemmed in by advancing ice-scapes. War and revolution break out everywhere. Against this apocalyptic backdrop, an unnamed narrator — a globe-trotting, Indiana Jones-esque anthropologist-explorer-soldier, as far as we can make out — pursues an unnamed woman with whom he has long been obsessed. He intends to rescue her, first from her brutal husband, then from a Ruritanian-ish despot who is on his way to becoming one of the world’s new tyrants; however, the “girl” doesn’t want to be rescued — and seems terrified of the narrator. Plot possibilities unfurl, only to furl back up again; is the narrator insane? A hallucinatory, image-rich adventure that doesn’t omit guns and car chases. Fun fact: “The book’s nearest cousins,” writes Jonathan Lethem in his introduction to the Penguin Classics reissue of Ice, “are Crash, Ballard’s most narratively discontinuous and imagistic book, or cinematic contemporaries like Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad.”
  17. anderson butterfly

  18. Chester Anderson’s The Butterfly Kid (1967). In this metafictional cult classic, set in the near future, not long after the Bicentennial, when video phones and personal hovercraft are common, a ragtag group of Greenwich Village hippies discover that their acid trips are beginning to come true. In fact, everyone in New York is hallucinating, and all of their hallucinations are made manifest — it’s chaos! Chester Anderson, who shares the author’s name, and Michael Kurland, who shares the name of another hippie sci-fi author, discover that New York’s water supply has been laced with a drug — brought to Earth by giant blue lobster-esque aliens — designed to make Earthlings easy to conquer. Can these drug-addled pacifists thwart the alien invasion? Fun fact: The sci-fi blog io9.com listed The Butterfly Kid as No. 1 on the list of “weirdest science fiction novels that you’ve never read.” Its sequels are The Unicorn Girl, by Michael Kurland, and The Probability Pad, by T.A. Waters. Anderson later moved to San Francisco, invested his royalties from this novel in a mimeograph machine, and founded The Diggers’ publishing outfit, Communications Company.
  19. Samuel R. Delany’s Nova (1968). In the year 3172, interstellar human society is divided into three constellations — each of which was originally colonized by different Earth socio-economic classes. Draco, which includes Earth and other wealthy planets, is an aristocratic constellation ruled by the (caucasian) Red family, whose Red-Shift Limited is the sole manufacturer of faster-than-light drives; the Pleiades Federation, a middle-class constellation, is the home of operations for the rival (mixed-race) Von Rays. The Outer Colonies, settled by working-class Earthlings, are the source of the important energy source illyrion, a superheavy element essential to starship travel and terraforming planets. Our protagonist is Lorq Von Ray, a playboy who — years earlier — was attacked and scarred by Prince Red. Now a nihilistic, revenge-obsessed adventurer, Lorq puts together an Argonauts-inflected squad of hippie-ish misfits — the Mouse, Lynceos, Idas, Tyÿ, Sebastian, Katin — and takes them on a demented voyage to the heart of an imploding star… in order to capture an enormous amount of illyrion, and in so doing destroy Draco’s control of the Outer Colonies. Though the plot is only intermittently thrilling (in a space-opera way), the language is gorgeous, the meta-textual references (to Moby Dick, Arthurian mythos, and more) are pretty fun, and there’s a whole Tarot-really-works conceit that’s almost persuasive. If Delany weren’t an experimentalist, this could have been a Dune; I’m glad it isn’t. Fun facts: There’s a cyberpunk tech aspect to the book that I can’t get into, here; William Gibson’s Neuromancer alludes to Nova. After this book, Delany didn’t publish again until Dhalgren appeared in 1975.
  20. John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968). Borrowing the kaleidoscopic narrative technique of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A., Brunner paints a comprehensive portrait of the over-populated America of 2010. There is a central story line, with recurring characters (including Shalmaneser, a super-computer). For example, Norman Niblock House, an African-American VP of General Technics, is negotiating for his company to assume management of an African country; his roommate is a spy. Meanwhile, a Southeast Asian country has achieved a breakthrough in genetic engineering. We briefly meet many other characters, via fragmented, information-rich chapters devoted solely to world-building. Political slogans, advertising, song lyrics, journalism, and slang (recorded in a glossary titled The Hipcrime Vocab, by sociologist Chad C. Mulligan), help us experience the social, economic, and cultural consequences of unchecked population growth. Social programming, interactive TV, genetically modified microorganisms… many of Brunner’s predictions are disturbingly prescient. Fun fact: Winner of the 1969 Hugo Award for Best Novel. In 1968, the prolific Brunner also published Bedlam Planet, Catch a Falling Star, Father of Lies, and Into the Slave Nebula, as well as a story collection.
  21. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). In a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, bounty hunter Rick Deckard is charged with “retiring” six escaped androids — one of whom, named Pris, moved into a derelict apartment building inhabited only by John Isidore, an intellectually challenged man who attempts to befriend her. Although there are plenty of thrills and chills here (for example, Deckard is seduced by an android whose mission it is to make it impossible for him to kill Pris), this is as much a philosophical novel about empathy as it as an adventure. The androids have no emotions — the only way that Deckard can tell them apart from humans is by giving them empathy tests. The androids, meanwhile, are on a mission to disprove a popular pseudo-religion called “Mercerism,” in which grasping the handles of an electronic Empathy Box allows you to “encompass every other living thing.” (“Mercerism is a swindle,” the androids insist. “The whole experience of empathy is a swindle.”) Deckard must prove them wrong… though he begins to wonder whether he, too, is an android. Fun facts: The theatrical-release version of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s souped-up adaptation of Dick’s novel, doesn’t lead viewers to question Deckard’s humanity (or does it). And the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049, further muddies the waters.
  22. Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar (1968). Our unnamed narrator, a writer, lives outside an unnamed town, on the fringes of a commune called iDEATH. The commune features a trout hatchery (which produces oil used to light their lamps) and a watermelon works (which produces multicolored sugars used to fashion every sort of commodity), not to mention huge statues of vegetables, and shacks to which those who want to spend time alone can retreat. The setting is idyllic, but also somehow post-apocalyptic. The sun shines a different color each day; reference is made to talking, singing, yet violent “tigers” who used to inhabit the area; and there is a vast junkyard — the Forgotten Works — of objects manufactured before… whatever happened. There isn’t much of a plot: a drunkard named inBOIL leads a short-lived rebellion against iDEATH (Is he right about everything?, this reader wonders); the narrator falls in love with Pauline, the commune’s cook, which may or may not cause his former lover, Margaret, to go off the rails. The mood is elegiac, light-hearted, sad, and critical all at the same time. Fun facts: In Watermelon Sugar is an important reference in Ray Mungo’s 1970 back-to-the-land chronicle Total Loss Farm; it’s also the inspiration for Neko Case’s 2006 song “Margaret versus Pauline.”
  23. Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968). In an authoritarian near-future America, President Robert McNamara — Secretary of Defense, at the time Disch was writing — has embroiled the country in an illegal war… against the world. We are reading the diary of an imprisoned conscientious objector, the poet Louis Sacchetti, who has been sent to Camp Archimedes, the inmates of which are dosed (unwittingly) with a strain of syphilis as part of a military experiment. (With Ignatius J. Reilly, Sacchetti is one of the great obese fictional characters.) The treatment increases the patients’ intelligence, while shortening their lives. Does God exist? Does alchemy work? Do we humans create Hell for ourselves? If genius is a matter of breaking down the mind’s rigid categories, then are all geniuses insane? Sacchetti, an erudite wordsmith and deep thinker, has much to say on these and other topics… particularly as his own mind’s rigid categories begin to break down. Fun fact: Serialized in New Worlds in 1967. In 1972, Philip K. Dick wrote a paranoid letter to the FBI suggesting that there were coded messages in Camp Concentration.
  24. Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang (1969). Before Iain M. Banks’s (or Becky Chambers’s or Ann Leckie’s) independent AI starships there was The Ship Who Sang. Our protagonist is Helva, who was born with an exceptional brain and severe physical disabilities… so she was raised as an indentured servant destined to be a starship brain. One with a lamentable tendency to fall in love with her human co-pilot (known as the “brawn” to her “brain”) as they travel the galaxy on various missions of mercy. What happens if the brawn loves her back… and wants to have sex with her? Helva’s feelings of love and loss are poignant; however, the whole set-up is also a bit creepy and offensive! If you think about the sex scenes in McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, you’ll begin to see why. Fun fact: The book’s first five chapters were originally published as “The Ship Who Sang” (1961; McCaffrey’s own favorite story), “The Ship Who Mourned” (1966), “The Ship Who Killed” (1966), “Dramatic Mission” (1969), and “The Ship Who Disappeared” (1969); the sixth chapter is original to the novel. In the 1990s, McCaffrey and co-authors produced six sequels.
  25. Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor (1969). When he is fourteen, Van Veen, who will grow up to be a psychologist and renegade scholar, falls in love with his eleven-year-old cousin, Ada; they begin a life-long sexual affair, despite later discovering that they are half-siblings. The story begins in the early 19th century, though characters discuss airplanes, motion pictures, and other anachronistic technologies; everything is powered by water, and it is forbidden to mention electricity. Reference is made to an historical catastrophe referred to as “the L disaster,” which has somehow “everted” (I borrow the term from a 1975 essay about this novel in Science Fiction Studies) time, earth, and sexual gender. Van and Ada — who are maybe somehow, respectively, Eve and Adam — live on a planet known as Antiterra, which is geographically similar to Earth, although politically England has conquered most of it, and American culture is influenced by Russia. Nineteen-Sixties culture is, somehow, a myth from the past. Trippy! Fun facts: Ted Gioia has compared Ada to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and other alternate-history works of science fiction. I might include works by Samuel R. Delany and Michael Moorcock in which the Beatles become mythical figures.
  26. Philip K. Dick’s Ubik (1969). Joe Chip works for Runciter Associates, which employs “inertials” — telepaths and precogs with the ability to block the powers of other, less scrupulous telepaths and precogs — to protect the privacy of their clients. He’s one of Dick’s “minor men,” unable to manage his own life; in fact, he owes money to his own front door! Joe has a thing for his new colleague, Pat, who can change the past in such a way that people don’t realize it. Sent to Luna in search of criminal telepaths, Joe and Pat and the rest of their team is caught in an explosion… after which nothing is ever the same again. Are they moving backwards in time? Are they in some other reality? Are they caught up in a cosmic battles between the forces of light and the forces of darkness — and if so, what is the ultimate source of these forces? Every interpretation that they posit is frustrated; meaning remains elusive. Each chapter is prefaced with an advertisement for Ubik, salvation in a spray can. This is, perhaps, the ultimate example of one of Dick’s apophenic sci-fi potboilers. Fun fact: Ubik inspired France’s Alfred Jarry-inspired Collège du Pataphysique to elect Dick as an honorary member. John Lennon, at one point, was interested in adapting the film version.
  27. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969). Much like the bumbling protagonist of Jaroslav Hašek’s pioneering antiwar novel The Good Soldier Švejk (1921–1923), Billy Pilgrim is an ill-trained, disoriented, cowardly chaplain’s assistant. During the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, he is captured and transported to Dresden. In 1945, as British and American bombers dropped several thousand tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city, Pilgrim and his fellow prisoners and their guards take refuge in a cellar beneath Schlachthof-fünf, the titular “slaughterhouse five”; they are among the only survivors of the (still-controversial) attack. We experience all of this in flash-backs or flash-forwards, because Billy has become “unstuck in time,” not to mention in space. At one point, years later, on his daughter’s wedding night, Billy is captured by aliens and transported to Tralfamadore, the fatalistic residents of which can observe all points in the space-time continuum simultaneously. Like them, Billy becomes a philosophical ironist because — thanks to his time-traveling — the entire human experience strikes him as absurd. Is he crazy, or a visionary? Fun facts: As a prisoner of war in 1945, Vonnegut experienced the Dresden firebombing; the narrator of Slaughter-House Five is the author, speaking in his own voice. The 1972 film adaptation, directed by George Roy Hill (in between directing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting), won the Prix du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.
  28. leguin left hand

  29. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). This is the second of the author’s so-called Hainish Cycle, set in a galaxy whose human population evolved on Hain, then spread outwards to many other planets (including Earth) before, at some distant point in the past, losing contact. Efforts have been mounted to re-stablish a galactic civilization; some eighty planets have organized themselves into a union called the Ekumen. In this novel, Genly Ai, an agent of The Ekumen, has spent a frustrating couple of years as an envoy to the frozen planet Gethen. Ai’s efforts to recruit Gethen into the Ekumen have failed… because his supposedly enlightened worldview is structured by binary oppositions. Gethenians, because they are ambisexual — they only adopt sexual attributes once a month, during a period of sexual receptiveness and high fertility — see the world in an entirely different way. Ai only begins to empathize with the Gethenian worldview once he escapes from prison with Estraven, an exiled Gethenian politician, who not only helps Ai survive a trek across the planet’s wintry wilderness, but helps him understand his own deep-seated prejudices and assumptions about gender and gender roles. Fun facts: The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the first feminist sci-fi novels, though some feminists have argued that it does not go far enough in critiquing gender stereotypes. Harold Bloom said, of this book, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards: “Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time.”
  30. Brian Aldiss’s Barefoot in the Head (1969). A far-out, experimentalist novel — many readers find it too much so — set in a future Europe devastated by Acid Warfare. Muslims, it seems, have released “psycho-chemical aerosols” into the environment, and now tens of thousands of Europeans (except the neutral French) are tripping constantly, veering between extreme joy and abject terror… and talking in gorgeous, Finnegans Wake-esque word salads (see also: Disch’s Camp Concentration). Social norms have collapsed. Colin Charteris, a young Serbian who has been working in UN refugee camps in Italy, travels to England… where he falls under the influence of the hallucinogenics and finds himself hailed as a prophet by the pharmaceuticalized populace. Preaching a trippy Gurdjieffian gospel, Charteris could usher in a utopian social order… or perhaps his movement will help European civilization utterly devolve. Peppered with poems and song lyrics from the characters, it’s reminiscent of the excellent 1968 youthsploitation movie Wild in the Streets, as well as Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me (1966), though more world-historical than these. Fun facts: The novel was assembled from Aldiss’s stories in New Worlds and elsewhere. One of the inside jokes, here, is running meta-commentary on the works of Aldiss’s fellow sci-fi writers.
  31. Josephine Saxton’s The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (1969). In this experimentalist, poetic work, a 14-year-old boy rescues a baby girl when her mother dies in childbirth. He raises her in a world devoid of other humans. What has happened? Buildings remain, food dispensers dispense food, store shelves are replete with supplies… but Sam and An are, more or less, this Eden-like post-apocalyptic space’s only inhabitants. (The few individuals who make an appearance inhabit the outskirts of town, and they are phantom-like figures — are they hallucinations? Are Sam and An being studied by them? Who is leaving them messages — and what do the messages mean?) This is, in some respects, a Bildungsroman; we watch Sam mature, as he cares for his charge, and we’re interested to discover what books — Nietzsche, Jung, Blake, science fiction — he reads. As An grows older, sexuality introduces itself to this strange idyll. Anachronistically, it could be described as The Truman Show and Lost mashed up with Blue Lagoon. Fun fact: The first novel by Saxton, who is also remembered for Vector for Seven: The Weltanschaung of Mrs Amelia Mortimer and Friends (1970), Group Feast (1971), and the super-unsettling Queen of the States (1986).
  32. maze of death

  33. Philip K. Dick‘s A Maze of Death (1970).
  34. Russ- And Chaos Died

  35. 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!
  36. sladek muller

  37. 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.
  38. atrocity_cover

  39. J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) — one of the most important British New Wave works.
  40. Stanislaw Lem’s’s The Futurological Congress (1971).
  41. 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.
  42. walker-percy

  43. 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.”
  44. Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
  45. Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World comics. When Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics for DC in 1970, he launched a science-fictional epic revolving around aliens with superhuman abilities arriving on Earth. Hailing from the planets Apokolips and New Genesis, the ontogeny of the so-called New Gods — their fantastic powers, even their names — recapitulated Kirby’s imaginative billion-year phylogeny, during which three previous eras (“worlds”) had seen the rise and fall of the Old Gods, legends of whom live on in humankind’s mythologies. So sweeping was Kirby’s weltanschauung that it couldn’t be contained in the New Gods comic (#1–11 written and illustrated by Kirby, 1971–72). So he also wrote and illustrated Forever People (#1–11, 1971–72) and Mister Miracle (#1–18, 1971–74), not to mention a reimagined Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. These proto-postmodernist comics are a volatile admixture of religion (the character Izaya evokes the biblical Isaiah), ancient-astronaut theories, sci-fi technology (the Boom Tube, the Mobius Chair, the Mother Box), and 1960s culture (the Forever People are cosmic hippies). Kirby’s 1940s-era teen characters, the Newsboy Legion, were resurrected; and Don Rickles made a cameo appearance. Truly awesome. Fun fact: The Fourth World storyline was intended to be a finite series, which would end with the deaths of the characters Darkseid and Orion.
  46. Michael Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer (1971)
  47. silverberg changes 1

  48. Robert Silverberg’s A Time of Changes (1971)
  49. 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’.”
  50. Philip K. Dick’s We Can Build You (1972)
  51. John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up (1972). Brunner wrote a lot of forgettable pot-boilers, and a couple of terrific books — this proto-cyberpunk eco-catastrophe is one of the latter. Raw materials are running out, and insects and micro-organisms have become resistant to efforts to eradicate them. Disaster could be averted if world governments and the wealthy were willing to make sacrifices; instead, the rich live obliviously in gated communities while the right-wing US administration, headed by an idiot president, is in thrall to corporations seeking only to maximize shareholder value. The media, meanwhile, focuses on entertainment and delivers fake news. Environmental and social-justice activists are dismissed as un-American hippies. (Yes, it’s almost too prescient.) We learn all of this through fractured vignettes about multiple characters, headlines, reports. As both government and corporate services break down, and as food is poisoned, rioting and civil unrest sweep the United States. Fun fact: The novel’s title is a quotation from Milton’s “Lycidas.” “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,/But swollen with wind and the rank mist they draw,/Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread…”
  52. Michael Moorcock’s 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.
  53. silverberg dying

  54. Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972)
  55. Barry N. Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo (1972)
  56. ballard crash

  57. 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.
  58. 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.

*

NEW WAVE SF: 1974–83

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.

    dick tears

  1. Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)
  2. 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?
  3. M. John Harrison’s The Centauri Device (1974)
  4. Christopher Priest’s Inverted World (1974)
  5. delany dhalgren

  6. 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.”
  7. John Crowley’s The Deep (1972–1975)
  8. ballard-highrise

  9. 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.
  10. the-female-man-joanna-russ_book

  11. 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.
  12. triton

  13. 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.
  14. moebius

  15. 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.
  16. Philip K. Dick’s New Wave sci-fi adventure A Scanner Darkly. Set in a barely futuristic Los Angeles of 1994, Scanner tells the story of “Fred,” an undercover narc who gets a kick out of the counter-cultural addicts with whom — as “Bob” — he dwells. Fred’s abuse of Substance D (street name: “Death”) contributes to a brain psychosis complicated by his latest assignment… spying on Bob! Whose motivations Fred finds opaque. Dick mines humor and pathos out of the druggies’ lifestyle: paranoid conversations among low-lifes who actually are being spied on; crack-ups that feel like break-throughs. Also, this is a neo-noir crime novel — one in which we sympathize with the criminals, who are spirited free-thinkers, and despise the manipulative, cold-hearted cops. When Fred is sent to a detox facility, he cracks the secret of Substance D… too late? 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. Fun facts: In 2006, I wrote a Slate essay about the novel and Richard Linklater’s adaptation. Which I still haven’t seen.
  17. Gary Panter’s comic Jimbo (serialized 1977–present). Panter’s “ratty line” illustrations helped define the style of L.A. punk. But the appeal of Jimbo — an all-American, snub-nosed, freckle-faced punkoid wandering through Dal Tokyo, a planet-wide sprawl of a city founded on Mars by Japanese and Texans — is timeless. Jimbo is a high-lowbrow antihero, equally at home in the pages of the L.A. music zine Slash, where he first appeared, and in the artsy RAW. The early post-apocalyptic/surrealist comics (has Jimbo’s girlfriend been kidnapped by giant cockroaches?) have since given way to elaborate graphic novels that employ the character as an Everyman puzzling his way through religious/pop culture allegorical landscapes. But don’t try to understand the plot of Panter’s stories; the medium is the message. Panter’s protean style — which changes from page to page, sometimes exploding into sheer abstraction — demands that the reader participate actively in making sense of Jimbo’s… mission? Fun facts: Jimbo comics have been collected in Jimbo (1982), Invasion of the Elvis Zombies (1984), Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise (1988), and Jimbo’s Inferno (2006). Panter is now working on a collection of his Jimbo mini-comics.
  18. John Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977). Before William Gibson, Iain M. Banks, and the Cornershop album When I Was Born for the 7th Time, there was… this oddball achievement. In the year 2618, four hundred years after the human race was displaced from the Earth by alien invaders (who consider aquatic mammals more advanced), humankind scrabbles for survival on the Moon and other off-world colonies. Thanks to the Hotline, a stream of data from a distant star system, the human survivors have mastered bioengineering techniques such as cloning, memory recording, adding and subtracting body parts, changing one’s sex whenever one chooses, and forming new life forms with intelligent symbiotes. Lilo, a rebel geneticist, faces execution for violating laws of humankind’s Eight Worlds; she escapes — or does she commit suicide, while a clone with her memories downloaded take her place? Lilo and her clones are soon embroiled in a plot to battle the invaders… using a black hole! Meanwhile, whoever has been sending information via the Hotline suddenly demands payment. Fun facts: This is the author’s first book, and the first (novel-length) installment in his Eight Worlds series.
  19. Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1978)
  20. James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon)’s Up the Walls of the World (1978). .
  21. crowley engine summer

  22. John Crowley’s Engine Summer (1979)
  23. Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979)
  24. Hitchhiker-s-Guide-douglas-adams-657242_451_700

  25. Douglas Adams‘s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  26. 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.
  27. Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jean Giraud’s The Incal (1980–1988).
  28. butler wild seed

  29. 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).
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. john-berkey_valis_ny-bantam-1981_14156-2

  33. 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.
  34. Alan Moore’s dystopian graphic novel V for Vendetta (serialized 1982–1989). Illustrated by David Lloyd. In the near future, following a nuclear war, the United Kingdom has become a fascist state run by the Norsefire Party. V, a flamboyant anarchist terrorist and vigilante whose face is never seen — he wears a Guy Fawkes mask — begins a campaign to bring down the government (and all governments); it’s like Nineteen Eighty-Four with a happy ending. V, we discover over the course of the graphic novel, was imprisoned in a Norsefire concentration camp and experimented upon… which led him to develop superhuman strength, reflexes, and endurance. He blows up the Old Bailey and the CCTY surveillance buildings, kidnaps the propaganda minister, and murders a bishop — what will his final act be? He’s pursued by Eric Finch, the secretly decent head of Norsefire’s police. The Robin to V’s Batman is Evey, a young woman whom he saves from a rapist and grooms as his successor — through very dubious methods. Fun facts: Mostly published in black and white, in the British comics magazine Warrior; when the magazine folded, DC Comics reprinted and completed the story in color. In one of HILOBROW’s most frequently viewed posts, Molly Sauter traces the adoption of the Guy Fawkes mask by Anonymous, following the marketing blitz for the (lame) 2006 film adaptation of the comic.
  35. Jaime Hernandez‘s “Las Locas” stories in Love and Rockets (serialized 1982–1996). Maggie (Perla Luisa) Chascarillo is a Mexican-American “prosolar mechanic,” specializing in robot and rocketship repair. In the early days of Jaime Hernandez’s contributions to the pioneering alternative comic Love and Rockets, which he created with his brothers Gilbert and Mario, Maggie stumbled her way through a variety of amusing pulp sci-fi adventures supported by a large cast of colorful characters. These include mechanic Rand Race; bombshell Beatríz “Penny Century” García; Mexican women’s wrestling champions Rena Titañon and Vicki Glori; horned billionaire H.R. Costigan; and most vitally, Hopey (Esperanza Leticia) Glass, punk bassist, idler, and Maggie’s on-again, off-again best friend and lover. In “Mechan-X,” the first Maggie and Hopey story, a villain forces Maggie to activate robots that attack Race; in “Mechanics,” Maggie and Race are sent to fix a downed ship in a jungle country where dinosaurs still live. Wrestling, punk rock, sex and romance, superheroes, family… there will never again be anything like this epic comic. Fun facts: Jaime Hernandez and his brothers were inspired by their mother, a life-long fan of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s comics; Jaime’s style was also influenced by Archie Comics. The 2007 “Las Locas” collection Maggie the Mechanic, published by Fantagraphics, is a fine place to get started.
  36. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1982–1990).
  37. Greg Bear’s Blood Music (1983; as a novel, 1985)
  38. Frank Miller’s Rōnin (1983–1984).

***

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 | 1905 | 1906 | 1907 | 1908 | 1909 | 1910 | 1911 | 1912 | 1913. THE TEENS: 1914 | 1915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1919 | 1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923. THE TWENTIES: 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933. THE THIRTIES: 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939 | 1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943. THE FORTIES: 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953. THE FIFTIES: 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963. THE SIXTIES: 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973. THE SEVENTIES: 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 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 |

What do you think?

  1. I would add both “In Watermelon Sugar” but Richard Brautigan (1968) and “Dreamsnake” by Vonda McIntyre (1978). Great list! From what I’ve thought about the ones on it I’ve read, it surely makes me want to read the rest!

  2. Sad to see that you left off an incredibly influential sci fi and fantasy author, the profoundly under apreciated fritz Leiber. I once had an opportunity to spend an afternoon speaking with Neill gaiman and he cited leiber as a huge influence on not only himself but also several other british invasion authors of the eighties. I would highly recomend reading his work or at the very least look into all of the people he is known to have influenced. He was always ahead of his time in the ideas he layed out.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Nick, I appreciate it. I’m a Leiber fan — we’ve promoted his fantasy and horror writing here at HILOBROW a few times, and his novel The Big Time is on my Golden Age (1934-1963) sci-fi list — but I don’t love any of his post-1963 sci-fi that I’ve read. I know that Gaiman likes A Specter Is Haunting Texas and The Wanderer, for some reason, but I haven’t enjoyed reading either of those… Are there others I should try?

  4. Sci fi novel about a boy born on mars, raised by Martians. 25 + – yrs later rescued and brought back to earth: strong morals, extreme intelligence, amazing powers. He becomes a god the government wants to kill. A theme of the story is water. Title?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.