Science fiction finally gave up childish things in the 1960s.  
But like many adolescents, it only grew up because the
ugly real world intruded on its immature fantasies.

Let's put a measuring tape to it. In the summer of 1957,
just a few weeks before the launch of the first Sputnik
space satellite, some 23 science fiction magazines
were operating in the United States. By the end of 1960,
only six remained. During a period of just 28 months,
fifteen sci-fi magazines disappeared from the magazine

This truly was an amazing story, astounding even, but
did not get reported in the pages of
Amazing Stories
and Astounding Stories—two of the survivors. (Although
Astounding, in a move that now seems especially
wrong-headed, changed its name to
missing out on the coming digital age.) These pulp
fiction stragglers were too busy trying to stay alive.
Even the survivors in this shakeout were on a flimsy
financial footing, and many a sci-fi writer rushed to the
bank to cash a payment check before another magazine
bit the lunar dust.  

So many ironies here. The space age had arrived, and
the rivalry between the US and the USSR promised to
validate all the outlandish future-tripping forecasts these
pulp magazines had been peddling for the past thirty
years. It didn't seem fair that workaday journalists should
now steal away their readers. But who needed
magazine (defunct 1959) or Space Travel (defunct 1958),
when you could read about actual satellites and space
travel in your daily newspaper? Who wanted to spend
leisure time reading tales about
thermonuclear destruction
when the neighbor next door
was setting up an actual
bomb shelter in his basement?
But the irony also played
out on a grander karmic level:
what cruel deity had decided
that purveyors of fantasy
should get a dose of
reality therapy—forced into
retreat because truth was
stranger than even


But something far stranger was about to happen. The very
forces that threatened to kill off the sci-fi genre actually
saved it.

The old formulas didn't work anymore. Stories about rocket
ships and bug-eyed monsters from outer space would no
longer pay the rent. Tales about nuclear bombs proved to
be duds at the magazine rack. In the new environment,
science fiction writers needed new formulas—or even better,
needed to have the courage to operate without pre-cooked
recipes of any sort. In short, science fiction needed to grow
up and take on the adult world, in all its messiness and

Everything was now in flux. A few of the old-timers managed
to adapt to the new environment. Robert Heinlein had been
peddling juvenile outer space stories in the 1950s, but in
the 1960s he reinvented himself as a counterculture guru
and delivered at least two genuine masterworks,
Stranger in
a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Philip
K. Dick had been publishing sci-fi stories since the early
1950s, but his interest in altered states of consciousness
and different spheres of reality made him the perfect story-
teller for the psychadelic 60s.  Ursula K. Le Guin had first
submitted a story to
Astounding back before World War II
when she was only eleven-years-old, but she only got into
her stride in the 1960s and 1970s when her skill in blending
advanced sociological themes into genre fiction helped her
move from
Amazing Stories to the pages of The New Yorker.
Arthur C. Clarke was an old man of sci-fi who had first made
his name back in the mid-1930s, and though he had a
harder time adapting to the new zeitgeist, even he managed
to shake up the younger generation with
2001: A Space
Odyssey, his film-and-book collaboration with director
Stanley Kubrick.

But these were the exceptions. Most of the excitement came
from newcomers and outsiders. Kurt Vonnegut had published
his first science fiction novel back in 1952, but he tended to
avoid writing for the pulp genre magazines. He had no interest
in becoming the 'next Isaac Asimov' or the 'next Arthur C.
Clarke'. Instead Vonnegut hoped to conquer the world of
mainstream literary fiction with satire, dark humor and a
smattering of sci-fi concepts—an almost impossible ambition,
it seemed at the time, but the success of
Ray Bradbury had
already proven that a few mortals were equipped (or perhaps
'allowed' is the better word) to escape the genre ghetto.
Cats Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut
achieved the highest honors possible for a sci-fi author. No,
not a Hugo and Nebula—many a hack has received one of
those—but rather a place in the literary fiction rack at the
bookstore and inclusion on school assigned reading lists.

Yet even more shocking were the renowned literary lions
who embraced science fiction.  Why in the world did
Vladimar Nabokov tell a BBC interviewer in 1968 "I loathe
science fiction," and then publish a sci-fi book,
Ada or Ardor,
the following year?  What motivated Walker Percy, winner of
the National Book Award for
The Moviegoer (1961) to turn to
sci-fi with
Love in the Ruins a decade later? Why were the
most promising experimental American writers of the new
generation embracing sci-fi plots—for example John Barth
Giles Goat-Boy and Thomas Pynchon with Gravity's
Rainbow? Why did William Burroughs feel compelled to
insert science fiction concepts into his rambling cut-and-
paste novels?

The very existence of such books represented a slap in
the face to the core sci-fi market—namely, adolescents
and teens. Asimov did not prepare them for
Ada. Gernsback
did not pave the path to
Giles Goat-Boy. Frankly, many
of these books would have been confiscated by teachers
and parents during that period of literary ferment. I still
recall the day my fourth grade teacher at St. Joseph's
Elementary School seized my cousin's copy of a James
Bond novel (
Moonraker) and denounced it as inappropriate
, even as I breathed a sigh of relief that she had not
seen my copy of
Live and Let Die. I don't even want to
imagine what would have happened if a book by Vladimir
Nabokov or William Burroughs had been found at my desk.
The Naked Lunch might have spurred a school lockdown,
and intervention by the local bishop.


Yes, this was an unlikely revolution in the sci-fi field. But
nothing seemed capable of stopping the trend once it was
set in motion, and it clearly respected no geographical
borders. Even as the US emerged as the winner in the
space race, it faced increasingly intense competition in
the sci-fi racket. In the early sixties, Britain seemed on the
brink of eclipsing the US as the center of experimental
science fiction. In continental Europe, leading writers of
the new generation, such as
Italo Calvino and Stanisław
Lem, inserted science fiction concepts into ambitious
works of literary fiction.

The globalization of sci-fi as a trendy artistic construct was
also evident beyond the world of books. Certainly no one
was surprised when Ray Bradbury's
Fahrenheit 451 got
made into a movie, but who expected that the director would
be hipper-than-hip French filmmaker François Truffaut?
Almost at that same moment, Truffaut's illustrious rival in
cutting edge French cinema, Jean-Luc Godard was also
pushing ahead with his sci-fi film
Alphaville (1965). For better
or worse, sci-fi was moving beyond stale Hollywood formulas
and entering the realm of avant-garde art. When Federico
Fellini released his ancient Rome movie
Satyricon (1969) at
the close of the decade, he made the puzzling pronouncement
that it represented "science fiction of the past"—a bizarre
notion, but very much aligned with the spirit of the age.

The subject of fantasy is beyond the scope of this essay, but
I must note in passing that down in Latin America at this same
juncture, a whole generation of world-beating writers were
inserting magic (heaven forbid!) into their most audacious
books. These authors must have perceived the risk of
their serious novels with genre concepts, but they understood
—long before most readers and critics even noticed!—that
genre fiction wasn't what it used to be.

Today, we are very familiar with highbrow literary writers
incorporating fantasy and science fiction into their works.
Many of the most admired writers of our day—
Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Lethem, Jennifer
Egan, J.K. Rowling, David Mitchell, and others—do this with
impunity. (Well, almost with impunity—
James Wood still tries
to knock 'em down a peg for their bad taste in pursuing, in his
words "the demented intricacy of science fiction.")  But this
fertile marriage between highbrow and lowbrow could hardly
have happened without the pioneering efforts of Pynchon,
Vonnegut, Dick, Nabokov,Le Guin and others renegades
back in that crucial period from the late 1950s to the early
1970s—that glorious moment when science fiction grew up.


And then there was the New Wave!

Here was a radical movement whose
exponents hoped to reinvent science
fiction from the inside out. These
weren't literary lions slumming with
the genre writers for cheap thrills,
but sci-fi careerists who wanted to
change the entire landscape of the
field. They knew the science fiction
tradition, had grown up on it, but
now aimed to subvert every aspect
of this inheritance. The leaders of
the New Wave violated taboos and
tackled subjects that, back in the
1950s, would have been
too hot to handle. They incorporated
experimental techniques never before applied to sci-fi
narratives. The were masters of parody, pastiche and a
panoply of postmodern perspectives; yet they also could
surprise by returning to straight narrative and the classic
themes of the genre tradition.

Britain set off this revolution. Give credit to D.H. Lawrence. No,
not for his science fiction books (he didn't write any), but for
his estate's success in winning the 1960 court battle that
allowed London publisher Penguin Books to sell unexpurgated
copies of Lawrence's
Lady Chatterley's Lover. In the aftermath
of this decision, British readers could enjoy previously banned
fiction, provided the publisher could demonstrate "literary
merit." The doors were now open, and in a surprising
development, the new permissive environment changed
the course of science fiction.

Anthony Burgess was never considered part of the sci-fi
New Wave, and he later tried to disown his now famous
dystopian novel
A Clockwork Orange (1962). "It became
known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify
sex and violence," he later explained.
"The film made it easy for readers of
the book to misunderstand what it was
about. I should not have written the
book because of this danger of
misinterpretation, and the same may
be said of Lawrence and
Chatterley's Lover
." Despite such
protestations, Burgess's novel
remains an impressive achievement,
bold in its prose and even bolder in
its subject matter. Yet this was
precisely the kind of book that
could justify its disturbing content
because of its "literary merit." In some
degree, it served as a blueprint for the next decade in
science fiction.  

Burgess followed up with another dystopian novel (
Wanting Seed
), but mostly avoided sci-fi concepts in later
years. It would be left to others to build on this achievement
and take British science fiction to new levels of rudeness
and radness. J.G. Ballard had already published his first
novel when Burgess released
A Clockwork Orange, and
though his early sci-fi work—which focused on various
ecological disaster scenarios—is poised and confident, it
hardly prepared readers for the outlandish ventures ahead.
Even today
The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) stands out as the
most transgressive science fiction book ever released. And
it was just
barely released. Almost a decade after the Lady
Chatterley's Lover
decision, Ballard could still stir up
enough controversy to spur the president of his publisher,
Nelson Doublday Jr. himself, to order all copies of the
book destroyed! Literary trends have come and gone in
the intervening decades, but this work still shocks on almost
every page. Ballard would go on to write other controversial
books—most notably
Crash (1973), his horrific paean to
auto fatalities—and solidify his reputation as the baddest bad
boy of British sci-fi. Not all of this writing holds up well today,
but sci-fi clearly benefited from the adrenalin jolt of Ballard's

Yet others were giving him a run for his money. Some of
Brian Aldiss's work comes across as derivative—you can
almost chart the various books that influenced him as you
read each chapter. But at his best, his reckless audacity
jumps off the page. And his range during the 1960s may
be the widest of any sci-fi writer of that period. It
encompassed fabulistic future-tripping (
Hot House),
psychedelic armageddon (
Barefoot in the Head), and even self-
canceling meta-narrative (
Report on Probability A).

Michael Moorcock completes this triumvirate of British New
Wave stars. His influence as an editor surpasses his
achievements as a writer—as reigning guru overseeing
the periodical
New Worlds, he regularly delivered a
megadose of dicey sci-fi content for a reasonable two
shillings and six pence. Well, perhaps not so regularly;
some months the magazine never appeared on the news-
stand. The internal chaos at
New Worlds caused a few of
these interruptions, but censorship by retailers also played
a role. Yet if you did get your hands on a copy, you wouldn't
be bored. Moorcock's writings are too disorganized for my
taste, but his hubris was off the chart. On any list of
"science fiction books not to recommend to a Christian
reader," his
Behold the Man gets top spot. And his Jerry
Cornelius stories make Nietzsche look like a lukewarm
nihilist by comparison. In an age in which success was
often measured by how many people you could piss off,
Moorcock met or exceeded his quota every month.

As the 1960s progressed, US writers began playing a larger
role in this sci-fi revolution. For many readers, Harlan
Ellison stands out as the most representative figure of
radicalized sci-fi, and like Moorcock he made his mark
both as writer and editor. Ellison's anthology
Visions (1967) is a mixed bag, but despite its limitations it
may be the single best starting-point for readers who want
to comprehend the tectonic shift underway in 1960s genre
fiction. Yet I like Ellison even better as a memoirist and
fiction writer—by any measure, he ranks among the leading
short story authors of his generation. But others were ready
to vie with him for preeminence in edgy American sci-fi.
Native New Yorker Norman Spinrad enjoyed the distinction
of getting copies of
New Worlds pulled off the shelves at the
largest magazine retailers in Britain, when Moorcock serialzed
parts of
Bug Jack Barron, and his works not only pushed
forward the New Wave agenda, but also anticipated elements
of the later cyberpunk movement. Thomas M. Disch also stands
out in any survey of US sci-fi experimenters, and not just for
his skill as a storyteller—his work as a historian and critic of
genre literature are required reading for those seeking an
insider's perspective on the changes at play.


And how did they do it?

Well, let's ask the class to do a brief exercise. Take a sheet
of paper, and make a list of the topics you aren't supposed to
talk about in polite company. For example:

   - Religion
   - Politics
   - Sex
   - Recreational drug use
   - The violent death of a loved one in a car crash
   - Bizarre fantasies about Hollywood celebrities
   - Etc. etc. etc.

Okay, got the list? The leading sci-fi authors of the 1960s
and 1970s probably had a list more or less similar to yours.
And then they wrote stories about
every subject on the list.

Pretty clever, no?

To be honest, the best science fiction writers of the period
did more than just tweak the sensibilities of the easily outraged.
But to some degree, the worst writers in any movement help
you understand its sources of raw energy. And the hacks
were delighted to discover that they could finally write about,
say, cannibalism and cannabis in the same story, and no
one would slap them on the wrist. I'm reminded of the character
in a Coens brothers film who coyly asks
"Are you taking
advantage of the new freedoms?" The writers discussed here
could almost uniformly answer 'yes' to that question, but while
some were taking advantage of them to good effect, others
merely sought notoriety and shock value.

The best of this work has held up well over time. But much of
it, in retrospect, seems coldly calculated, or just too
experimental for its own good. Does anyone nowadays really
enjoy reading
The Soft Machine or The Ticket That Exploded or
Dhalgren or Report on Probability A? I can't imagine such
masochistic readers, but perhaps they exist. On the other
hand, some genuine classics, multivalent works that are both
smart and entertaining, are mostly forgotten, and in many
instances long out-of-print.  Readers really ought to
John Brunner, R.A. Lafferty, James Tiptree, Jr.,
Jack Vance, and (most obscure of all—indeed almost
obliterated from the memory banks of sci-fi)
David R. Bunch.

You have been waiting for me to talk about the sex—certainly
it shows up in most of these books. And I will get to it in a
moment. But first let me state the less-than-obvious: namely
that the most fertile subject for 1960s sci-fi was religion. In
fact, if you consider the novels that won the Hugo from the
late 1950s through the early 1970s, the majority of them
dealt with theological issues. Their approaches varied
dramatically, but the best of them—
A Case of Conscience,
A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Left Hand of Darkness,
Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land—rank among the most
insightful works of spiritual fiction from the mid-20th century.
Back in the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hugo
Gernsback, who would have believed that these escapist
space operas would evolve into serious explorations of
spirituality and belief systems?  But such was the destiny
of sci-fi during the period of its most ardent experimentation.

And, yes, there was sex, lots of it. But not just couplings,
triplings and intergalactic miscegenation. In the works of
Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr., Joanna Russ, among
others, science fiction addressed, for the first time in its
history, issues of gender roles, sexual orientation and
feminism. At first glance, sci-fi might seem an inhospitable
environment for such subjects—after all, the core audience
for the genre, since time
immemorial, had been
teenage males, and their
fantasies and interests had
always unduly influenced
what got published and read.
But the "new freedoms" that
allowed science fiction writers
to reimagine social structures
and cultural norms also served,
in some degree, to compensate
for the biases inherent in this
demographic tilt. For authors
who were prepared to challenge
the status quo, a whole range of options were made available
that were closed off to practitioners of strict realism. Face it,
sex is sex, but when you incorporate alien life forms and
radical technologies, even Masters and Johnson seem prim
by comparison.  


But the revolution in 1960s science fiction was more than just
the infusion of new subjects (religion, sex, etc.) to replace
the old ones (robots, space, etc.). Writers were also
experimenting with stream of consciousness techniques,
fragmented narrative structures, cut-and-paste methods
and other different ways of constructing sentences and

Unless you have read deeply into 1960s and 1970s sci-fi,
you may not realize how much influence James Joyce
exerted on the field. But his impact can be seen in many of
the key works of the era. Philip José Farmer won a Hugo for
his 1967 novella
"Riders of the Purple Wage," which reaches
its climax with a Joycean pun that even Joyce would have
found too extreme. In
Barefoot in the Head (1969), Brian
Aldiss made the bold, albeit implausible, prediction that
futuristic people drugged out on a sufficient amount of
hallucinogenics would start talking in Joycean stream-of-
consciousness sentences. In
Dhalgren (1975), Samuel R.
Delany even aimed at delivering a sci-fi
Finnegans Wake
—one that clocked in at almost 900 pages, longer than
anything Joyce himself had attempted. We also see stream-
of-consciousness in Thomas Disch's
Camp Concentration,
Philip K. Dick's
VALIS, Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron,
and in crossover sci-fi works such as
Gravity's Rainbow and

And why not? After all, if Joyce heralded the future of fiction,
sci-fi embraced the fiction of the future. Why shouldn't they
go together? In
The Divine Invasion, the second book in the
VALIS trilogy, Philip K. Dick captured precisely this meeting
point, when he announced, "I'm going to prove that
is an information pool based on computer memory
systems that didn't exist until centuries after James Joyce's
era; that Joyce was plugged into a cosmic consciousness
from which he derived the inspiration for his entire corpus
of work. I'll be famous forever."

But Joyce was hardly the only role model for experimental
sci-fi writers of the period. John Brunner won a Hugo for
Stand on Zanzibar (1968), which takes the fragmented style
of John Dos Passos's USA Trilogy and applies it to a story
set 40 years in the future.
Kurt Vonnegut realized
that a time travel angle
allowed him to tell his
autobiographical World
War II narrative with a
quirky non-linear chronology.
Calvino mixes the fabulistic
and Kafkaesque into his
Cosmicomics, even while
incorporating scientific
jargon on virtually every
page of the book. Aldiss's
Report on Probability A
takes metanarrative to an
extreme I have never
encountered in any other book, whether genre, avant-garde
or mainstream. None of these works could have been
conceived of, let alone published, during the Golden Age
of science fiction back in the 1930s and 1940s. But they
set the tone during the 1960s.


Why does this matter?

I focus on this era in the history of sci-fi because it laid the
groundwork for one of the most important developments in
current-day fiction. Indeed, perhaps the single most significant
shift in the literature of our time.

In recent decades, many of the most exciting voices in
contemporary fiction have worked to tear down the Berlin
Wall separating highbrow literature and genre concepts. In
a beautiful twist of fate, we have come full circle, back to the
age of bards and oral storytelling, when the fanciful and
imaginary were at the core of literary culture.

We learn many things from authors such as Haruki Murakami,
J.K. Rowling, Jonathan Lethem, David Mitchell, José Saramago,
Jennifer Egan, Mo Yan, Margaret Atwood and David Foster
Wallace, among others practitioners of non-realism (or what I
'conceptual fiction')—not the least that even in our jaded
current day we still crave myth and fantasy. And our
receptivity to new perspectives might even be heightened
when 'serious' subjects are taken outside of the realm of
strict verisimilitude. A few critics have bemoaned this retreat
from pure Balzacian and Tolstoyan 'true-to-life' writing,
but increasingly they sound like the old Soviet commissars
who demanded socialist realism from the writers they
badgered into submission. If writers are truly free—and
shouldn't they be?—this freedom must also encompass the
right to envision new worlds outside the empirical structure of
the existing one. After all, storytelling began with just that
kind of imaginative leap.

If this is true—and I believe it is—we ought to celebrate the
pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s who blazed the trail. They
pulled conceptual fiction out of the ghetto of escapism and
genre formulas, and turned
it into something big and bold,
experimental and transgressive. We are still learning from
their experiences, and ought to give them a bit of thanks for
their troubles. Maybe even get their books back into print, read
and discussed, assigned and studied. Science fiction did grow
up and, face it, they were the ones who got us through the
growing pains.

Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and popular culture.  His
next book, a history of love songs, will be published by Oxford
University Press in February.

Publication Date:
September 29, 2014
1 A Case of Conscience (1958)
James Blish

One Catholic reader responded to Blish's theologically-
infused outer space story by sending him a copy of
Church doctrine relating to extraterrestrials.

To read more, click here

2 The Sirens of Titan (1959)
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's formative experiences were marked by
tragic death, rampant destruction and thwarted ambitions.
Later he decided to treat his characters as he was treated.

To read more, click here

3 A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
Walter M. Miller

Can epistemology serve as a unifying theme of a sci-fi
novel? Walter Miller thought so, and proved that genre
fiction can also delve into the deepest philosophical issues.

To read more, click here

4 Solaris (1961)
Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem claimed that science fiction is poorly written,
ill conceived and too focused on clichés. That didn't stop him
from writing one of the finest sci-fi books of the 20th century.

To read more, click here

5 Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Robert Heinlein

Two years after his Starship Troopers incurred charges that
he was a militarist, Heinlein served up
Stranger in a Strange
, with its paean to free love and 1960s-era self-actualization.

To read more click here

6 The Soft Machine (1961)
William Burroughs

Few sci-fi concepts are more used, and abused, than the time
travel meme. But William Burroughs delivered, without question,
the oddest time travel novel of them all in this 1961 work.

To read more, click here

7 A Clockwork Orange (1962)
Anthony Burgess

Long before the rise of the punk ethos, Burgess anticipated its
themes of violent disenchantment and transformed them into
a magnificent sci-fi-flavored literary symphony.

To read more, click here

8 The Drowned World (1962)
J.G. Ballard

This book is still the gold standard for global warming fiction.
But be forewarned: the really bizarre stuff in a J.G. Ballard
story always takes place inside the characters' heads.

To read more, click here

9 Hothouse (1962)
Brian Aldiss

Is Brian Aldiss's global warming novel really science fiction?
It unfolds more like a Homeric epic, or a cataclysmic Old
Testament story about the wandering exploits of a chosen people.

To read more, click here

10 The Man in the High Castle (1962)
Philip K. Dick

In this cryptic alternative history, Philip K. Dick explores the
unexpected ramifications of a world in which the United
States lost World War II.

To read more, click here

11 Cat's Cradle (1963)
Kurt Vonnegut

Over the course of 127 miniature chapters, Kurt Vonnegut
constructs a madcap adventure mixing New Age philosophy
and end-of-the-world hijinks.

To read more, click here

12 Cosmicomics (1965)
Italo Calvino

Cosmicomics is my favorite Italo Calvino work, a heady
mixture of postmodern posturing and science fiction concepts.  
Think of it as human interest stories, but without the humans.

To read more, click here

13 The Genocides (1965)
Thomas Disch

Mix together The Grapes of Wrath, The Book of Job and The
War of the Worlds
. Stir it up violently, and wait for it to explode.
Such is Disch's
The Genocides.

To read more, click here

14 Dune (1965)
Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert's Dune represents the purest example in science
fiction of what anthropologist Clifford Geertz described as
"thick description" ethnography.

To read more, click here

15 Mindswap (1965)
Robert Sheckley

Is Robert Sheckley's 1965 novel Mindswap a rambling and
disjointed disaster or a virtuosos postmodern pastiche?  Or
perhaps a bit of both?

To read more, click here

16 This Immortal (1965)
Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny found inexhaustible inspiration for science
fiction adventure stories in the oldest myths,  legends and
religious belief systems.

To read more, click here

17 Babel-17 (1966)
Samuel R. Delany

Rydra Wong, the protagonist of Samuel Delany's Babel-17
is a poet, skilled linguist and intergalactic literary celebrity
…and, yes, a starship captain in her spare time.

To read more, click here

18 Giles Goat-Boy (1966)
John Barth

Think of John Barth's oddball novel as a cross between
Tarzan of the Apes and the Holy Bible. It's almost as long
as the King James Version, and roughly follows the same plot.

To read more, click here

19 The Crystal World (1966)
J.G. Ballard

Few authors found more ways of destroying planet Earth
than J.G. Ballard. In
The Crystal World, he turned to the killing
properties of ice, and found that it, too, will suffice.

To read more, click here

20 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966)
Robert Heinlein

Heinlein never wrote with more panache or intensity than in this
1966 story of rebellious lunar settlers demanding their
independence from Mother Earth.

To read more, click here

21 Flowers for Algernon (1966)
Daniel Keyes

In a strange twist, Daniel Keyes' career followed the arc of his most
famous protagonist, marked by a rise to the heights that neither was
capable of sustaining.

To read more, click here

22 Report on Probability A (1967)
Brian Aldiss

Others write meta-narratives. But Brian Aldiss goes several steps
further with this story within a story within a story within a story
within a story.  

To read more click here

23 The Ticket That Exploded (1967)
William S. Burroughs

"Anyone with a tape recorder controlling the sound track,"  William
Burroughs insists in these pages, "can influence and create events
...This produces a strong erotic reaction."

To read more, click here

24 The Einstein Intersection (1967)
Samuel R. Delany

"If the Holy Bible were an Ace Double, it would be cut to two
20,000-word halves with the Old Testament retitled as 'Master of
Chaos' and the New Testament as 'The Thing With Three Souls'."

To read more, click here

25 Dangerous Visions (1967)
Harlan Ellison, editor

Harlan Ellison really wanted dangerous visions for his anthology,
stories that confronted taboos and themes too hot for the science
fiction magazines of the day.

To read more, click here

26 Lord of Light (1967)
Roger Zelazny

Others look to Eastern spirituality for transcendence and
enlightenment, but Zelazny sized up the ancient deities and
saw that they had potential as sci-fi superheroes.

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27 I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967)
Harlan Ellison

"A special word about the stories in this book," Ellison explains,  
"they come from someplace special in me.  Someplace I don't
care to visit too frequently."

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28 Stand on Zanzibar (1968)
John Brunner

John Brunner drew on the techniques of John Dos Passos's USA
in constructing in the prescient work. In fact, o sci-fi work of
its era predicted the future more accurately.

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29 Nova (1968)
Samuel R. Delany

Delany is up to his usual tricks. Sci-fi plot lines get turbocharged
with archetypes. Astronauts are fetishized beyond recognition.
They invariably ally announce they would rather be writers.

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30 Camp Concentration (1968)
Thomas M. Disch

"I have a class theory of literature," Disch explained. "I come from
the wrong neighborhood to sell to
The New Yorker. No matter how
good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from."

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31 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
Philip K. Dick

Dick asserted his squatter's rights at the intersection where the
unreal crosses the more unreal. He owned this type of story, and
for the worst possible reason: he had to live it.

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32 His Master's Voice (1968)
Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem once summed up the worldview underpinning
his science fiction in a few choice words: "People are terrible
and the future is bleak."

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33 The Final Programme (1968)
Michael Moorcock

If Nietzsche had collaborated with Eugène Ionesco and Ian Fleming,
he might have come up with a character as odd as Moorcock's
Jerry Corrnelius.

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34 Dimension of Miracles (1968)
Robert Sheckley

Dimension of Miracles has no structure, no narrative arc, but
Sheckley compensates with his deft prose, wild sense of humor,
and acute eye for the foibles of his fellow earthlings.  

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35 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Arthur C. Clarke

“If you understand 2001 on the first viewing, we will have failed,”
Arthur C. Clarke said in regard to the famous Kubrick film. By all
means, see it again; even better, read the book.

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36 The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin set the standard for the sociological sci-fi of the 1960s,
in which gender roles, economics and political institutions
outrank spaceships and warp drives.

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37 Slaughterhouse Five (1969)
Kurt Vonnegut

What could be a more fitting symbol of the plight of a prisoner-
of-war than a person who no longer has control over his time
or space? Thus was born Vonnegut's sci-fi World War II novel.

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38 Ada or Ardor (1969)
Vladimir Nabokov

"I loathe science fiction," Vladimir Nabokov declared to a
BBC interviewer in 1968. A few months later Nabokov
published an elaborate sci-fi novel.

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39 Ubik (1969)
Philip K. Dick

"Pop tasty Ubik into your toaster, made only from fresh fruit and
healthful all-vegetable shortening.  Ubik makes breakfast a feast,
puts zing into your thing."

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40 Barefoot in the Head (1969)
Brian Aldiss

Aldiss convinces us, in these pages, that if you give people a
sufficient amount of mind-altering narcotics, they might start
talking like characters in
Finnegans Wake.

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41 Behold the Man (1969)
Michael Moorcock

Members of a gentle religious community flock around our visitor
from the future, excited by this mysterious man who has appeared in
their midst.  Let’s even call them apostles…..

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42 Emphyrio (1969)
Jack Vance

Jack Vance may have been too much of a perfectionist for genre
fiction, yet limited by the divided literary culture of his day that
scorned writers who set stories in outer space.

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43 The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)
J.G. Ballard

When Ballard's lawyer asked the author how he would explain to
the court that his book was not obscene, he responded: "of
course it was obscene, and intended to be so."

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44 The World Inside (1971)
Robert Silverberg

In this dark comic novel about claustrophobia, Robert Silverberg
serves up a variant of Winesburg, Ohio set in a 1,000 story
skyscraper with one million residents.

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45 The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
Ursula K. Le Guin

In this Hugo-winning novel, the "effective dreams" of Le Guin's
hero George Orr not only change the future . . . they also
alter the past.

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46 Bug Jack Barron (1969)
Norman Spinrad

Norman Spinrad managed to bug just about everybody with Bug
Jack Barron
(1969). The book got attacked in Parliament. The
Daily Express
branded it as filth. The printers refused to print it.

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47 Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970)
R.A. Lafferty

In Nine Hundred Grandmothers, R.A. Lafferty violates the most
basic rule of science fiction. Instead of leaping into the future,
he descends into the past.

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48 Ringworld (1970)
Larry Niven

Imagine a very, very large hula hoop in the cosmos.  Add floating
buildings, hostile sunflowers and various fascinating gadgets. Such
is Larry Niven's Ringworld.

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49 Moderan (1971)
David R. Bunch

David R. Bunch, who passed away in 2000 at age 74, may be the
best kept secret in New Wave sci-fi. Sad to say, almost everything
he wrote is now out of print.

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50 To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
Philip José Farmer

You may be surprised when the hero of this novel dies in the opening
paragraph. But you better get used to it, because he will die hundreds
of times before you get to the final page.

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51 Love in the Ruins (1971)
Walker Percy

And why shouldn't Walker Percy, winner of the National Book
Award, write a Roman Catholic science-fiction comic existential
romance novel?

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52 Dying Inside (1972)
Robert Silverberg

In his early career, Silverberg wrote a million words per year. But at
the very moment he found he could no longer maintain this pace, he
wrote a sci-fi novel about a man whose talents were eroding.

To read more, click here

53 Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
Thomas Pynchon

Is Gravity’s Rainbow a work of science fiction? For my part, I have
no problem acknowledging Pynchon's sci-fi credentials. Then again,
almost every other kind of ingredient shows up eventually in this book.

To read more, click here

54 Herovit's World (1973)
Barry N. Malzberg

Malzberg bites the hand that feeds him, delivering a caustic
science fiction novel that savagely critique of sci-fi, heaping
scorn on editors, writers, agents and fans.

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55 Crash (1973)
J.G. Ballard

No author has ever lavished more sensually-charged adjectives on
the various parts that make up a typical car. Even better if they are
smashed to smithereens.

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56 The Dispossessed (1974)
Ursula K. Le Guin

While others turn to sci-fi to present dystopian nightmares, Le Guin
prefers to explore what might happen if a utopian political structure
were realized in an isolated lunar environment.

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57 Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)
Philip K. Dick

Here are all the classic Dicksian ingredients: sudden alterations in  
reality, a harassed protagonist, an authoritarian society, high tech
gadgets and, of course, mind-altering substances.  

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58 The Forever War (1974)
Joe Haldeman

This novel is often viewed as a considered response to Robert
Starship Troopers. But The Forever War is more than
a polemic; Haldeman is also an impressive storyteller.

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59 Dhalgren (1975)
Samuel R. Delany

Delany's 800-page novel aimed to do for science fiction what
Joyce had done for literary fiction. A million copies were sold,
but how many actually were read to the end?

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60 Norstrilia (1975)
Cordwainer Smith

Did author Cordwainer Smith really believe he was "Lord of a
planet in an interplanetary empire in a distant universe"?  Was
Norstrilia a work of fiction, or just an extended hallucination?

To read more, click here

61 The Illuminatus Trilogy (1975)
Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea

"It is not the intent of this book to confuse fact with fancy," the
authors proclaim on page 760 of this 800-page work. But it's
already too late. They should have put that on page one.

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62 The Female Man (1975)
Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ's The Female Man, from 1975, stands out as a
defining work of feminist science fiction, and a milestone in
mixing polemic and genre literature.

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63 The Centauri Device (1975)
M. John Harrison  

"I once made the mistake of telling Mr. Harrison how much
I was inspired by The Centauri Device. 'Well you shouldn't be,'
he said truculently. 'It's a very bad book

To read more, click here

64 Warm Worlds and Otherwise (1975)
James Tiptree, Jr.  

"It has been suggested that Tiptree is female," Robert
Silverberg wrote, "a theory that I find absurd." Nice try! Tiptree
turned out be one of the leading female sci-fi writers of her era.

To read more, click here
Science Fiction in Transition (1958-1975):
New Wave & New Directions

A Reading List of 64 Works
(with links to individual essays by Ted Gioia)

To purchase, click on image
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up

How renegade sci-fi writers of the 1960s paved the
way for today's blending of literary and genre fiction

by Ted Gioia
"I'm going to prove that
Finnegans Wake is an
information pool based
on computer memory
systems that didn't exist
until centuries after
James Joyce's era,"
Philip K. Dick declared.
Then he added: "I'll be
famous forever
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Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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