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No writer better exemplifies the character of the British New Wave than J.G. Ballard, and no work better represents his extraordinary talent than The Atrocity Exhibition.
The Atrocity Exhibition consists of what Ballard called "condensed novels", spare, fragmentary pieces that were reduced to often surreal passages. These carried titles like "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race", "Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy" and "You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe", obsessing on the new cult of celebrity which became tangled with the violence Ballard saw in the world all around him. The fragmentation of the narrative reflected the fragmentation of his central character, a doctor in a mental hospital who is himself suffering a mental breakdown. Even his name is not stable, he is variously called Traven, Talbot or Travis.
It is never clear how much of what is described actually takes place; several characters, for instance, seem to die and come back to life. In the end, we are simply exploring the mind of a character who cannot keep pace with the increasing speed of a mass media society. In which case, fragmentation becomes the only logical mental response.
Why this tops the list: You could fill the list with novels and stories by J.G. Ballard, from Vermilion Sands to Crash, from The Crystal World to Concrete Island, and you would still have a perfect encapsulation of everything that the British New Wave was trying to do. But if you have to choose just one, you cannot do better than The Atrocity Exhibition. From the literary experimentation to the exploration of the inner space of a damaged character as a way of examining the ways we are shaped by the world around us, it is the perfect example of the British New Wave.
If The Atrocity Exhibition is the archetypal work of the British New Wave, then Dangerous Visions is the archetype for the American New Wave.
It contained 33 stories by 32 writers (David R. Bunch had two pieces in the collection), of which "Gonna Roll the Bones" by Fritz Leiber won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novelette, "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip Jos Farmer won the Hugo Award for Best Novella, and "Aye, And Gomorrah" by Samuel R. Delany won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story. In addition, Ellison himself received a special citation at the Hugo ceremony for the most controversial book of the year.
The sexual freedoms encountered in "Riders of the Purple Wage", "Sex and/or Mr Morrison" by Carol Emshwiller, and "If All Men were Brothers, Would you let One Marry your Sister?" by Theodore Sturgeon; the questioning of religious orthodoxy in "Faith of our Fathers" by Philip K. Dick and "Evensong" by Lester Del Rey; the reversal of social norms in "Auto-da-F" by Roger Zelazny and "Go, Go, Go Said the Bird" by Sonya Dorman, all broached areas that American science fiction had not dared to touch before. By breaking these taboos, this anthology ensured that science fiction would never be quite so conformist again.
Why it's on the list: Read Dangerous Visions today and it's hard to understand what made it so dangerous. But that is a measure of the book's success. It fundamentally changed the way that American science fiction would be written, introducing to the genre subjects, attitudes and approaches that no-one before then had dared to use.
The first novel by a British writer to win the Hugo Award, along with a BSFA Award and the French Prix Apollo, Stand on Zanzibar is one of the richest and most complex novels of the 1960s. It picks up on the fear of over-population that was becoming common at the time, and imagines a near future (it is set in 2010) of social stresses and the breakdown of order that result from an overcrowded world.
As in Ballard's work, Brunner's view of the world is fragmented, an effect he achieves by borrowing a device from John Dos Passos in which the main narrative is interspersed with newspaper headlines, classified ads, extracts from sociology books, montages of events featuring minor characters, collage-like sections that capture the noisy, vibrant and almost incomprehensible busy-ness of the world. While the fragile social order is threatened by advances in technology and bio-engineering, we are given a vivid, impressionistic tour of this startling and disturbing future.
Why it's on the list: Stand on Zanzibar was probably the most ambitious work of science fiction to appear during the 1960s. Brunner's assured use of high modernist techniques makes it both very readable and constantly surprising. Nearly 50 years later it still stands up, which can't always be said for its contemporaries.
Inner space, that touchstone idea of the British New Wave, was not about the psychology of the characters so much as it was contrasting the vastness of the human imagination with the narrowness of the world that imagination must engage with. As a consequence, a favourite metaphor of new wave writers was entropy, the running down of everything within a closed system, the heat-death of the universe.
Pamela Zoline's first published story virtually defines the new wave. In 54 numbered paragraphs that recall the chill intellectualism of Ludwig Wittgenstein, she recounts one typical day in the life of a suburban housewife. But as the day's events are dotted with references to Dadaism and entropy, we begin to see her life as a closed system, a system that is itself doomed to run down into the heat-death of the universe.
Why it's on the list: It's hard to know what to make of this story. Is it actually science fiction? Could it be anything but science fiction? The one thing that is certain is that, ever since its first appearance in New Worlds in 1967, it has been the story most closely identified with the entire enterprise of the British New Wave.
Was Philip K. Dick a new wave writer? Most of his best science fiction appeared during the decade that the new wave reigned supreme, but apart from his appearance in Dangerous Visions he never really identified himself with the movement. Nevertheless, his fictions with their drug-induced alterations of reality, the undermining of every certainty, the sense that what is going on inside the minds of his characters has a greater effect upon the nature of the world than anything outside them, indubitably align with the themes and interests of the new wave.
Ubik, one of the four or five novels that would contend for the title of the best of his work, is a case in point. It's a world where the dead are preserved in a cryogenic half-life, but when Glen Runciter's team of telepaths are blown up during an assignment on the Moon we can never be entirely clear which are alive and which are in half-life. Meanwhile, Joe Chip, one of the telepaths, finds that his world is regressing to somewhere around 1939. As in all of Dick's science fiction, reality is unreliable, and the characters are constantly remaking their reality.
Why it's on the list: If you are ever tempted to think that the new wave is just a narrow and sterile set of tropes, look again at the novels of Philip K. Dick. He revisits ideas time and time again, but always makes them fresh, funny and readable.
There were times when new wave fiction could be pure intellectual experimentation, but Vonnegut's amazing novel (both Modern Library and Time have ranked it high in their list of the 100 best English Language novels) shows how new wave concerns could be used in a work that is largely autobiographical.
Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and as a prisoner of war was present during the fire-bombing of Dresden. That experience is given to the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, and the way that the wartime horror cannot be forgotten, keeps interfering with life after the war, is illustrated by having Pilgrim come unstuck in time. That is, his identity is fragmented as he constantly experiences events from past, present and future, so jumbled together that it is sometimes impossible to tell which is which. So although we keep returning to events in Dresden, we also see Billy as a postwar optometrist, marrying and raising a family, then being kidnapped by aliens from Tralfamadore where he is exhibited in a zoo.
Why it's on the list: Slaughterhouse Five is generally considered a classic of postmodern science fiction, though it is worth noting that the aspects of the book that make it postmodern also make it new wave: the unreliable reality, the slipping back and forth through time, the sometimes fractured prose. This, in other words, is how the new wave paved the way for postmodern science fiction.
One of the great taboos that the new wave broke was political engagement. This was an era when everyone engaged in politics, from Vietnam protests to feminist campaigns to Stonewall, and the fiction should be equally engaged. With Bug Jack Barron, we got a story so cynical about politics, and about human relationships in general, that when it was serialised in New Worlds a Tory politician asked in Parliament whether the Arts Council should be funding such a magazine, while feminist typesetters refused to set one issue of the magazine because the story was too sexist. To say that Norman Spinrad was the most controversial new wave writer of the 1960s is almost an understatement.
Jack Barron is a talk show host who uncovers a perverse plot behind a new immortality treatment. The more he investigates, the more he is drawn into a cynical, exploitative, political world, until the only way to get to the truth is to become just as cynical and political as his opponents.
Why it's on the list: New wave stories were all about engaging with the world, though they might query what the world might be and what engagement might entail. Bug Jack Barron is the epitome of the politically alert new wave novel, challenging us to engage with the sort of world we want to see.
It's hard to know which Brian Aldiss novel to pick out for a list like this. Should it be Greybeard with its aging population living on a sterilised Earth? Or the Nebula Award winning novella, The Saliva Tree, which turns an idea by H.G. Wells into something weird and unsettling? Or the austere, experimental Report on Probability A which brings the French nouveau roman to an infinite regress of voyeurs? We settled on Barefoot in the Head, not one of his most popular works but a novel that fully reveals his engagement with the new wave and the zeitgeist of the 1960s.
The novel is a fix-up of his Acid Head War stories, in which Europe has been bombed with long-lasting hallucinogenics and the survivors can barely maintain their grip on reality. The whole story is told in a fragmented prose that consists of broken sentences, oblique allusions, puns and wordplay in the manner of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. The messiah figure who becomes central to the story reflects the underlying new wave idea that religion stems from illusion.
Why it's on the list: Every considered trope of the British New Wave is here: the unreliable reality, the fragmented consciousness, the literary experimentation, the incorporation of modernist techniques, the anti-religious bias, the engagement with contemporary culture. In many ways, this is an object lesson in how to write a new wave novel.
Inner space is about the ways that the mind encompasses the world, shapes the world and is shaped by it. The protagonist of Joanna Russ's second novel, And Chaos Died, feels a vacancy inside himself because he feels a vacancy in the social organisation of the overcrowded Earth where he lives. He is transported to a utopian planet where life is in balance with nature and where he learns a sort of telepathy. Then he returns to Earth and, newly cured, sees its oppression, its violence, its cruelty.
It's not an easy book to read, there's an almost psychedelic quality to it as we are overwhelmed with sensory impressions whose meanings we are left to sort out ourselves. The whole novel is an intentional challenge to the reader, forcing us to see anew. But that is exactly what the best science fiction is supposed to do.
Why it's on the list: There are modern critics who argue that the book has not aged well, and certainly it is very much of its time. Yet it is a vitally important work, not least because it is one of the springboards by which feminist science fiction took off from the new wave.
The new wave can, all too easily, be presented as humourless, worthy stuff, but it was often exuberant, funny and full of vivid ideas. The best exemplars of this are the four loosely connected novels that introduced Michael Moorcock's recurring character of Jerry Cornelius, along with the circus of extravagant creations who spun off from these books into a variety of later novels.
Jerry Cornelius (the J.C. initials appear constantly in Moorcock's work) was a polymorphous, ambisexual, secret agent who reflected all the wildest excesses of Swinging London in the first of the novels, The Final Programme. He fights his brother, his sister is kidnapped and killed, and he battles a supervillain, Miss Brunner, before emerging as a hybrid monster. In the second book, A Cure for Cancer, he is reborn with black skin and white hair and moves across a landscape that has been devastated by an occupying American army. The third novel, The English Assassin, hardly features Cornelius, a shivering wreck for most of the book, while a host of colourful subsidiary characters take part in wild adventures that spread across time. Finally The Condition of Muzak, which won the Guardian Fiction Prize, suggests that all the other stories may be fantasies in the mind of an adolescent Jerry growing up in Notting Hill. That wasn't the end of the story, of course, the characters from this quartet spread out into a host of other novels and stories, some by other writers, including a Doctor Who novel.
Why it's on the list: Moorcock was already exploring the idea of the multiverse when he started writing these books, and they somehow manage to encompass the louche atmosphere of London in the Swinging Sixties, the fragmentary realities and fractured sense of identity characteristic of the new wave, and the colourful extravagance of the science fiction and fantasy he would go on to write. So this is where the new wave inserts itself into a wider range of sf and fantasy.
One of the developments in scientific thinking during the 1960s that new wave writers caught on to was changing ideas about the power of the mind. Much new wave fiction came down to questions of what the mind was capable of achieving. Arthur Koestler, for example, argued that genius was the result of breaking down preconceived categories in the mind, and that notion was the basis for Thomas M. Disch's Camp Concentration. In a near-future war, America imprisons its conscientious objectors and injects them with a mutated form of syphilis that is designed to open up the mind, the result is that they think more quickly and more flexibly. Unfortunately, a side effect means that they will die in about nine months.
The book consists of the diary on one such inmate, which charts a rise to genius and a decline into madness. The similarity to Flowers for Algernon, is obvious, though the influence of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is more telling and more significant.
Why it's on the list: The idea of drugs as both threat and promise, the opening up of the mind and the increasing fracturing of the narrative: there are many familiar aspects of new wave fiction in this novel, yet it is also a powerfully affecting and humane story.
Eventually, as the new wave matured, writers began to bring their new wave sensibilities to older forms of science fiction. A prime example of this is the new wave space opera that is M. John Harrison's The Centauri Device.
In the novel Harrison set out to deliberately overturn the conventions of the space opera. The hero is passive, a space captain smuggling drugs in a universe marked by corrupt and oppressive politics and by industrial decay. Space battles are over in seconds, with Truck usually being on the losing side. And when he turns out to be the only person left whose ancestry allows him to operate the newly rediscovered Centauri Device, he is so beset by forces too powerful for him that all he can do is activate the device and destroy the universe. Though it turns out that even this is not the end.
Why it's on the list: Harrison himself considers this his weakest novel, and he did not return to overt science fiction for some 30 years, yet it is perhaps the most influential of all new wave novels. Authors as diverse as Iain M. Banks, Alistair Reynolds and China Miville have cited it as a direct influence, and it was a major formative influence on the development of the New Space Opera.
This was the anthology that effectively introduced America to the British New Wave. Merril had been living in Britain for a year, and was struck by the energy and enthusiasm generated by the circle of writers that had now formed around Michael Moorcock's New Worlds. She brought many of those stories together (mostly from New Worlds though some from New Writings in SF) under a title that deliberately linked the science fiction with the "happening scene" in contemporary London (though the book was later republished under the far less culturally specific title of The Space-Time Journal).
Few of the stories here were major works in their own right, but collectively it presents a superb cross-section of what was happening in British science fiction at the time. And t was the first chance many American readers had to encounter the work of new writers who would go on to be major figures in science fiction, including Christopher Priest ("The Run"), Josephine Saxton ("Ne De ja Vu Pas"), Keith Roberts ("Manscarer"), Langdon Jones ("The Hall of Machines"), David I. Masson ("Psychosmosis") and Hilary Bailey ("Dr Gelabius"), not to mention Brian Aldiss ("Still Trajectories") and J.G. Ballard ("You and Me and the Continuum").
Why it's on the list: Much of the most innovative work during the new wave was being done in short stories. Other than working your way through all of the editions of New Worlds between 1964 and 1971, the best way to encounter those stories, and the spirit of experiment and adventure that went with them, is in the pages of this collection.
Of the new American writers to emerge during this period, one of the most important was Samuel R. Delany, and the novel that most fully reflects the influence of the new wave is undoubtedly Dhalgren.
The city of Bellona isn't cut off from the rest of America, people come and go all the time, but it is cut off from reality. The geography keeps changing, two moons or a giant sun appear in the sky, gangs patrol the streets wearing light suits that make them appear as giant creatures, our protagonist has forgotten his name and is known as the Kid, though even this changes (Kidd, the kid). In the final section of the novel, even the prose becomes fractured. The text is circular, it is theoretically possible to begin at any point, the story is episodic, filled with oblique references to Greek myth, yet it holds the attention with extraordinary power.
Why it's on the list: Like many books on this list, Dhalgren was controversial when it came out, but many critics consider it one of the finest science fiction novels ever written. Filled with ritualistic elements common to many of Delany's works (the chains, the hero with one bare foot), it places the new wave squarely in a much broader literary context than is often the case. It demands careful attention from the reader, and it is going to be frustrating, but it is nevertheless a book that richly rewards the reader.
"Hieros gamos" means holy marriage, and this is the story of an intense emotional bond that develops between the two characters at the heart of this extraordinary fable. The story starts with a nameless boy wandering through a city curiously devoid of life, the shops are intact, food is available, but people and animals are so scarce that the sound of a bird can reduce him to tears. Then he finds the body of a woman who has just given birth and realises that he must look after the baby. The two make their home in a department story, and at some point the boy is given a pile of books.
What follows is a tale of slow intellectual growth and exploration as the relationship between the pair develops. Events keep circling around themselves, and much of the story is told through metaphor and allusion, so that we can never be quite sure if things are actually happening or if this is just the way that the boy sees them.
Why it's on the list: Sly, oblique, poetic, filled with references to the works of Jung and Ouspensky, the work of Josephine Saxton occupies a very different place on the sf spectrum than most writers, which may perhaps be why she has not written as much as she should or received the acclaim she deserves. Nevertheless, anyone prepared to venture into the heady waters of her work is in for real delight. And this subtle fable indicates that new wave science fiction could take its intellectual inspiration from a much wider range of sources than the sf that went before.
In a world ruled by the Covenant, the denial of self is the absolute law. Which means that it is forbidden to use the word "I".
Following the accession of his brother to the throne, Prince Kinnall becomes a penniless exile, tormented by increasing alienation from his culture and society. When he meets an earthman, he is introduced to a powerful new drug which opens their minds to each other. This direct engagement with another makes it more necessary to recognise the self, and Kinnall begins a “selfbaring” cult that turns into a rebellion, until he is betrayed.
Alienation is one of the key words associated with new wave science fiction, and here Silverberg combines it with other new wave tropes such as the use of drugs, the uncertainty of self-identity, and even the ambiguity of the ending, to produce a story that in many ways does not feel at all new wave. But that just shows how flexible and how varied the form could be.
Why it's on the list:A Time of Changes won the Nebula Award, which isn't something that many overtly new wave novels achieved. But Silverberg shows how successfully the tropes and ideas of the new wave could be combined with more traditional forms of storytelling.
Priest has never written two novels alike, so it is hardly surprising that Inverted World, which won the BSFA Award for Best Novel, bears no relation to anything else he has written. What's more, it seems to be the most overtly science fictional of all his novels. Yet its themes and ideas emerge directly from the new wave.
Helward Mann lives on Earth, but Earth is not a planet, it is a city that moves across the surface of its world on rails. And the city must keep moving, because this is a hyperboloid world and the land flows from the infinitely high spike up ahead to the vast flatness that stretches out behind. If the people of Earth allow their city to slip away from optimum, then people and the terrain they occupy become squashed; while if they venture too far ahead of optimum, they become elongated. The novel follows Helward Mann as he slowly comes to understand the nature of his world. But there is a revelation that awaits us right at the end: for this is indeed on Earth, and an experiment in particle physics has changed the way the inhabitants of the city perceive the world. And now, directly ahead of them, is the Atlantic Ocean.
Why it's on the list:Inverted World is one of only a handful of science fiction novels with a truly original premise, creating one of the strangest worlds in the history of the genre. But, like a true child of the new wave, it all comes down to perception, what goes on in the mind affects the nature of the world out there.
For new wave writers the world is never a fixed, absolute, unchangeing place, but is, rather, ever changing and ever changeable depending upon how it is perceived, and those perceptions can be altered by changing circumstances or by drugs. One prime example of this attitude towards reality is Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.
In this story, George Orr's dreams change reality. He takes drugs to stop himself dreaming (one of the rare examples of drugs being used to stabilize rather than alter reality) until he is forced to undergo psychiatric care for his drug abuse. The psychologist, Haber, attempts to manipulate the dreams to improve the world, but in a classic case of “be careful what you wish for”, the alterations never quite work out the way they were intended. When Orr tries to abolish racism, he turns everyone grey; when he tries for peace, he unites the world against an alien invader; when he wants to end overpopulation, he unleashes a terrible plague. The novel ends ambiguously, as a new wave novel must, with shattered minds and fragmented realities.
Why it's on the list:The Lathe of Heaven won the Locus Best Novel award, and demonstrates how skilled Le Guin is at blending new wave ideas with more traditional literary forms to create a story that is fresh, complex, engaging and mind-blowing.
Philip Jose Farmer's career was revitalised by his engagement with the new wave. The taboo-defying fiction that he had already written in works like The Lovers (1952) suddenly became relevant, opening up new possibilities. These he explored in a number of short stories which played inventively with archetypal new wave themes such as inner space, fragmentation and dismay at the current state of the world. One such story was "The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World" (1971) which imagined a world so overcrowded that people were allowed to live for only one day of the week.
In 1985, he used that story as the basis for his novel Dayworld, the first of a trilogy. Jeff Caird defies the government by living across every day of the week, but on each day, as a new population comes to life, he must take on a new personality, and adapt himself to new fashions, new trends, different world events.
Why it's on the list: It is sometimes thought that new wave is all ideas and no plot, but this is a textbook example of a typical new wave story of unreliable realities and fragmented personalities put at the service of a gripping action adventure.
Although there were distinct differences between the new wave in Britain and in America, there were American writers, like Thomas M. Disch and Pamela Zoline, who were far more closely associated with the British New Wave than the American. John Sladek was one of these, a satirist and parodist who saw the world as absurd rather than as a threat. He was merciless in making fun of pseudo-science, occult beliefs, politics, old-fashioned science fiction and the like. Much of this came together in his absurdist novel, The Muller-Focker Effect (it is telling that the title was meant to sound like "motherfucker").
Here disintegrating personality and dubious identity become a vehicle for a satirical attack on big business, evangelical religion, right-wing politics and even men's magazines. The Mller-Focker effect is the ability to store an entire human personality on four computer tapes. These can then be converted into a virus in order to upload that personality into a new body. When the person testing the equipment is caught in an explosion, it becomes the trigger for an escalating story of madness as different organisation battle to get control of the tapes.
Why it's on the list: Sladek was one of the key writers of the new wave, though he gave up science fiction for a while after this novel appeared and is under appreciated now as a result. But the freewheeling absurdist comedy of his work (one of his collections, for instance, was called Keep the Giraffe Burning) gave a distinct character to his fiction that few other contemporary writers could match.
Although he would enjoy something of a cult status among some British fans, Bayley is probably one of the forgotten figures of the British New Wave, largely because of his combination of extravagant old-fashioned sf devices with a distinctly British gloom, the fine analytical detail of his novels dressed up as what Aldiss called wide-screen baroque. Yet he was one of the key players in Moorcock's transformation of New Worlds, and at his best his novels have a glorious madness all their own.
Collision Course takes ideas about time from the work of 1930s theorist J.W. Dunne, then blows them up into a novel in which paradox piles upon paradox. Two different "presents" are moving towards each other across time, and the moment where they collide is when disaster is let loose.
Why it's on the list: Barrington Bayley was something of a devil-may-care writer who loved to upend genre conventions, and this wildly unlikely time paradox story is a fine example of why he still attracts devoted readers.
James Tiptree appeared as if from nowhere in the late 1960s with a series of beautifully realised stories that yet revealed a dark imagination, particularly when it comes to matters of sex and violence. In "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain", for instance, a concern for the well-being of the Earth leads Doctor Ain to destroy the human race. In "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death", which won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, an alien creature recounts resorting to cannibalism to survive winters that are becoming longer, only to reveal that the mate for whom he is storing the food is already slowly eating him.
In "The Girl Who Was Plugged In", a badly deformed girl becomes a media celebrity through controlling a beautiful female avatar. And in "The Women Men Don't See", survivors of an air crash in a South American jungle encounter aliens, and the women realise that they are better served by joining the aliens than by staying with the men. All of these stories and more were included in Tiptree's second collection, Warm Worlds and Otherwise.
Why it's on the list: Although not normally counted as a new wave writer, Tiptree certainly benefitted from the new wave. Her stories are suffused with images of sex and violence that had become possible through the new wave; there was a detached almost clinical examination of the foibles of human personality that was again an offshoot of the new wave; and it was familiarity with the work of contemporary new wave writers that led her earliest readers to appreciate what she was doing with her fiction.
Expanded from the Nebula Award winning novella, "He Who Shapes", this is a story about using dreams to both escape and change the world.
Charles Render is the inventor of a new psychological technique: he hooks his patients into a giant simulation within which he controls their dreams. In an overpopulated world in which people are increasingly finding themselves unable to cope psychologically with reality, Render's ability to destroy their nightmares proves to be tremendously popular and successful. But then a new blind patient wants to use the simulation in order to see through other people's eyes, and Render finds her slowly starting to control his own dreams.
Why it's on the list: Sigmund Freud could be the patron saint of the new wave, throughout the literature dreams are where inner space and outer reality interact. The idea of controlling dreams that Zelazny explores here, is therefore the archetypal new wave project of changing reality.
Queen Elizabeth I is assassinated, the Spanish Armada is successful, and Britain returns to the Catholic fold. Except that this is not alternate history, but cyclic history. For Roberts, events repeat over and over again, always with slight variations. And the world of the 1960s, in this particular cycle, is one in which Britain is stifled by church rule, technology is limited, and a continuing feudal system means that individual freedoms are severely restricted.
More than that, it is a world in which the old ways and old beliefs still have substance: in "The Signaller", a dying and hallucinating young man in one of the semaphore signal stations that dot the landscape is visited by one of the fairy folk. In "The White Boat" a young girl crushed by the blackness of her coal-mining village is captivated by the romance of a white boat she sees offshore, but when she swims out to the boat she finds it is smuggling technology. In "Brother John" a monk who witnesses the tortures of the Inquisition becomes a wandering preacher who has ecstatic visions of a world that might be our own.
The linked stories that make up Pavane all concern ways of seeing the world, ways in which how we see shapes our world. Roberts's psychological acuity is at the heart of the stories: Brother John is driven to his actions not by horror of the torture but because he enjoyed it. The girl's discovery of the true nature of the White Boat is linked to her first period, and when she betrays the boat she realises that she has also destroyed something in her own life.
Why it's on the list: Keith Roberts was always on the edge of the British New Wave. He rarely wrote for New Worlds, although "The White Boat" first appeared there, and he rarely used overt new wave tropes or techniques. But his exquisitely crafted fictions (he was one of the finest craftsmen in British science fiction) were always informed by a new wave sensibility, an idea that the mind is the key to everything.
How do you turn a technology-heavy subject like the expansion of the manned space programme beyond Apollo, into an unreliable new wave text? By turning it into a novel within the novel.
Harry Evans, the only survivor of the first manned expedition to Venus, is writing his memoir as if it were a novel. But it soon becomes clear that he isn't exactly a reliable narrator. Details keep changing, his account of conversations with the Venusians is coloured by a deep paranoia, and before too long we are starting to suspect that Harry actually murdered his fellow astronauts.
Beyond Apollo won the very first John W. Campbell Memorial Award, though it is hard to imagine any novel more antagonistic to the ideals of John Campbell. It is a deeply cynical and pessimistic novel in which technology is seen not as extending human capability but as inimical to humanity.
Why it's on the list: The new wave was practically over by the time this novel appeared, indeed we could see it as one of the first post-new wave works. It has imbibed the lessons of the new wave and taken them forward into a new form. Malzberg's long, elaborate sentences certainly run counter to the more fragmented prose that is often typical of the new wave, but his ideas about the unreliability of reality and how we constantly remake our own world are clearly derived from the best of the new wave.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 The Atrocity Exhibition (J. G. Ballard)
- 2 Dangerous Visions (Harlan Ellison)
- 3 Stand On Zanzibar (John Brunner)
- 4 The Heat-death Of The Universe (Pamela Zoline...
- 5 Ubik (Philip K. Dick)
- 6 Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
- 7 Bug Jack Barron (Norman Spinrad)
- 8 Barefoot In The Head (Brian Aldiss)
- 9 And Chaos Died (Joanna Russ)
- 10 The Cornelius Quartet (Michael Moorcock)
- 11 Camp Concentration (Thomas M. Disch)
- 12 The Centauri Device (M. John Harrison)
- 13 England Swings Sf (Judith Merril)
- 14 Dhalgren (Samuel R. Delany)
- 15 The Hieros Gamos Of Sam And An Smith (Josephi...
- 16 A Time Of Changes (Robert Silverberg)
- 17 Inverted World (Christopher Priest)
- 18 The Lathe of Heaven (Ursula K. Le Guin)
- 19 Dayworld (Philip Jose Farmer)
- 20 The MÃ¼ller-focker Effect (John Sladek)
- 21 Collision Course (Barrington J. Bayley)
- 22 Warm Worlds And Otherwise (James Tiptree)
- 23 The Dream Master (Roger Zelazny)
- 24 Pavane (Keith Roberts)
- 25 Beyond Apollo - (Barry N Malzberg)
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