New Wave science fiction

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The New Wave was a movement in science fiction produced in the 1960s and 1970s and characterized by a high degree of experimentation in both form and content, a "literary" or artistic sensibility, and a focus on "soft" as opposed to hard science. New Wave writers often saw themselves as part of the modernist tradition in fiction, and the New Wave was conceived as a deliberate break from the traditions of pulp science fiction (SF), which many of the New Wave writers involved considered irrelevant and unambitious. The New Wave science fiction writers of the 1960s thus emphasized stylistic experimentation and literary merit over the scientific accuracy or prediction of hard science fiction writers.

The most prominent source of New Wave science fiction was the magazine New Worlds under the editorship of Michael Moorcock, who assumed the position in 1964. In the United States, Harlan Ellison's 1967 anthology Dangerous Visions is viewed as the best representation of the genre; J. G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss were also principal writers within the movement. The New Wave was a period marked by the emergence of a greater diversity of voices in science fiction, most notably the rise in the number of female writers, including Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin and Alice Bradley Sheldon (using the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.).

The New Wave engaged on complex levels with concepts such as entropy, postmodernism, surrealism, and utopia, and in this it was influenced by the political turmoil of the 1960s, such as the controversy over the Vietnam War, and by social trends such as the drug subculture, sexual liberation, and the environmental movement. The New Wave was critiqued for the self-absorption of some of its writers and was influential in shaping the development of subsequent genres, primarily cyberpunk and slipstream.

Origins and Use of the Term[edit]


The phrase "New Wave" was used generally for new artistic movements in the 1960s, following the nouvelle vague of French cinema.[1] The regular book reviewer of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, P. Schuyler Miller, first used it in the November 1961 issue to describe a new generation of British authors: "It's a moot question whether Carnell discovered the ‘big names’ of British science fiction—Wyndham, Clarke, Russell, Christopher—or whether they discovered him. Whatever the answer, there is no question at all about the ‘new wave’: Tubb, Aldiss, and to get to my point, Kenneth Bulmer and John Brunner".[2][1][3]

Differences between American and British New Waves[edit]

The British and American New Waves overlapped but were different. Judith Merril noted that New Wave SF was being called "the New Thing". In a 1967 article for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction she contrasted the SF New Wave of England and the United States, writing:

They call it the New Thing. The people who call it that mostly don't like it, and the only general agreements they seem to have are that Ballard is its Demon and I am its prophetess – and that it is what is wrong with Tom Disch, and with British s-f in general... The American counterpart is less cohesive as a "school" or "movement": it has had no single publication in which to concentrate its development, and was, in fact, till recently, all but excluded from the regular s-f magazines. But for the same reasons, it is more diffuse and perhaps more widespread.[4]:105

The science fiction academic Edward James pointed out differences between the British and American SF New Wave. He believed that the former was, through J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock, mainly associated with a specific magazine with a set programme that had little subsequent influence. James further noted that even the London-based American writers of the time, such as Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, and John Sladek, had their own agendas. James asserted the American New Wave did not reach the status of a movement but was rather a confluence of talent arising simultaneously that introduced new ideas and better standards to the authoring of science fiction, including through the first three seasons of Star Trek. In his opinion, "...the American New Wave ushered in a great expansion of the field and of its readership... it is clear that the rise in literary and imaginative standards associated with the late 1960s contributed a great deal to some of the most original writers of the 1970s, including John Crowley, Joe Haldeman, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, Jr., and John Varley."[5]:176

Subsequent usage[edit]

The term 'New Wave' has been incorporated into the concept of New Wave Fabulism, a form of magic realism "which often blend a realist or postmodern aesthetic with nonrealistic interruptions, in which alternative technologies, ontologies, social structures, or biological forms make their way in to otherwise realistic plots".[6]:76 New Wave Fabulism itself has been related to the slipstream literary genre, an interface between mainstream or postmodern fiction and science fiction.[7]

The concept of a 'new wave' has been applied to science fiction in other countries, including in Arabic science fiction, with Ahmed Khaled Tawfik's best-selling novel Utopia being seen as a prominent example,[8] and Chinese science fiction, where it has been applied to some of the work of Wang Jinkang and Liu Cixin, including the Three-Body Trilogy (2006-2010),[9] works that focus on China's rise, the development myth, and posthumanity.[10]


The early proponents of New Wave envisioned it as a pivotal rupture with the genre's past, and it was so experienced by many of science fiction's readers during the late 1960s and early 1970s.[11] New Wave writers often saw themselves as part of the modernist and then postmodernist traditions and sometimes mocked the traditions of pulp science fiction, which many of them regarded as stodgy, adolescent and poorly written.[12][13] Many also rejected the content of the Golden Age of science fiction, focusing not on 'outer space' but on 'inner space', that is, the realm of subjectivity, as in minds, dreams, and the unconscious.[13] Nonetheless, during the New Wave, traditional forms of science fiction continued, and in Rob Latham's opinion, the broader science fiction genre had absorbed the New Wave's agenda and mostly neutralized it by the conclusion of the 1970s.[11]


The New Wave coincided with a major change in the production and distribution of science fiction, as the pulp magazine era was replaced by the book market;[11] it was in a sense also a reaction against the pulp magazine science fiction idiom.[14]


The New Wave interacted with a number of themes in the 1960s and 1970s, including sexuality;[15] drug culture, especially the work of William S. Burroughs and the use of psychedelics;[13] and the rise of the environmental movement.[16] J. G. Ballard's themes included alienation, social isolation, class discrimination through social isolation, and the end of civilization, in settings ranging from a single apartment block (High Rise) to whole worlds.[17][18] Rob Latham noted that several of J. G. Ballard's works in the 1960 (e.g., the quartet begun by the 1960 novel The Wind from Nowhere), engaged with the concept of eco-catastrophe, as did Disch's The Genocides and Ursula K. Le Guin's short novel The Word for World is Forest. The latter, in its use of napalm on the indigenous people, was also influenced by Le Guin's perceptions of the Vietnam War, and both emphasized anti-technocratic fatalism instead of imperial hegemony via technology, with the New Wave going on to interact with feminism, ecological activism and postcolonial struggles.[16] A central concern of the New Wave was a fascination with entropy, i.e., that the world (and the universe) must tend to disorder, to eventually run down to 'heat death'.[13] The New Wave also engaged with utopia, a common theme in science fiction, offering much more nuanced interpretations, on a 'soft' rather than 'hard' science fiction basis.[13]:74-80


Transformation in style was at the heart of the New Wave movement.[19]:286 Combined with controversial topics, the New Wave introduced innovations in form, style, and aesthetics, involving literary highbrow ambitions and experimental use of language, with significantly less focus on hard-SF scientific accuracy or technology in its content.[20] For example, in Roger Zelazny's (1963) A Rose for Ecclesiastes, Zelazny introduces numerous literary allusions, complex onomastic patterns, layered meaning, and innovative themes, and his (1965) The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth involves literary self-reflexivity, playful collocations, and neologisms, as do other Zelazny works, such as He Who Shapes. In novels like "Repent Harlequin!" Said the TickTockman, Harlan Ellison is viewed as pushing such literary stylistics to their extremes via gonzo-style syntax. Many New Wave authors engaged in obscenity and vulgarity without resorting to profanity, with Ellison's A Boy Loves His Dog being an example.[21]

Concerning visual aspects, some scenes in J. G. Ballard's novels reference the surrealist paintings of Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.[13]


Influences and predecessors[edit]

Though the New Wave began in the 1960s, some of its tenets can be found in H. L. Gold's editorship of Galaxy, a science fiction magazine which began publication in 1950. James Gunn described Gold's focus as being "not on the adventurer, the inventor, the engineer, or the scientist, but on the average citizen,"[22] and according to SF historian David Kyle, Gold's work would lead to the New Wave.[23]:119-120

The New Wave was in part a rejection of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Algis Budrys in 1965 wrote of the "recurrent strain in 'Golden Age' science fiction of the 1940s—the implication that sheer technological accomplishment would solve all the problems, hooray, and that all the problems were what they seemed to be on the surface".[24] The New Wave did not define itself as a development from the science fiction which came before it, but initially reacted against it. New Wave writers did not operate as an organized group, but some of them felt the tropes of the pulp and Golden Age periods had become worn out, and should be abandoned: J. G. Ballard stated in 1962 that "science fiction should turn its back on space, on interstellar travel, extra-terrestrial life forms, (and) galactic wars",[25] and Brian Aldiss said in Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction that "the props of SF are few: rocket ships, telepathy, robots, time coins, they become debased by over-circulation."[26] Harry Harrison summarised the period by saying "old barriers were coming down, pulp taboos were being forgotten, new themes and new manners of writing were being explored".[27]

New Wave writers began to look outside the traditional scope of science fiction for influence; some looked to the example of beat writer William S. Burroughs – New Wave authors Philip José Farmer and Barrington J. Bayley wrote pastiches of his work (The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod and The Four Colour Problem, respectively), while J. G. Ballard published an admiring essay in an issue of New Worlds.[28] Burroughs' use of experimentation such as the cut-up technique and his appropriation of science fiction tropes in radical ways proved the extent to which prose fiction could prove revolutionary, and some New Wave writers sought to emulate this style.

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the writers to emerge in the 1960s, describes the transition to the New Wave era thus:

Without in the least dismissing or belittling earlier writers and work, I think it is fair to say that science fiction changed around 1960, and that the change tended toward an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistication of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing. The sixties in science fiction were an exciting period for both established and new writers and readers. All the doors seemed to be opening.[29]: 18 

Other writers and works seen as preluding or transitioning to the New Wave include Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Walter M. Miller's 1959 A Canticle for Leibowitz, Cyril M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl's anti-hyper-consumerist The Space Merchants (1952), Kurt Vonnegut's mocking Player Piano (1952) and The Sirens of Titan (1959), Theodore Sturgeon's humanist More Than Human (1953) and hermaphrodite society of Venus Plus X (1960), and Philip José Farmer's human-extraterrestrial sexual encounters in The Lovers (1952) and Strange Relations (1960).[13]


There is no consensus on a precise starting point of the New Wave – Adam Roberts refers to Alfred Bester as having single-handedly invented the genre,[18] and in the introduction to a collection of Leigh Brackett's short fiction, Michael Moorcock referred to her as one of the genre's "true godmothers".[30] Algis Budrys said that in New Wave writers "there are echoes... of Philip K. Dick, Walter Miller, Jr. and, by all odds, Fritz Leiber".[31] However, it is widely accepted among critics that the New Wave began in England with the magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock. who was appointed editor in 1964 (first issue number 142, May and June[14][32]: 251 );[note 1] Moorcock was editor until 1973.[13] While the American magazines Amazing Stories, with Cele Goldsmith as editor, and Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction had from the start printed unusually literary stories, Moorcock turned that into a concerted policy. Moorcock sought to use the magazine to "define a new avant-garde role" for science fiction[33] by the use of "new literary techniques and modes of expression."[34]:251-252 No other science fiction magazine sought as consistently to distance itself from traditional science fiction as much as New Worlds. By the time it ceased regular publication it had backed away from the science fiction genre itself, styling itself as an experimental literary journal. In the United States, the most concrete representation of the genre is probably the 1967 anthology Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison.[35][36][13]

Under Moorcock's editorship of New Worlds, "galactic wars went out; drugs came in; there were fewer encounters with aliens, more in the bedroom. Experimentation in prose styles became one of the orders of the day, and the baleful influence of William Burroughs often threatened to gain the upper hand."[37]: 27  Judith Merril observed, "...this magazine [''New Worlds''] was the publishing thermometer of the trend that was dubbed "the New Wave". In the United States the trend created an intense, incredible controversy. In Britain people either found it of interest or they didn't, but in the States it was heresy on the one hand and wonderful revolution on the other."[38]: 162–163 

Brooks Landon, professor of English at the University of Iowa, says of Dangerous Visions that it

was innovative and influential before it had any readers simply because it was the first big original anthology of SF, offering prices to its writers that were competitive with the magazines. The readers soon followed, however, attracted by 33 stories by SF writers both well-established and relatively unheard of. These writers responded to editor Harlan Ellison's call for stories that could not be published elsewhere or had never been written in the face of almost certain censorship by SF editors... [T]o SF readers, especially in the United States, Dangerous Visions certainly felt like a revolution... Dangerous Visions marks an emblematic turning point for American SF.[39]: 157 

As an anthologist and speaker Merril with other authors advocated a reestablishment of science fiction within the literary mainstream and higher literary standards. Her "incredible controversy" is characterized by David Hartwell in the opening sentence of a book chapter entitled "New Wave: The Great War of the 1960s": "Conflict and argument are an enduring presence in the SF world, but literary politics has yielded to open warfare on the largest scale only once."[40]: 141  The heresy was beyond the experimental and explicitly provocative as inspired by Burroughs. In all coherence with the literary nouvelle vague although not in close association to it, and addressing a much less restricted pool of readers, the New Wave was reversing the standard hero's attitude toward action and science. It illustrated egotism - by depriving the plot of all motivation toward a rational explanation.[41]:87

In 1962 Ballard wrote:

I've often wondered why s-f shows so little of the experimental enthusiasm which has characterized painting, music and the cinema during the last four or five decades, particularly as these have become wholeheartedly speculative, more and more concerned with the creation of new states of mind, constructing fresh symbols and languages where the old cease to be valid... The biggest developments of the immediate future will take place, not on the Moon or Mars, but on Earth, and it is inner space, not outer, that need to be explored. The only truly alien planet is Earth. In the past the scientific bias of s-f has been towards the physical sciences – rocketry, electronics, cybernetics – and the emphasis should switch to the biological sciences. Accuracy, that last refuge of the unimaginative, doesn't matter a hoot... It is that inner space-suit which is still needed, and it is up to science fiction to build it![42]: 197 

In 1963 Moorcock wrote, "Let's have a quick look at what a lot of science fiction lacks. Briefly, these are some of the qualities I miss on the whole – passion, subtlety, irony, original characterization, original and good style, a sense of involvement in human affairs, colour, density, depth, and, on the whole, real feeling from the writer..."[12] Roger Luckhurst pointed out that J. G. Ballard's essay of the same year, Which Way to Inner Space?[42] "showed the influence of media theorist Marshall McLuhan and the 'anti-psychiatry' of R. D. Laing."[43]: 148  Luckhurst traces the influence of both these thinkers in Ballard's fiction, in particular The Atrocity Exhibition (1970).[43]: 152 

Building on Ellison's Dangerous Visions, Judith Merril popularized this fiction in the United States through her edited anthology England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (Doubleday 1968).

The New Wave also had a political subtext:

Most of the 'classic' writers had begun writing before the Second World War, and were reaching middle age by the early 1960s; the writers of the so-called New Wave were mostly born during or after the war, and were not only reacting against the sf writers of the past, but playing their part in the general youth revolution of the 1960s which had such profound effects upon Western culture. It is no accident that the New Wave began in Britain at the time of the Beatles, and took off in the United States at the time of the hippies – both, therefore at a time of cultural innovation and generational shake-up...[44]: 167 

Eric S. Raymond, looking at the New Wave with an even narrower political focus, observed:

The New Wave's inventors (notably Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss) were British socialists and Marxists who rejected individualism, linear exposition, happy endings, scientific rigor and the U.S.'s cultural hegemony over the SF field in one fell swoop. The New Wave's later American exponents were strongly associated with the New Left and opposition to the Vietnam War, leading to some rancorous public disputes in which politics was tangled together with definitional questions about the nature of SF and the direction of the field.[45]

For example, Judith Merril, "one of the most visible -- and voluble -- apostles of the New Wave in 1960s sf"[46]:251 remembers her return from England to the United States: "So I went home ardently looking for a revolution. I kept searching until the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. I went to Chicago partly to seek out a revolution, if there was one happening, and partly because my seventeen-year-old daughter... wanted to go."[38]: 167  Merril said later, "At the end of the Convention week, the taste of America was sour in all our mouths";[38]: 169  she soon became a political refugee living in Canada.[40]: 142 

Roger Luckhurst disagreed with critics who perceived the New Wave in terms of rupture (he gives the example of Thomas Clareson), suggesting that such a model "doesn't quite seem to map onto the American scene, even though the wider conflicts of the 1960s liberalization in universities, the civil rights movement and the cultural contradictions inherent in consumer society were starker and certainly more violent than in Britain."[43]: 160 [47] In particular, he noted:

The young turks within SF also had an ossified 'ancient regime' to topple: John Campbell's intolerant right-wing editorials for 'Astounding Science Fiction' (which he renamed 'Analog' in 1960) teetered on the self parody. In 1970, when the campus revolt against American involvement in Vietnam reached its height and resulted in the National Guard shooting four students dead in Kent State University, Campbell editorialized that the 'punishment was due', and rioters should expect to be met with lethal force. Vietnam famously divided the SF community to the extent that, in 1968, 'Galaxy' magazine carried two adverts, one signed by writers in favour and one by those against the war.[43]: 160 [47] Caution is needed when assessing any literary movement, particularly regarding transitions. Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, reacting to his association with another SF movement in the 1980s, remarked, "When did the New Wave SF end? Who was the last New Wave SF writer? You can't be a New Wave SF writer today. You can recite the numbers of them: Ballard, Ellison, Spinrad, Delaney, blah, blah, blah. What about a transitional figure like Zelazny? A literary movement isn't an army. You don't wear a uniform and swear allegiance. It's just a group of people trying to develop a sensibility."<ref>Myer, Thomas. "Chatting with Bruce Sterling at LoneStarCon 2" Retrieved 2010-10-10</ref>

Similarly, Rob Latham observed:

...indeed, one of the central ways the New Wave was experienced, in the US and Britain, was as a "liberated" outburst of erotic expression, often counterpoised, by advocates of the "New Thing" (as Merril called it), with the priggish Puritanism of the Golden Age. Yet this stark contrast, while not unreasonable, tends ultimately, as do most of the historical distinctions drawn between the New Wave and its predecessors, to overemphasize rupture at the expense of continuity, effectively "disappearing" some of the pioneering trends in 1950s sf that paved the way for the New Wave's innovations.[46]: 252 

Bearing this proviso in mind it is still possible to sum up the New Wave in terms of rupture, as is done for example by Darren Harris-Fain of Shawnee State University:

The split between the New Wave and everyone else in American SF during the late 1960s was nearly as dramatic as the division at the same time between young protesters and what they called "the establishment," and in fact, the political views of the younger writers, often prominent in their work, reflect many contemporary concerns. New Wave accused what became de facto the old wave of being old-fashioned, patriarchal, imperialistic, and obsessed with technology; many of the more established writers thought the New Wave shallow, said that its literary innovations were not innovations at all (which in fact, outside of SF, they were not), and accused it of betraying SF's grand view of humanity's role in the universe. Both assertions were largely exaggerations, of course, and in the next decade both trends would merge into a synthesis of styles and concerns. However, in 1970 the issue was far from settled and would remain a source of contention for the next few years.[48]: 13–14 


Rob Latham in an essay[49]: 296  notes that In the August 1970 issue of the SFWA Forum, a publication for Science Fiction Writers of America members, Harlan Ellison stated that the New Wave furore, which had flourished during the late 1960s, appeared to have been "blissfully laid to rest." He also claimed that there was no real conflict between writers:

It was all a manufactured controversy, staged by fans to hype their own participation in the genre. Their total misunderstanding of what was happening (not unusual for fans, as history... shows us) managed to stir up a great deal of pointless animosity and if it had any real effect I suspect it was in the unfortunate area of causing certain writers to feel they were unable to keep up and consequently they slowed their writing output.[50]

Latham however remarks that Ellison's analysis "obscures Ellison's own prominent role – and that of other professional authors and editors such as Judith Merril, Michael Moorcock, Lester Del Rey, Frederik Pohl, and Donald A. Wollheim – in fomenting the conflict..."[49]: 296 

For Roger Luckhurst, the closing of New Worlds magazine in 1970 (one of many years it closed) "marked the containment of New Wave experiment with the rest of the counter-culture. The various limping manifestations of New World across the 1970s... demonstrated the posthumous nature of its avant-gardism."[43]: 168 

By the early 1970s, a number of writers and readers were also pointing out the stark differences between the winners of the Nebula Awards, which had been created in 1965 by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA), and winners of the Hugo Awards, awarded by fans at the annual World Science Fiction Convention, with some arguing that this indicated that many authors had left their readers behind: "While some writers and fans continued to argue about the New Wave until the end of the 1970s – in The World of Science Fiction, 1926–1976: The History of a Subculture, for instance, Lester Del Ray devotes several pages to castigating the movement – for the most part the controversy died down as the decade wore on."[48]: 20 


In a 1979 essay, Professor Patrick Parrinder, commenting on the nature of science fiction, noted that "any meaningful act of defamiliarization can only be relative, since it is not possible for man to imagine what is utterly alien to him; the utterly alien would also be meaningless."[51]: 48  He points out, "Within SF, however, it is not necessary to break with the wider conventions of prose narrative in order to produce work that is validly experimental. The "New Wave" writing of the 1960s, with its fragmented and surrealistic forms, has not made a lasting impact, because it cast its net too wide. To reform SF one must challenge the conventions of the genre on their own terms.".[51]: 55–56 

Others ascribe a more important, though still limited, impact. Veteran science fiction writer Jack Williamson (1908–2006) when asked in 1991: "Did the [New] Wave's emphasis on experimentalism and its conscious efforts to make SF more 'literary' have any kind of permanent effects on the field?" replied:

After it subsided -- it's old hat now -- it probably left us with a sharpened awareness of language and a keener interest in literary experiment. It did wash up occasional bits of beauty and power. For example, it helped launch the careers of such writers as [Samuel R] Chip Delany, Brian Aldiss, and Harlan Ellison, all of whom seem to have gone on their own highly individualistic directions. But the key point here is that New Wave SF failed to move people. I'm not sure if this failure was due to its pessimistic themes or to people feeling the stuff was too pretentious. But it never really grabbed hold of people's imaginations.[52]

Hartwell observed that "there is something efficacious in sf's marginality and always tenuous self-identity -- its ambiguous generic distinction from other literary categories -- and, perhaps more importantly, in its distinction from what has variously been called realist, mainstream, or mundane fiction."[53]: 289  Hartwell maintained that after the New Wave, science fiction had still managed to retain this "marginality and tenuous self-identity":

The British and American New Wave in common would have denied the genre status of SF entirely and ended the continual development of new specialized words and phrases common to the body of SF, without which SF would be indistinguishable from mundane fiction in its entirety (rather than only out on the borders of experimental SF, which is properly indistinguishable from any other experimental literature). The denial of special or genre status is ultimately the cause of the failure of the New Wave to achieve popularity, which, if it had become truly dominant, would have destroyed SF as a separate field.[54]: 153 

Scientific accuracy was more important than literary style to Campbell, and top Astounding contributors Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Sprague de Camp were trained scientists and engineers.[55] Asimov said in 1967 "I hope that when the New Wave has deposited its froth and receded, the vast and solid shore of science fiction will appear once more".[56][57]: 388  Yet, Asimov himself was to illustrate just how that "SF shore" did indeed re-emerge, vast, solid—but changed. A biographer noted that during the 1960s

stories and novels that Asimov must not have liked and must have felt were not part of the science fiction he had helped to shape were winning acclaim and awards. He also must have felt that science fiction no longer needed him. His science fiction writing... became even more desultory and casual. Asimov's return to serious writing in 1972 with The Gods Themselves (when much of the debate about the New Wave had dissipated) was an act of courage...[58]: 105 

Darren Harris-Fain observed on this return to writing SF by Asimov that

the novel [The Gods Themselves] is noteworthy for how it both shows that Asimov was indeed the same writer in the 1970s that he had been in the 1950s and that he nonetheless had been affected by the New Wave even if he was never part of it. His depiction of an alien ménage a trois, complete with homoerotic scenes between the two males, marks an interesting departure from his earlier fiction, in which sex of any sort is conspicuously absent. Also there is some minor experimentation with structure.[48]: 43 

Other themes dealt with in the novel are concerns for the environment and "human stupidity and the delusional belief in human superiority", both frequent topics in New Wave SF.[48]: 44 

Still other commentators ascribe a much greater impact to the New Wave. Commenting in 2002 on the publication of the 35th Anniversary edition of Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology, the critic Greg L. Johnson remarked that

if the New Wave did not entirely revolutionize the way SF was written, (the exploration of an invented world through the use of an adventure plot remains the prototypical SF story outline), they did succeed in pushing the boundaries of what could be considered SF, and their use of stylistic innovations from outside SF helped raise standards. It became less easy for writers to get away with stock characters spouting wooden dialogue laced with technical jargon. Such stories still exist, and are still published, but are no longer typical of the field.[59]

Asimov agreed that "on the whole, the New Wave was a good thing".[60]: 137  He described several "interesting side effects" of the New Wave. Non-American SF became more prominent and the genre became international phenomenon. Other changes noted were that "the New Wave encouraged more and more women to begin reading and writing science fiction... The broadening of science fiction meant that it was approaching the 'mainstream'... in style and content. It also meant that increasing numbers of mainstream novelists were recognizing the importance of changing technology and the popularity of science fiction, and were incorporating science fiction motifs into their own novels."[60]: 138–139 

Critic Rob Latham identifies three trends that linked the advent of the New Wave in the 1960s to the emergence of cyberpunk in the 1980s. He said that changes in technology as well as an economic recession constricted the market for science fiction, generating a "widespread" malaise among fans, while established writers were forced to reduce their output (or, like Isaac Asimov, shifted their emphasis to other subjects); finally, editors encouraged fresh approaches that earlier ones discouraged.[61]


Moorcock, Ballard, and others engendered some animosity to their writings. When reviewing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lester del Rey described it as "the first of the New Wave-Thing movies, with the usual empty symbolism".[62] When reviewing World's Best Science Fiction: 1966, Algis Budrys mocked Ellison's Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman and two other stories as "rudimentary social consciousness... deep stuff" and insufficient for "an outstanding science-fiction story".[63] Hartwell noted Budrys's "ringing scorn and righteous indignation" that year in "one of the classic diatribes against Ballard and the new mode of SF then emergent":[40]: 146 

A story by J. G. Ballard, as you know, calls for people who don't think. One begins with characters who regard the physical universe as a mysterious and arbitrary place, and who would not dream of trying to understand its actual laws. Furthermore, in order to be the protagonist of a J. G. Ballard novel, or anything more than a very minor character therein, you must have cut yourself off from the entire body of scientific education. In this way, when the world disaster – be it wind or water – comes upon you, you are under absolutely no obligation to do anything about it but sit and worship it. Even more further, some force has acted to remove from the face of the world all people who might impose good sense or rational behavior on you...[64]

Budrys in Galaxy, when reviewing a collection of recent stories from the magazine, said in 1965 that "There is this sense in this book... that modern science fiction reflects a dissatisfaction with things as they are, sometimes to the verge of indignation, but also retains optimism about the eventual outcome".[24] Despite his criticism of Ballard and Aldiss ("the least talented" of the four), Budrys called them, Roger Zelazny, and Samuel R. Delany "an earthshaking new kind" of writers.[31] Asimov said in 1967 of the New Wave, "I want science fiction. I think science fiction isn't really science fiction if it lacks science. And I think the better and truer the science, the better and truer the science fiction",[56] but Budrys that year warned that the four would soon leave those "still reading everything from the viewpoint of the 1944 Astounding... nothing but a complete collection of yellowed, crumble-edged bewilderment".[31]

Harlan Ellison claimed that there was no real conflict between writers:

It was all a manufactured controversy, staged by fans to hype their own participation in the genre. Their total misunderstanding of what was happening (not unusual for fans, as history... shows us) managed to stir up a great deal of pointless animosity and if it had any real effect I suspect it was in the unfortunate area of causing certain writers to feel they were unable to keep up and consequently they slowed their writing output.[50]

Latham remarks that this analysis by Harlan Ellison "obscures Ellison's own prominent role – and that of other professional authors and editors such as Judith Merril, Michael Moorcock, Lester Del Rey, Frederik Pohl, and Donald A. Wollheim – in fomenting the conflict..."[49]: 296 

While acknowledging the New Wave's "energy, high talent and dedication", and stating that it "may in fact be the shape of tomorrow's science fiction generally — hell, it may be the shape of today's science fiction", as examples of the movement Budrys much preferred Zelazny's This Immortal to Thomas Disch's The Genocides. Predicting that Zelazny's career would be more important and lasting than Disch's, he described the latter's book as "unflaggingly derivative of" the New Wave and filled with "dumb, resigned victims" who "run, hide, slither, grope and die", like Ballard's The Drowned World but unlike The Moon is a Harsh Mistress ("about people who do something about their troubles").[64] Writing in The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, Disch observed that "Literary movements tend to be compounded, in various proportions, of the genius of two or three genuinely original talents, some few other capable or established writers who have been co-opted or gone along for the ride, the apprentice work of epigones and wannabes, and a great deal of hype. My sense of the New Wave, with twenty-five years of hindsight, is that its irreducible nucleus was the dyad of J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock..."[65]: 105 

Authors and works[edit]

The New Wave was not a formal organization with a fixed membership. Thomas M. Disch, for instance, rejected his association with some other New Wave authors.[66]:425 Nonetheless, it is possible to associate specific authors and works, especially anthologies, with the movement. Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard, and Brian Aldiss are considered principal writers of the New Wave.[13] Judith Merril's annual anthologies (1957–1968[67]) "were the first heralds of the coming of the [New Wave] cult,"[4]:105 and Damon Knight's Orbit series and Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions featured American writers inspired by British writers as well as British authors.[39] Among the stories Ellison received In Dangerous Visions were Philip Jose Farmer's Riders of the Purple Wage, Norman Spinrad's Carcinoma Angels, Samuel R. Delany's Aye, and Gomorrah and stories by Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, John Brunner, David R. Bunch, Philip K. Dick, Sonya Dorman, Carol Emshwiller, John Sladek, Theodore Sturgeon, and Roger Zelazny.[39]

Alfred Bester was championed by New Wave writers and is seen as a major influence.[18][68] Thomas M. Disch's work is associated with the New Wave, and The Genocides has been seen as emblematic of the genre, as has the 1971 Disch anthology of eco-catastrophe stories The Ruins of Earth.[16] Critic John Clute wrote of M. John Harrison's early writing that it "...reveals its New-Wave provenance in narrative discontinuities and subheads after the fashion of J. G. Ballard".[69]

Brian Aldiss's Barefoot in the Head (1969) and Norman Spinrad's No Direction Home (1971) are seen as illustrative of the impact of the drug culture, especially psychedelics, on New Wave.[13] On the topic of entropy, Ballard provided "an explicitly cosmological vision of entropic decline of the universe" in The Voices of Time, which provided a typology of ideas that subsequent New Wave writers developed in different contexts, with one of the best instances being Pamela Zoline's The Heat Death of the Universe.[42]: 158  Like other writers for New Worlds, Zoline uses "science-fictional and scientific language and imagery to describe perfectly 'ordinary' scenes of life", and by doing so produces "altered perceptions of reality in the reader".[44] New wave works engaging with utopia, gender, and sexuality include Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975), and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).[13]:82-85 In Robert Silverberg's The Man in the Maze, in a reversal typical of the New Wave, Silverberg portrays a disabled man using an alien labyrinthine city to reject abled society.[70] Samuel Delany's Babel-17 (1966) provides an example of a New Wave work engaging with Sapir-Whorfian linguistic relativity, as does Ian Watson's The Embedding (1973).[13]:86-87

Two prominent examples of New Wave writers engaging with utopia are Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) and Samuel Delany's Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia (1976),[13]:74-80 while John Brunner is a primary exponent of dystopian New Wave science fiction.[71]

Examples of modernism in the New Wave include Philip José Farmer's' Joycean Riders of the Purple Wage (1967), John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (1968), which is written in the style of John Don Passos' modernist The U.S.A. Trilogy (1938), and Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration, which includes a stream of literary references, including to Thomas Mann.[13]:61-62 The influence of postmodernism in New Wave can be seen in Brian Aldiss' Report on Probability A, Philip K. Dick's Ubik, J. G. Ballard's collection The Atrocity Exhibition, and Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and Triton.[13]:66-67

The majority of stories in Ben Bova's The Best of the Nebulas, such as Roger Zelazny's A Rose for Ecclesiastes, are seen as being by New Wave writers or as involving New Wave techniques.[21] John Brunner's novel Stand on Zanzibar is also New Wave.[13] The Martian Time-Slip (1964) and other works by Philip K. Dick are viewed as New Wave.[13]

Brian Aldiss, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Norman Spinrad, and Roger Zelazny are writers whose work, though not necessarily considered New Wave at the time of publication, later became associated with the label.[72] Of later authors, some of the work of Joanna Russ is considered to bear stylistic resemblance to New Wave.[73][74]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example: 1) Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005) "What became known as the New Wave in SF was centred in England on the Magazine New Worlds, edited with missionary zeal by Michael Moorcock between 1964 and 1970 …": 141  2) James, Edward. Science Fiction in the 20th century (Oxford University Press, 1994) "In April 1963 Michael Moorcock contributes a guest editorial to John Carnell's New Worlds, Britain's leading SF magazine, which effectively announced the onset of the New Wave.": 167  3) Roberts, Adam. The History of Science Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) "It [the New Wave] was initially associated with the London magazine New Worlds, … which was reconfigured as a venue for experimental and unconventional fiction in the 1960s, particularly under the editorship of Michael Moorcock from 1964 …": 231 

External links[edit]


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  6. ^ Marshall, Kate (2017), "New Wave Fabulism and Hybrid Science Fictions", American Literature in Transition, 2000–2010, Cambridge University Press, pp. 76–87, doi:10.1017/9781316569290.006, ISBN 978-1-316-56929-0
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  8. ^ Khayrutdinov, D. (1975). Ahmad Khaled Tawfik's novel Utopia as an important example of the new wave of science fiction in Arabic literature. OCLC 1077166716.
  9. ^ Song, Mingwei (2015-03-01). "After 1989: The New Wave of Chinese Science Fiction". China Perspectives. 2015 (1): 7–13. doi:10.4000/chinaperspectives.6618. ISSN 2070-3449.
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  11. ^ a b c Rob Latham (2012). "From Outer to Inner Space: New Wave Science Fiction and the Singularity". Science Fiction Studies. 39 (1): 28. doi:10.5621/sciefictstud.39.1.0028. ISSN 0091-7729.
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  72. ^ Nicholls, Peter. "New Wave". ... whose work was later subsumed under the New Wave label Missing or empty |title= (help) in Clute & Nicholls 1999
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Further reading[edit]

  • Broderick, D. (2003) New wave and backwash: 1960–1980. In The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, pp. 48–63, Cambridge University Press. Doi: 10.1017/CCOL0521816262.004.
  • Butler, Andrew M. (2013) Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s, Liverpool University Press, Online ISBN 9781846317798.
  • Clute, John, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (3rd ed.).
  • Harris-Fain, D. Dangerous Visions. In G. Canavan & E. Link (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (pp. 31–43), Cambridge University Press. Doi:10.1017/CCO9781107280601.005.
  • Lockwood, Stephen P. (1985). The New Wave in Science Fiction: A Primer, Indiana University.
  • Steble, Janez. (2014). New Wave in Science Fiction or the Explosion of the Genre. Doctoral dissertation, University of Ljubljana.
  • Taylor, John W. (1990) From Pulpstyle to Innerspace: The Stylistics of American New-Wave SF. Style, Vol. 24, No. 4, Bibliography/SF/Stylistics (Winter 1990), pp. 611–627.