New Wave science fiction

New Wave science fiction

New Wave is a term applied to science fiction produced in the 1960s and 1970s and characterized by a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, a "literary" or artistic sensibility, and a focus on "soft" as opposed to hard science. The term "New Wave" is borrowed from the French film movement known as the nouvelle vague.[1] New Wave writers often saw themselves as part of the modernist tradition and sometimes mocked the traditions of pulp science fiction, which some of them regarded as stodgy, adolescent and poorly written. Gary K. Wolfe, professor of humanities and English at Roosevelt University, identifies the introduction of the term New Wave to SF[1] as occurring in 1966 in an essay[2] for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction written by Judith Merril, who used the term to refer to the experimental fiction that had begun to appear in the English magazine New Worlds after Michael Moorcock assumed editorship in 1964. Merril later popularized this fiction in the United States through her edited anthology England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (Doubleday 1968), although an earlier anthology (Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions [Doubleday 1967]) paved the way for Merril's anthology.



Influences and predecessors

Antecedents to the New Wave in SF are difficult to identify because of the stated aims of its instigators and followers to break completely with the SF of the past:

... I think science fiction should turn its back on space, on interstellar travel, extra-terrestrial life forms, galactic wars and the overlap of these ideas that spreads across the margins of nine-tenths of magazine s-f. Great writer though he was, I’m convinced H. G. Wells has had a disastrous influence on the subsequent course of science fiction … similarly, I think, science fiction must jettison its present narrative forms and plots.[3]

However, Professor James Gunn in his assessment of the genesis of the 1960s New Wave, takes a broad view and stresses continuity rather than fracture.[4]:214 Thus he sees 1949 and 1950 as crucial dates in the transition from the kind of consensus definition of SF built up in the 1940s which he characterizes as “imagination leavened with pragmatism.” The year 1949 saw the creation by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction based on the belief that “science fiction could be literate and that a literary approach that included fantasy would be viable on newsstands.” In 1950, H. L. Gold produced the magazine Galaxy. Gunn traces the evolution of SF up to this point as follows:

The evolution of the science fiction hero began with Mary Shelley’s tormented scientist and continued through Poe’s natural aristocrat of sensibilities, Verne’s middle-class engineers, Well’s common man, Burrough’s adventurers, Gernsback’s inventors, Campbell’s engineers and meritocrats, and Boucher’s man of sensibilities. Now Gold’s vision focused not on the adventurer, the inventor, the engineer, or the scientist, but on the average citizen.[4]:216

Harry Harrison writing the ‘Introduction’ to an anthology of 1950s SF says of the decade:

It was an age of experiment. The old barriers were coming down, pulp taboos were being forgotten, new themes and new manners of writing were being explored. Some of the older writers were flexible enough to bend in these new directions; [Henry] Kuttner and [Frederik] Pohl are the two represented here. But it was up to the kids to do most of the work. [Philip Jose] Farmer startled the world by not only writing but publishing a story, ‘The Lovers’ that was all about sex![5]:11

Among other authors producing work in the 1950s that broke from the Campbellian concept of SF were Ray Bradbury who achieved a level of general fame that was “unprecedented in the field.”[6]:11 Bradbury was hailed as a visionary by the likes of Christopher Isherwood and C. S. Lewis; Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s novel 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' (1960) … also received favorable attention from outside the field as well as within it.[6] Theodore Sturgeon (“his story When You’re Smiling, which appeared in Galaxy in the 1950s, is beautiful and brutal, spiked with psychological understanding.”[7]:90), Fritz Leiber (for example his novel 'Gather Darkness!' (1950) which is “an amusing and ingenious story of superscience disguised as religion and witchcraft,[8]:88), Algis Budrys (especially for his novel 'Rogue Moon' with its use of Freudianism[8]:31), and Alfred Bester (“singlehandedly it sometimes seems, he invented both New Wave and ‘cyberpunk.”[9]:206) can be considered as important precursors of the New Wave.

Naomi Mitchison's Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) has elements that resemble New Wave, though it's not clear if there was any direct influence.[citation needed] In his introduction to a reprint of Leigh Brackett's Martian Quest, Michael Moorcock, the editor of New Worlds (and thus the New Wave's prime instigator), wrote "With Catherine Moore, Judith Merril and Cele Goldsmith, Leigh Brackett is one of the true godmothers of the New Wave. Anyone who thinks they're pinching one of my ideas is probably pinching one of hers."

Beat writer William S. Burroughs would prove very inspirational, so much so that Philip José Farmer in "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" and Barrington J. Bayley's "The Four Colour Problem" (Bayley's most acclaimed work of fiction, which appeared in New Worlds) wrote pastiches of the elder writer's work and J. G. Ballard published an admiring essay in New Worlds.[10] (Burroughs had earlier expressed admiration for Bayley's short novel Star Virus.) 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. In this, the more extreme New Wave writers sought to emulate his example.

Brian Aldiss says of this 1950s period:

On the whole, the props of SF are few: rocket ships, telepathy, robots, time travel, other dimensions, huge machines, aliens, future wars. Like coins, they become debased by over-circulation ... in the fifties, ... writers combined and recombined these standard elements with a truly Byzantine ingenuity ... but there were signs even then that limits were being reached. By the sixties, the signs could not be ignored.[11]:305-306

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the women 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.[12]:18

This leaves the question as to why “science fiction changed around 1960”, why “all the doors seemed to be opening.” Rob Latham writing in the New York Review of Science Fiction argues that it is possible to identify three trends that must prevail immediately prior to the advent of any new genre movement, and he illustrates his argument by reference to the 1960s New Wave and the emergence of ‘cyberpunk’ in the 1980s. Thus the three trends common to both the 1960s and 1980s, briefly stated were:

1) a widespread sense of malaise among writers and fans owing to economic developments impacting the publication and dissemination of sf, combined with a dawning sense of possibility linked to the arrival of new markets; 2) the retirement or obvious decline in productivity of a number of major authors whose output had dominated the previous decade; and 3) the inchoate but growingly palpable influx of fresh thematic material, partly inhibited by prevailing orthodoxies and thus awaiting mobilization by talents less beholden to sf traditions.[13]

Latham points out that

None of these tendencies by itself would be sufficient to explain the emergence of either [1960’s New Wave or 1980’s Cyberpunk] avant garde, but taken together they contributed to a climate that was favorable to calls for a radical refurbishment of sf;


It is widely accepted among critics that the New Wave began in England with the SF magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock who was appointed editor in 1964 (first issue number 142, May and June[14]:251)[note 1]

While the American magazines Amazing Stories, with Cele Goldsmith as editor, and the respected Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction had from the very start had a leaning towards unusually literary stories, Moorcock turned that into a concerted policy. 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.

Under Moorcock’s editorship “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.”[15]:27 Judith Merril observed that:

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.[16]:162-163

Merril’s “incredible controversy” is characterized by David Hartwell in the opening sentence of a book chapter entitled “New Wave: The Great War of the 1960s” as follows: “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.”[17]:141 Science fiction writer Thomas Disch has 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, ...[18]:105

It is instructive therefore to read some of what Ballard and Moorcock were writing that engendered such animosity from the established SF community. For example 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 wholeheartly 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![19]:197

In 1963 Michael 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...[20]

According to David Hartwell[17]:146, Algis J. Budrys writing in the review column of Galaxy magazine produced "one of the classic diatribes against Ballard and the new mode of SF then emergent." Hartwell notes the "ringing scorn and righteous indignation" with which Budry's discussion vibrates:

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, so that the disaster proceeds unchecked and unopposed except by the almost inevitable thumb-rule engineer type who for his individual comfort builds a huge pyramid (without huge footings) to resist high winds, or trains a herd of alligators and renegade divers to help him out in dealing with deep water.[21]

Roger Luckhurst points out that Ballard’s essay “Which Way to Inner Space?”[19] “showed the influence of media theorist Marshall McLuhan and the ‘anti-psychiatry’ of R. D. Laing.”[22]:148 Luckhurst traces the influence of both these thinkers in Ballard’s fiction, in particular The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)[22]:152 Another central concern of the New Wave was a fascination with entropy – that the world (and the universe) must tend to disorder, to eventually run down to ‘heat death’. Ballard provided

an explicitly cosmological vision of entropic decline of the universe in his magisterial story "The Voices of Time", which appeared in 1960. It provided a matrix of ideas that subsequent New Wave writing teased out in various contexts. Perhaps the best instance of this elaboration was Pamela Zoline’s "The Heat Death of the Universe."[19]: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.”[23]:172

Judith Merill, “whose annual anthologies were the first heralds of the coming of the [New Wave] cult,”[24]:105 writing in 1967 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction contrasts the SF New Wave (which she here terms ‘The New Thing’) in England and the United States:

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.[25]:28

Judith Merril’s annual anthologies (1957-1968[26]), Damon Knight’s Orbit series, and Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions featured American writers inspired by British writers (although some of the writers anthologized were British).[27]:156 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. Among the stories Ellison received were the almost Joycean “Riders of he Purple Wage,” by Philip Jose Farmer, “Carcinoma Angles,” by Norman Spinrad, and “Aye, and Gomorrah . . .” by Samuel R. Delany, as well as stories by Brian Aldiss, Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, John Brunner, John Sladek, Roger Zelazny, David R. Bunch, Theodore Sturgeon, Carol Emshwiller, and Sonya Dorman. [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.[27]:157

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 …[23]:167

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

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.[28]

For example, Judith Merril, “one of the most visible -- and voluble -- apostles of the New Wave in 1960s sf”[29] 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.[16]:167

Merril records later “At the end of the Convention week, the taste of America was sour in all our mouths,”[16]:169 and “by the end of the Sixties, Merril was a political refugee living in Canada.”[17]:142

Robert Heinlein denounced New Wave writing a ‘sick literature’ of ‘neurotics’ and ‘sex maniacs.’[30] However, Roger Luckhurst disagrees with those critics (he gives the example of Thomas Clareson) who perceive the New Wave in terms of rupture, 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. 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.[22]:160

But caution is needed when assessing any literary movement, for example 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.[31]

Similarly Rob Latham observes:

... 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.[29]: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.[6]:13-14

Decline and Lasting Influence

In the opening paragraph of an essay[32]:296 on the New Wave Rob Latham relates that

In the August 1970 issue of the SFWA Forum, a publication circulated to members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, Harlan Ellison remarked that the controversy over the New Wave, which had consumed the field during the late 1960s, seemed to have been “blissfully laid to rest.” There never was, he claimed,

any real conflict among the 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.[33]

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,…”


In the early 1970s a number of writers and readers pointed out that

winners of the Nebula Awards, created by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) in 1965, tended to be very different from recipients of the Hugo Awards, given by fans at the annual World Science Fiction Convention (the Worldcon), arguing that this highlighted the fact that many writers had departed from readers’ tastes into self-indulgence. … 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.[6]:20

The closing of New Worlds magazine in 1970 "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.[22]:168

In an essay The Alien Encounter Professor Patrick Parrinder’s states 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.”[34]:48 He continues later:

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.[34]:55-56

Veteran science fiction writer Jack Williamson (1908–2006) when asked in 1991: “Did the [New] Wave's emphasis on experimentalizm 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.[35]

It has been 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.[36]:289

David Hartwell’s maintains 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.[17]:153

Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer who began his career with John W, Campbell in Astounding magazine in the 1940s, said of the New Wave: "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."[37]:388

Asimov himself was to illustrate just how that “SF shore” did indeed re-emerged, vast, solid—but changed. A biographer of Asimov 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 1971 with The Gods Themselves (when much of the debate about the New Wave had dissipated) was an act of courage …[38]:105

Darren Harris-Fain observes 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 trios, 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.[6]: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.[6]:44

Commenting in 2002 on the publication of the 35th Anniversary edition of the Dangerous Visions anthology edited by Harlan Ellison, 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.[39]

Isaac Asimov agrees that “on the whole, the New Wave was a good thing.”[40]:137 He describes several “interesting side effects” of the New Wave. Firstly that it brought non-American SF to the fore and that afterwards SF was an 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.[40]:138-139

The noted academic writer on science fiction Edward James sums up the New Wave and its impact as follows:

The American New Wave was, on the whole, quite unlike the British. The latter was effectively a group of people associated with a magazine that had a particular programme …, whereas even those American writers who gathered in London at the time, like [Samuel R] Delaney, [Thomas M] Disch, and [John] Sladek, were individuals pursuing their own ends, not those of Ballard or Moorcock. As a ‘movement’, the American New Wave was even less real than the British; it was no more than a concatenation of talent flourishing at the same time and bringing new ideas and new standards to the writing of sf. The British New Wave had few lasting effects, even in Britain; the American New Wave ushered in a great expansion of the field and of its readership. No doubt the writers did not achieve this success on their own. It may be noted, for instance, that this burst of originality occurred at almost exactly the same times as the three seasons of Star Trek, which certainly contributed to the expansion of sf’s readership. Whether or not much of this boom can be attributed to the American New Wave, 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 Halderman, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, Jr., and John Varley.[23]:176

Several factors may have contributed to the "death" of New Wave science fiction. One factor was its assimilation into the larger science fiction mainstream. A second factor was the passing of the radicalism of the 1960s in art as well as life. The New Wave's demise may have been hastened by conscious reaction against it in the SF mainstream. Lester del Rey, an influential editor (who had in fact been published in Ellison's first Dangerous Visions anthology), led a conscious effort to re-assert genre traditions in the 1970s and early 1980s. Pioneers such as Larry Niven (also published in Dangerous Visions) broke new ground with fresh scientific discoveries and imaginative extrapolations. By then, a neo-Campbellian revival of hard science fiction after 1982 at the hands of David Brin, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and others had emerged. On the other hand, cyberpunk, a movement popularized by Gardner Dozois and editor Ellen Datlow, had made it clear that "the rebellion" had taken on a new form.

Some have seen the emergence of cyberpunk literature as a sequel of sorts to the aims of the New Wave movement. Cyberpunk incorporated several of New Wave's "ancestors," namely Burroughs and Alfred Bester and partially embraced New Wave proponents Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany. The New Weird movement and the genre of slipstream fiction occupies a space similar to that of the New Wave movement, in relationship to the mainstream of science fiction and fantasy. However, they have a far less adversial relationship to their "parent" genres.

A more important effect of the movement was to broaden the range of acceptable themes and styles in genre SF. While the New Wavers never achieved the thorough disruption of genre conventions they were aiming for, they helped make it possible for post-New-Wave SF writers to tackle previously taboo subjects and to more often use techniques such as stream-of-consciousness narration and unreliable narrators.[citation needed] Even the neo-Campbellian revivalists who had set themselves most directly against the New Wave's political and aesthetic program eventually benefitted from the new freedom.[citation needed]


John Brunner is noted as a primary exponent of dystopian New Wave science fiction.[41] 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".[42] Brian Aldiss, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Norman Spinrad, Roger Zelazny are writers whose work, though not considered New Wave at the time of publication, later became to be interpreted under the label.[43] Of later authors, the work of Joanna Russ is considered by scholar Peter Nicholls to bear stylistic resemblance to New Wave.[44] Kaoru Kurimoto is also considered to be among the New Wave canon.[45]

See also

  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: Palgrove 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



  1. ^ a b Wolfe, Gary G (2005) “Coming to Terms” in Speculations on Speculation. Theories of Science Fiction, James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria (Ed.), Scarecrow Press Inc, Maryland
  2. ^ Merril, Judith (1966) “Books”, pp. 30, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1966
  3. ^ Ballard, J. G. (1962) “Which Way to Inner Space? “ New Worlds Science Fiction, May. Reprinted in A User's Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews, HarperCollins, London (1996)
  4. ^ a b Gunn, James. ”Alternate Worlds: 1949–1965”, in Alternate Worlds. The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1975)
  5. ^ Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison (eds.) Decade the 1950’s (London: Pan Books, 1977)
  6. ^ a b c d e f Darren Harris-Fain. Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction. The Age of Maturity, 1970-2000 (University of South Carolina, 2005)
  7. ^ Aldiss, Brian. The Detached Retina (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995)
  8. ^ a b Zool, M. H. Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy (London: Bloomsbury, 1989)
  9. ^ Roberts, Adam. The History of Science Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
  10. ^ Ballard, J. G. “Myth Maker Of The 20th century” New Worlds, No. 142, May/June 1964. An edited-down version was included in A User's Guide to the Millennium (London: Harper Collins, 1996) pp. 126 ISBN 9780006548218
  11. ^ Aldiss, Brian and David Wingrove (eds.). Trillion Year Spree. The History of Science Fiction (London: Paladin Grafton,1986)
  12. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. “Introduction”. In Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery (eds.), The Norton Book of Science Fiction, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993)
  13. ^ Latham, Rob (2007) “Cyberpunk and the New Wave: Ruptures and Continuities”, New York Review of Science Fiction, June, Number 226, Vol. 19, No. 10
  14. ^ Greenland, Colin. The Entropy Exhibition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983 ISBN 978-0710093103). Chapter: "The ‘Field’ and the ‘Wave’: The History of New Worlds" in James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria (ed.), Speculations on Speculation. Theories of Science Fiction (Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc., 2005). Page number refer to this reprint
  15. ^ Aldiss, Brian W. The Detached Retina (Liverpool University Press, 1995)
  16. ^ a b c Merril, Judith. Better to have Loved. The Life of Judith Merril (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002
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  18. ^ Disch, Thomas M. The Dreams our Stuff is Made of (New York: The Free Press, 1998)
  19. ^ a b c Ballard, J. G. “Which Way to Inner Space?”, New Worlds, 118 (May 1962), 117. Reprinted in: Ballard, J. G. A User’s Guide to the Millennium (London: Harper-Collins, page 197, 1996)
  20. ^ Moorcock, Michael. “Guest Editorial”, New Worlds, 129 (April 1963), 2 and 123. Reprinted in: James, Edward. Science Fiction in the 20th century (Oxford University Press, page 168, 1994,)
  21. ^ Budrys, Algis J. Galaxy, December 1996. Reprinted in: Hartwell, David. Age of Wonders (New York: McGraw-Hill, page 150, 1984)
  22. ^ a b c d Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005)
  23. ^ a b c James, Edward. Science Fiction in the 20th century (Oxford University Press, 1994)
  24. ^ Wollheim, Donald A. The Universe Makers. Science Fiction Today (London: Victor Gollancz, 1971)
  25. ^ Merril, Judith. “Books” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1967
  26. ^ "Best SF - reviews and contents of Merril anthologies" Retrieved 2011-01-27
  27. ^ a b Landon, Brooks. Science Fiction after 1900. From the Steam Man to the Stars (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997)
  28. ^ Raymond, Eric S. "A Political History of SF" Retrieved 2010-10-10
  29. ^ a b Latham, Rob. “Sextrapolation in New Wave Science Fiction”, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Jul., 2006), pp. 251-274: page 251
  30. ^ Heinlein, Robert. “Science Fiction, its Nature, Faults and Virtues”, in Basil Davenport (ed), The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism (Chicago: Advent, 1959), pp. 14-45: p.42. Quoted in: Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), page 142
  31. ^ Myer, Thomas. “Chatting with Bruce Sterling at LoneStarCon 2" Retrieved 2010-10-10
  32. ^ a b Latham, Rob. ‘New Worlds and the New Wave in Fandom: Fan Culture and the Reshaping of Science Fiction in the Sixties’ in ‘’Extrapolation’’. (Kent State Univ., Kent, OH) (47:2) [Summer 2006], pp.296-315: page 296
  33. ^ Ellison, Harlan. ‘Letter to the Editor’ SFWA Forum 15 (August 1970): 27-28. Quoted in Latham, Rob. ‘New Worlds and the New Wave in Fandom: Fan Culture and the Reshaping of Science Fiction in the Sixties’ in Extrapolation. (Kent State Univ., Kent, OH) (47:2) [Summer 2006], pp.296-315
  34. ^ a b Parrinder, Patrick. ‘The Alien Encounter: Or, Ms Brown and Mrs Le Guin’ in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Mar., 1979), pp. 46-58
  35. ^ Larry McCaffery and Jack Williamson. ‘An Interview with Jack Williamson‘ in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Jul., 1991), pp. 230-252: page 234
  36. ^ Hewitt, Elizabeth. ‘Generic Exhaustion and the "Heat Death" of Science Fiction’ in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Nov., 1994), pp. 289-301
  37. ^ cited in Aldiss, Brian and Wingrove David. Trillion Year Spree. The History of Science Fiction (London: Paladin Grafton, 1988)
  38. ^ Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov. The Foundation of Science Fiction (Oxford University Press, 1982>
  39. ^ Dangerous Visions, 35th Anniversary Edition Retrieved 2010-10-16
  40. ^ a b Asimov, Isaac. Asimov on Science Fiction (London: Granada, 1983)
  41. ^ "The element of dystopia in New-Wave writing was particularly dramatic in the case of John Brunner": entry on New Wave by Peter Nicholls in Clute & Nicholls 1999
  42. ^ Of the early work, "... reveals its New-Wave provenance in narrative discontinuities and subheads after the fashion of J. G. Ballard": entry on Harrison by John Clute in Clute & Nicholls 1999
  43. ^ Nicholls, Peter. "New Wave". "... whose work was later subsumed under the New Wave label"  in Clute & Nicholls 1999
  44. ^ "... wrote in a style that would have been called New Wave only a year or so earlier": entry on New Wave by Peter Nicholls in Clute & Nicholls 1999
  45. ^ "DePauw University archives". 
  • Greenland, Colin (1983). The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British New Wave in Science Fiction. Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-9310-1. 
  • Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1999). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd ed.). Orbit. ISBN 185723 8974. 

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