Trends in Genre Fiction — The ’60s, or: “HOLY FUCK YOU GUYS, THE MOON! MARS! …ALIENS???”

(Check out the first of this series, The ’50s: Or, “Omg Rockets”, for an explanation of what I’m doing here.)

The award-winning books of this decade were:

  • Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
  • Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
  • James Blish, Cities in Flight
  • Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
  • Clifford D. Simak, Here Gather the Stars (also known as Way Station)
  • Fritz Leiber, The Wanderer
  • Frank Herbert,  Dune
  • Roger Zelazny, ...And Call Me Conrad (also known as This Immortal)
  • Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
  • Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
  • Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17
  • Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light
  • Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Peter S Beagle, The Last Unicorn
  • Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection
  • John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar
  • Alexei Panshin, Rite of Passage

Strikethroughs indicate books I either skipped or did not finish reading. (Oh, Brunner. Oh, Zelazny. You guys and I just don’t think any of the same things are cool. You just keep on doing your thing. Lots of other people like you. Godspeed.) Also, I’m just going to note, here? There’s only one woman on this list. Come on, SFF fandom of 50 years ago. Get it together, guys. 😛 Spoiler alert: SFF awards were won by women four entire times in the 1970s. And two of those wins were still Ursula LeGuin. So… three women. Three women winners from 1970 to 1979. ONE in the ’60s. I will grumble about this at greater length for my ’70s recap.

Following naturally from how we were all shitting ourselves over rockets in the 1950s, scifi of the 1960s (and it was pretty much exclusively scifi in those days*) began setting its sights a little higher (while continuing to mostly shit itself over rockets). With the US-Soviet space race dominating the decade, and the American moon landing capping it off gloriously in 1969, the world’s eyes were fixed on the heavens.

Science fiction writers have always had the sacred duty of figuring out, “What next?” While the moon landing was so close that America could taste it, the scifi writers were busily planning what we’d do after we got there. To many of these would-be prophets, the next step would be to set up a moon colony (THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS); and after the moon, Mars and the rest of the cosmos was only another skip further on (THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA, RITE OF PASSAGE. DOUBLE STAR, Heinlein’s 1956 Hugo winner, was a good 5-10 years ahead of its time on this front; Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy… well, like him or not (and many of you know I don’t), you gotta admit that the guy was lightyears ahead of all of us). With humanity making its first foray into space, we were potentially joining a galactic or universal society, and with this step outside came the potential to… meet some of the neighbors, as it were (THE WANDERER, WAY STATION, BABEL-17… Not to mention two of the most popular TV shows in history, DOCTOR WHO and STAR TREK, both of which started airing in this decade).

It was a decade of hopes and dreams and aspirations, when Alpha Centauri seemed almost close enough to touch, when scientific progress in the real world was beginning to accelerate at such a pace that, as cliche as it sounds, anything seemed possible. We, today, who have grown up with technology, who have in the palms of our hands computers thousands of times more powerful than the ones we used to land on the moon — it’s impossible for us today, I feel, to really grok what the zeitgeist of that era was like. We were in limerance with the whole fucking cosmos, we were going to stride out into the galaxy with our arms wide open…

And then in the 70s we started to realize that we’d fucked it all up.


*Although fantasy was just starting to stir up its own following in this decade; the 60s gave us the first Earthsea book by Ursula LeGuin and Peter S Beagle’s game-changing THE LAST UNICORN. Additionally, this interview with JRR Tolkien, published by the Telegraph in 1968, is particularly interesting — they don’t even use the word fantasy to refer to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. They call it a “three volume epic fairy-tale”. The only time the word “fantasy” is used at all in this article is in the sentence, “To Professor Tolkien, a retired Oxford philologist and a man used to dealing evidentially with his material, everything, even in fantasy, must be specific.” And they’re not using that as a genre-descriptive term, but as a synonym for “daydream”. WILD, RIGHT?

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