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?

The Epic Reading Project: The Year in Review

Today, I have done one year of the Epic Reading Project! (For those of you who may be newly joining us, here’s an explanation of the ERP.)

YAAAAAAAY. Let’s celebrate by looking at some of my stats from the last year.

In the last 365 days, I have finished reading 118 books, out of the 338 on the list.

I have skipped (or read previously, before the project began) 44 books.

The decade with the most skips was the 90s, which is kind of impressive because I’m still only halfway through the 90s right now. It’s the goddamn cyberpunk, I tell you. Cyberpunk and I just don’t get along. I dunno what to tell you.  Out of 41 books from the 90s that I have read so far, I skipped 9 of them — 21%! In conclusion: Don’t give me cyberpunk books for my birthday.

Trivia:

  • Happily, I did not have to skip any of the 5 books from 1990, my birth year!
  • The first book of the year was Theodore Sturgeon’s THE DREAMING JEWELS
  • The last book of the year was Nancy Springer’s LARQUE ON THE WING.
  • The average time it takes me to complete a book is 1.2 days (or a squinch more than a book finished every other day. Finishing a book the same day I start it = 0 days. Finishing a book the day after I start it = 1 day. You see?)
  • I have 176 books left!
  • My spreadsheet estimates that I can complete the ERP in another 211 days of active reading. So… Roughly another year and a half in real time, if I continue at my current rate.

Lois McMaster Bujold: SHARDS OF HONOR

Veera: My motivation for reading this book was an agreement with a friend – if I started reading the Vorkosigan books, he would start reading Austen. Since A CIVIL CAMPAIGN found its way on my reading list last summer, it was a very convenient arrangement. Although to be fair, I was told to start with a different book, both by Alex and said friend, so my current attitude of nice-but-didn’t-rock-my-socks is a questionable one.

Alex: We told you to read THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE first, didn’t we? Told you. TOLD YOU. There are things that I really like about SHARDS OF HONOR, and there are things which I think could have been pulled off a little better. Do you want to go first, or shall I?

Veera: Be my guest!

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Character tropes we love and why

Alex: So I’ve said before on this blog that characters are always the most important thing for me when I’m reading a book. I can cut a *lot* of slack for a book that has a shitty plot, if its characters are just absolutely stellar. Do you find yourself getting attached to the same kind of character over and over again? I do.

Veera: Yeah, I definitely need to like at least one character in order to continue reading. I sort of latch myself onto one, and whenever they aren’t on the page I scream about it and go “yes yes yes BUT WHAT ABOUT X!”

Alex: Haha, yeah, me too. If I like all the characters, it’s not so much of a problem, but there have been books where I latched onto one and didn’t care about the others. ELANTRIS by Brandon Sanderson and the first A Song of Ice And Fire book both spring to mind. In both of these books, there were several viewpoint characters, and in each book, I only cared about one of them. That’s not an uncommon experience for me: Generally I’d prefer to get to know just one character really, really intimately, rather than be acquainted with fifteen — I’m kind of an introvert like that.

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Trends in Genre Fiction — The ’50s, or: “Omg Rockets”

Back when I was in college, I once attended a neat little speech about the history of horror films — okay, it was titled as “The History of Vampires” or some such, but that was just a marketing ploy to get the impressionable freshmen to attend. It was awesome! One of the greatest speeches I’ve ever heard, and I wish that it was on Youtube or TED or something so that I could link to it. The gist of it was this: Each decade of horror films has reflected what our society was most afraid of at that time. In the 50s, there were tons of scary films about alien invasion — because invasion was what we were afraid of, post-WW2. In the 60s, the effects of radiation were beginning to be discovered in the survivors of the atomic bombs, and people were terrified of what radiation would do. The scary movies were all about giant bugs and similar things. And so on, and so on… The years after 9/11 showed a swath of thriller/horror movies set on or concerning airplanes (anyone remember Snakes on a Plane? Redeye?)

As I began making significant headway into the Epic Reading Project, I began to notice similar trends — so much of what scifi concerns itself with reflects what we as a society were excited about in those days. As I complete each decade of reviews, I plan on including one of these Trends in Genre Fiction posts as a retrospective.

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