4. The New Wave of SF

The History of Science Fiction – 1960s and 1970s

Whereas literary science fiction up to this point had been dominated by US writers and publishers, the New Wave was (in part) iniated by a young British author and editor, Michael Moorcock. Moorcock took editorship of sf magazine New Worlds in 1964 and “set out to transform what counted as sf” in that he preferred stories which were “radical in style and content, often explicit in terms of language and sexual references, and more concerned with ‘inner’ than outer space”  (Merrick 103).

Writers of the New Wave soon developed a prose style reminiscent of Modernism and aimed to write sf that could provide the genre with a legitimacy that it had been lacking before. At the same time that UK writers started to experiment, in the US first major successes in novel form (Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land from 1961) and the genre’s growing success also on television with Lost in Space (1965-68) or Star Trek (1966-69) also helped establish the genre more firmly, thus allowing for more stylistic experimentation. In the US, writers and editors such as Judith Merril and Harlan Ellison became aware of the phenomenon and published anthologies collecting this new style of science fiction, writing similarly styled stories themselves. Especially Ellison’s anthology Dangerous Visions helped establish the New Wave firmly in the US and is seen by critics such as Roger Luckhurst as “an exercise in reanimating American science fiction rather than a new breakthrough” (164). Nonetheless, the New Wave of Science Fiction has brought literary credibility to the genre, giving it new momentum – something that would only twenty years later happen again with Cyberpunk.


This is the lecture “New Wave Science Fiction (1960s – 1970s)” by Prof. Dr. David Higgins (Inver Hills College):

Videofile – MP4

Or download this link via right-click and “save as…”: Lecture

Audiofile – MP3

Or download this link via right-click and “save as…”: Lecture


The introductory essay “New Wave Science Fiction (1960s – 1970s)” by Prof. Dr. David Higgins (Inver Hills College) is available here:

Higgins, David – “New Wave Science Fiction”


Recommended Stories


Delany, Samuel. “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967) – pages 406-14.

Delany describes a wild, colorful story that questions our conceptions of gender, sex and age in a wonderfully stylized prose narrative about astronauts and the fetishization of humanity.

Dick, Philip K. “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (1966) – pages 367-85.

In this story Dick challenges our notion of what constitutes reality, dream and memory – it has been famously remade into the movie(s) Total Recall (1990, remake: 2012).

Ellison, Harlan. “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (1967) – pages 389-402.

Five humans are all that is left of humanity and they are held captive and tortured by the Allied Mastercomputer (AM) inside of earth. This dark and gloomy tale of human suffering at the hands of artificial intelligence is a masterpiece of exploration of the “inside” space in sf.


Delany, Samuel. “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967) – pages 405-14.  /  Dick, Philip K. “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (1966) – pages 385 – 404.

for these stories, see above entry

Aldiss, Brian. “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969) – pages 443-51.

A quiet story that discusses the question of what constitutes life by introducing an android boy desperately struggling for his parents approval and love. It was the basis of Stanley Kubrick’s / Steven Spielberg’s project A.I.

Ellison, Harlan. “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965) – pages 367-478.

A fable about time, order and schedules that revolves around the rebellion against all such principles by the hands of the carnivalesque character of the Harlequin.


Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Del Rey, 1968.

If you have the time for a novel, this masterpiece is an excellent exploration of artificial life and the quality of what makes us human. In the class-room it can be used in combination with Aldiss “Super-Toys”, Ridley Scott’s film version Blade Runner (1981) or cyberpunk explorations of the same theme, for example in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).

Interesting Links




Works Cited on this page:

  • Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction. Cambridge: Polity, 2005. Print.
  • Merrick, Helen. “Fiction, 1964-1979.” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. Eds. Mark Bould et al. London: Routledge, 2009. 102-11. Print.


MLA Citation for this page:
Video Lecture:
Higgins, David. “New Wave Science Fiction”. Video Lecture. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2013.
Higgins, David. “New Wave Science Fiction”. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2013.
<http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=321>. 1-12.
Info Page:
Schmeink, Lars. “The New Wave of SF”. Web Page. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012.