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Best New Wave Science Fiction Books

Best New Wave Science Fiction Books | Best Science Fiction Books

The May 1964 issue of the venerable British science fiction magazine New Worlds had a new editor: Michael Moorcock. Moorcock, still in his early 20s, had already made a name for himself as editor of Tarzan Adventures and the Sexton Blake Library, hardly a CV that suggested radical change, but that is what happened. Backed by Brian Aldiss and J.G. Ballard, already the star writers of New Worlds, Moorcock encouraged experimental writing, the use of modernist literary techniques and the exploration of what became known as "inner space". It is in the nature of experiments that many of them failed, but enough succeeded to cause a sensation. New writers like M. John Harrison and Christopher Priest were attracted to this exciting new form of sf, while more established writers were encouraged to try something new. It helped that this was the mid-60s, the era of Swinging London and The Beatles, and this radical no-holds-barred literature suited the zeitgeist.

Judith Merril took the British New Wave to America with her anthology, England Swings SF, but a slightly different new wave was already under way there. It was an age of the counterculture, of youth versus old, of protests against the Vietnam War. In 1967 the magazine Galaxy carried two full-page advertisements on facing pages, one was signed by sf writers supporting the war (without exception, authors associated with the classic sf of the 40s and 50s), the other signed by writers opposing the war. Except for one or two names (Isaac Asimov), this list was composed of writers who would become associated with the American New Wave. The exemplary text was Harlan Ellison's massive, groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions, which set a tone of iconoclasm, of breaking taboos, of bringing sex and politics into science fiction.

Within ten years, the new wave had run its course on both sides of the Atlantic. But that period was one of the most exciting in the history of science fiction, with a host of new writers emerging, and with a steady parade of stories, novels and anthologies (whether the experimental fictions from Britain or the iconoclastic ones from America) that changed the character of science fiction, and laid the groundwork for the cyberpunk, feminist and postmodern science fictions to come.

Whenever you put a list of books together, you'll always get disagreements. But this could well be the most controversial choice of all, because J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition has always been controversial, ever since the stories that make it up were first published in New Worlds.The stories that make up The Atrocity Exhibition were what Ballard called "condensed novels", stories that were reduced to intense, often hallucinogenic images, with much of the normal connecting material we expect in fiction removed. The effect was maddening and intriguing, flashes of lucidity and passages of weird insanity. Put together, they constitute an account of a descent into madness brought on by the incessant imagery of the modern world.The protagonist, if we assume it is the same character across the different stories, is variously called Traven or Travis, Talbot or Talbert; he is a doctor in a mental hospital who is himself going mad. The mass media and the cult of celebrity, events such as the death of Marilyn Monroe, the assassination of President Kennedy, the space race and the threat of war, all contribute to his psychosis, and he is constantly trying to recast them in ways that make sense to him. Some of the condensed novels, for instance, have titles such as "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race," "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" and "Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy" demonstrate how violent these delusions are, as if only the start of World War III will make sense to him. No work better represents the character of the New Wave in science fiction, a literature of radical experiments (not always successful, but generally very interesting), and a literature in which the landscape of the mind ("inner space") is at least as important as anything in the outer world. This is challenging, disturbing, often irrational, and one of the most extraordinary achievements in the whole of science fiction.

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Ballard wrote a load of books that easily merit a place in any Top 100. These are just a few of the works that we offer as Alternative Choices.

Crash is every bit as controversial as The Atrocity Exhibition. One of the stories in The Atrocity Exhibition was called "Crash!", and not long after Ballard organised an exhibition of Crashed Cars as well as making a short film on the topic. The novel brings all of these ideas together. The narrator is called James Ballard, and following a car crash he comes into contact with a group of people who become sexually aroused by staging car crashes that replicate those in which celebrities were involved.

Vermillion Sands is a collection of stories concerning the rich and decadent people in a luxurious resort, where various weird art forms are practiced, including sculpting clouds ("The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D"), singing plants ("Prima Belladonna") and mood-sensitive architecture ("The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista").

The Crystal World is the fourth of four exotic catastrophe novels that Ballard wrote early in his career â The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World and The Drought being the others. In this, a doctor is making his way into the African jungle while all around him the jungle and its creatures are being crystalised (an effect that recalls Ian McDonald's later Chaga novels).

Throughout its history, many of the finest and most important works of science fiction have been short stories. Magazines and anthologies have been the lifeblood of the genre for at least 90 years. Magazines like Amazing or Astounding or Asimov's, anthologies like Universe or New Dimensions or Orbit, all deserve a place in any top 100 of the genre. But of all the short story collections the one that surely can't be ignored is Harlan Ellison's groundbreakingDangerous Visions, along with its even more massive companion, Again, Dangerous Visions.The 33 stories in Dangerous Visions won two Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards; the 42 stories in Again, Dangerous Visionsadded another couple of Hugo and Nebula Awards. But the awards really don't tell the full story.What you find here are writers as varied as Frederik Pohl, Robert Bloch, Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, Carol Emshwiller, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Joanna Russ, Gene Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Gregory Benford, Josephine Saxton, Thomas Disch, James Tiptree, Jr., and so on. It's a who's who of the very best science fiction writers, producing some of their very best work."Aye, And Gomorrah" by Samuel R. Delany, in which neutered spacers exploit their androgyny as a sexual fetish for others, is undoubtedly one of the finest stories he ever wrote. "The Word for World is Forest" by Ursula K. Le Guin, in which humans try to exploit the resources of an idyllic world uncaring of the harm it will do to the native inhabitants, is a glorious piece of work.Because Ellison encouraged his contributors to break taboos, to try things that science fiction hadn't done before, it resulted in some of the most original, challenging and brilliant stories in the genre. The two collections together were groundbreaking. Science fiction hadn't seen anything like them before, and hasn't seen anything like them since. The collection defined the American new wave, and changed the genre for a generation.

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There is nothing quite like Dangerous Visions, but any of these original anthology series you can lay your hands on will be well worth your while.

Orbit edited by Damon Knight published a host of award winning fiction by such regular contributors as Gene Wolfe ("The Fifth Head of Cerberus"), Kate Wilhelm ("Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang"), R.A. Lafferty, Ursula K. Le Guin and others. There were 21 volumes in the series.

New Dimensions edited by Robert Silverberg contained such award-winning stories as "Eurema's Dam" by R.A. Lafferty, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" by James Tiptree, Jr., "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin and "Unicorn Tapestry" by Suzy McKee Charnas. There were 12 volumes in the series.

Universe edited by Terry Carr included such award winners as "Good News from the Vatican" by Robert Silverberg, "The Death of Doctor Island" by Gene Wolfe, "If the Stars Are Gods" by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund, "The Ugly Chickens" by Howard Waldrop, "The Quickening" by Michael Bishop and "Paladin of the Lost Hour" by Harlan Ellison. There were 17 volumes edited by Terry Carr and a further three volumes edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber.

In the 1960s, when overpopulation was a common worry for the future, it was often said that the entire population of the world could stand on the Isle of Wight. John Brunner imagines a future in which it would take a much bigger island to accommodate the world's population.The book is a kaleidoscopic account of life in this bustling, busy, crowded world. To capture the clamour of it all, Brunner adopted the technique that John Dos Passos used in his great modernist trilogy, USA. So, in the sections headed "Context" we find newspaper headlines, classified ads, extracts from books that give us an idea of all the different things going on in the world. The sections headed "The Happening World" are just a mass of single sentences: a line of description, an overheard remark, part of a conversation, all the noise of the world that is going on around us all the time. "Tracking with Close-Ups" gives us brief glimpses of what minor characters are doing, or a glimpse of events away from the main action. Finally the main storyline is contained in the sections headed "Continuity".Throughout it all we get a dramatic sense of the impact of high population. Society is fracturing, eugenics legislation is being introduced, extremist politics is on the rise, there are shortages and wars and terrorist atrocities and advances in bioengineering. At the heart of it all, a big multinational corporation is in the process of taking over a small African country, while an American spy is investigating a technological breakthrough in South East Asia.No work of science fiction before this had been so inventive, so exciting, so engaged with the modern world. And it is still a damned good book that feels every bit as fresh and as new as it ever did. Why It Made the ListThis novel made John Brunner the first ever British writer to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, and it also won the BSFA Award and the French Prix Tour-Apollo. Even today it is still being acclaimed for its originality and its dazzling accomplishment. It remains one of the great sf novels.

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Stand on Zanzibar was the first of four novels that Brunner wrote that changed the way we looked at science fiction, because they presented crowded, clotted worlds where the background was as important and as fully realised as anything in the foreground.

The Jagged Orbit is set in a future America where racial tensions are at breaking point, and a major corporation is busy trying to sell arms to both sides at once, fomenting war in order to improve their business. It won the BSFA Award.

The Sheep Look Up is another dystopia, this time concerned with damage to the environment. At a time when corporations effectively control the government of the United States, pollution has got so bad that it results in poor health, poor sanitation, poor food supply and, eventually, civil unrest.

The Shockwave Rider is recognised as one of the ancestors of cyberpunk, it is also the novel that introduced the idea of a computer virus, though in the novel it is called a "worm". It is a novel about future shock, in which a programming genius uses his computer skills to go on the run in a world dominated by computer surveillance.

For other novels that confront issues of overpopulation, you should also check out The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, in which people live in three kilometre high tower blocks where order is only maintained by everyone sharing everything, including sex (it is considered a crime to refuse any invitation for sex). It's a brilliant picture of a very disturbing world.

Another classic of overpopulation is Make Room! Make Room!by Harry Harrison (which was filmed as Soylent Green). It's set in a future New York that is so crowded that water and food are in ever shorter supply, people have to share single room apartments, and theft and rioting are daily events.

Another novel that makes brilliant use of John Dos Passos's structure is 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Using extracts from science journals, political journalism, history books and more, Robinson creates an extraordinarily vivid picture of everyday life three centuries from now when humanity has spread out across the solar system but the Earth is suffering from ecological collapse. The immediacy of the technique really makes it feel like we are there in the city that rolls around Mercury on rails, or in the hollowed-out asteroids that travel between the planets, or when long-extinct animals are returned to earth. 2312 won the Nebula Award.

Inner space, that touchstone idea of the British New Wave, was not about the psychology of the characters so much as it was contrasting the vastness of the human imagination with the narrowness of the world that imagination must engage with. As a consequence, a favourite metaphor of new wave writers was entropy, the running down of everything within a closed system, the heat-death of the universe. Pamela Zoline's first published story virtually defines the new wave. In 54 numbered paragraphs that recall the chill intellectualism of Ludwig Wittgenstein, she recounts one typical day in the life of a suburban housewife. But as the day's events are dotted with references to Dadaism and entropy, we begin to see her life as a closed system, a system that is itself doomed to run down into the heat-death of the universe. Why it's on the list: It's hard to know what to make of this story. Is it actually science fiction? Could it be anything but science fiction? The one thing that is certain is that, ever since its first appearance in New Worlds in 1967, it has been the story most closely identified with the entire enterprise of the British New Wave.
What is a best science fiction list without the inclusion of one of the greatest science fiction writers ever? Yes, I'm talking about Philip K. Dick, a man ignored in his time but now Hollywood's golden boy when it comes to drumming up new science fiction films that star A list actors. The typical entry on a top list would be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a seminal science fiction short story that has influenced pop culture like few others. Blade Runner, for one, was based closely on the short story. And we all know how much that film influenced future films. Pretty much every new science fiction film that features an urban city rips out the dirty, vertical urban city sprawl depicted in Blade Runner. While Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was a seminal influence on the genre, Dick's best work is actually a much lesser known work known as Ubik. Ubik features the classic Dick themes of questioning the meaning of reality, gallows humor in the face of a reality that's unraveling, and an everyman protagonist you can identify with. Ubik was a major influence on the Matrix films. The story centers on the idea that a few unique humans have psychic powers. These are not lauded as heroes by the public, but rather feared by the public as a potential source of privacy invasion. Then come in another group of special humans, a sort of counter-psychic group who block the powers of the first group. A group of anti-physics embark on a mission that goes horribly wrong, barely escaping with their lives. They find on their return, however, that things are starting to go wrong – reality is wrong; coffee is stale, phone directories are out of date, etc. It's an exciting read that makes you question the nature of reality. This is one of those books that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the final page.

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For sure, other Dick reads that deal with similar themes of reality coming undone: Minority Report, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, A Scanner Darkly, and Total Recall.

Billy Pilgrim was unstuck in time. It sounds like a fairly conventional time travel story. But this is Kurt Vonnegut, and nothing he wrote was ever conventional. In fact, the novel opens with a chapter that lays out how Vonnegut came to write the novel, so we know from the start that this is a true story with an exaggeratedly fictional overlay.Vonnegut was in the American Army in 1944. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he was imprisoned near the ancient city of Dresden. He was in the city during the notorious allied bombing raid that resulted in a devastating firestorm, and he had to help with rescue details and clearing up afterwards. Those experiences are at the core of the novel.Vonnegut's alter ego in the novel is Billy Pilgrim. Young and naïve during the war, he goes on to become anoptometrist, have a not particularly happy marriage, and be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. But because he is unstuck in time, he has no control over the sequence in which he experiences these events. Although he returns again and again to the war, he will then abruptly shift to his imprisonment on Tralfamadore with a pornographic movie star, or the tragi-comic experience of his wife dying of carbon-monoxide poisoning as a result of a car crash as she rushed to visit him in hospital, or his earlier introduction to the works of science fiction writer Kilgore Trout.The result is one of the most intoxicating novels of all time, a smorgasbord of science fiction and comedy, memoir and tragedy. So it goes. Why It Made the ListSlaughterhouse Five regularly appears on lists of the 100 best novels of the 20th century, and if you ever go to Dresden you can take a Vonnegut Tour of the actual Slaughterhouse Five. It's the blend of the real and the fictional, the terrible and the hilarious that makes this a totally unforgettable novel.

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The Sirens of Titan is the novel that introduced us to the Tralfamadorians. After Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut tended to distance himself from science fiction, but before that he was a very highly regarded sf novelist. And The Sirens of Titan is the novel that made his reputation. There is someone cut loose in time, in this instance trapped in a �¢chrono-synclastic infundibulum�¢; there�¢s a war between Mars and Earth that is dotted through the narrative; and there is a Tralfamadorian who has been stuck on Titan for hundreds of thousands of years. It turns out that the whole of human history has been manipulated in order to get an earthman to Titan with the small part necessary to repair the Tralfamadorian craft. Full of sly, cynical humour, surreal juxtapositions, and a jaundiced view of humanity, this is another novel that demands to be read.
One of the great taboos that the new wave broke was political engagement. This was an era when everyone engaged in politics, from Vietnam protests to feminist campaigns to Stonewall, and the fiction should be equally engaged. With Bug Jack Barron, we got a story so cynical about politics, and about human relationships in general, that when it was serialised in New Worlds a Tory politician asked in Parliament whether the Arts Council should be funding such a magazine, while feminist typesetters refused to set one issue of the magazine because the story was too sexist. To say that Norman Spinrad was the most controversial new wave writer of the 1960s is almost an understatement. Jack Barron is a talk show host who uncovers a perverse plot behind a new immortality treatment. The more he investigates, the more he is drawn into a cynical, exploitative, political world, until the only way to get to the truth is to become just as cynical and political as his opponents. Why it's on the list: New wave stories were all about engaging with the world, though they might query what the world might be and what engagement might entail. Bug Jack Barron is the epitome of the politically alert new wave novel, challenging us to engage with the sort of world we want to see.
It's hard to know which Brian Aldiss novel to pick out for a list like this. Should it be Greybeard with its aging population living on a sterilised Earth? Or the Nebula Award winning novella, “The Saliva Tree”, which turns an idea by H.G. Wells into something weird and unsettling? Or the austere, experimental Report on Probability A which brings the French nouveau roman to an infinite regress of voyeurs? We settled on Barefoot in the Head, not one of his most popular works but a novel that fully reveals his engagement with the new wave and the zeitgeist of the 1960s. The novel is a fix-up of his Acid Head War stories, in which Europe has been bombed with long-lasting hallucinogenics and the survivors can barely maintain their grip on reality. The whole story is told in a fragmented prose that consists of broken sentences, oblique allusions, puns and wordplay in the manner of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. The messiah figure who becomes central to the story reflects the underlying new wave idea that religion stems from illusion. Why it's on the list: Every considered trope of the British New Wave is here: the unreliable reality, the fragmented consciousness, the literary experimentation, the incorporation of modernist techniques, the anti-religious bias, the engagement with contemporary culture. In many ways, this is an object lesson in how to write a new wave novel.
Inner space is about the ways that the mind encompasses the world, shapes the world and is shaped by it. The protagonist of Joanna Russ's second novel, And Chaos Died, feels a vacancy inside himself because he feels a vacancy in the social organisation of the overcrowded Earth where he lives. He is transported to a utopian planet where life is in balance with nature and where he learns a sort of telepathy. Then he returns to Earth and, newly cured, sees its oppression, its violence, its cruelty. It's not an easy book to read, there's an almost psychedelic quality to it as we are overwhelmed with sensory impressions whose meanings we are left to sort out ourselves. The whole novel is an intentional challenge to the reader, forcing us to see anew. But that is exactly what the best science fiction is supposed to do. Why it's on the list: There are modern critics who argue that the book has not aged well, and certainly it is very much of its time. Yet it is a vitally important work, not least because it is one of the springboards by which feminist science fiction took off from the new wave.
The new wave can, all too easily, be presented as humourless, worthy stuff, but it was often exuberant, funny and full of vivid ideas. The best exemplars of this are the four loosely connected novels that introduced Michael Moorcock's recurring character of Jerry Cornelius, along with the circus of extravagant creations who spun off from these books into a variety of later novels. Jerry Cornelius (the J.C. initials appear constantly in Moorcock's work) was a polymorphous, ambisexual, secret agent who reflected all the wildest excesses of Swinging London in the first of the novels, The Final Programme. He fights his brother, his sister is kidnapped and killed, and he battles a supervillain, Miss Brunner, before emerging as a hybrid monster. In the second book, A Cure for Cancer, he is reborn with black skin and white hair and moves across a landscape that has been devastated by an occupying American army. The third novel, The English Assassin, hardly features Cornelius, a shivering wreck for most of the book, while a host of colourful subsidiary characters take part in wild adventures that spread across time. Finally The Condition of Muzak, which won the Guardian Fiction Prize, suggests that all the other stories may be fantasies in the mind of an adolescent Jerry growing up in Notting Hill. That wasn't the end of the story, of course, the characters from this quartet spread out into a host of other novels and stories, some by other writers, including a Doctor Who novel. Why it's on the list: Moorcock was already exploring the idea of the multiverse when he started writing these books, and they somehow manage to encompass the louche atmosphere of London in the Swinging Sixties, the fragmentary realities and fractured sense of identity characteristic of the new wave, and the colourful extravagance of the science fiction and fantasy he would go on to write. So this is where the new wave inserts itself into a wider range of sf and fantasy.

Books in Jerry Cornelius Series (5)

One of the developments in scientific thinking during the 1960s that new wave writers caught on to was changing ideas about the power of the mind. Much new wave fiction came down to questions of what the mind was capable of achieving. Arthur Koestler, for example, argued that genius was the result of breaking down preconceived categories in the mind, and that notion was the basis for Thomas M. Disch's Camp Concentration. In a near-future war, America imprisons its conscientious objectors and injects them with a mutated form of syphilis that is designed to open up the mind, the result is that they think more quickly and more flexibly. Unfortunately, a side effect means that they will die in about nine months. The book consists of the diary on one such inmate, which charts a rise to genius and a decline into madness. The similarity to Flowers for Algernon, is obvious, though the influence of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is more telling and more significant. Why it's on the list: The idea of drugs as both threat and promise, the opening up of the mind and the increasing fracturing of the narrative: there are many familiar aspects of new wave fiction in this novel, yet it is also a powerfully affecting and humane story.
Do you know what they used to call cyberpunk in the 70s? "Hippie space opera", according to the New Worlds Magazine. At least that's what they called Harrison's third space opera book The Centauri Device. These days, we'd all think of Harrison's novel with its port cities with Bladerunner-esque junk and hookers as cyberpunk space opera, not hippie space opera. The Centauri Device follows John Truck, a scummy, drug-selling spaceship captain who is the last of the Centaurians, as he is hunted by General Alice Gaw (head of the Israeli World Government), Gadhafi ben Barka (head terrorist) and Dr Griskin (a leader of the Opener Cult) Truck's mother was one of the last Centaurians before the genocide. Now there's a group of people who want him to arm a powerful bomb that only responds to Centaurian DNA, the Centauri Device. It's a dark and gritty world that Harrison envelopes the reader in - the Arab and Isreali conflict has split the planet and Truck as our hero is the epitome of the fallen hero stereotype. It's not just space opera, this novel falls firmly within the hardboiled and cyber punk genres too, giving fans of all types of dark fiction something to sink their teeth into. And if you're still not convinced about this hard breed of space opera, Harrison was also the editor of the British science fiction magazine, New Wave.

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This was the anthology that effectively introduced America to the British New Wave. Merril had been living in Britain for a year, and was struck by the energy and enthusiasm generated by the circle of writers that had now formed around Michael Moorcock's New Worlds. She brought many of those stories together (mostly from New Worlds though some from New Writings in SF) under a title that deliberately linked the science fiction with the "happening scene" in contemporary London (though the book was later republished under the far less culturally specific title of The Space-Time Journal). Few of the stories here were major works in their own right, but collectively it presents a superb cross-section of what was happening in British science fiction at the time. And t was the first chance many American readers had to encounter the work of new writers who would go on to be major figures in science fiction, including Christopher Priest ("The Run"), Josephine Saxton ("Ne De ja Vu Pas"), Keith Roberts ("Manscarer"), Langdon Jones ("The Hall of Machines"), David I. Masson ("Psychosmosis") and Hilary Bailey ("Dr Gelabius"), not to mention Brian Aldiss ("Still Trajectories") and J.G. Ballard ("You and Me and the Continuum"). Why it's on the list: Much of the most innovative work during the new wave was being done in short stories. Other than working your way through all of the editions of New Worlds between 1964 and 1971, the best way to encounter those stories, and the spirit of experiment and adventure that went with them, is in the pages of this collection.
NOTE: THIS IS #26 on the TOP 100 LIST. The first 1-25 entries are found on THE TOP 25 BEST SCIENCE FICTION LIST. Dhalgren is one of the peculiarities of science fiction, a novel that is insistently experimental in form and content, pushing the genre in direction to which it is normally resistant, yet it was a best seller almost from the moment it was published, has remained very popular ever since, and regularly appears on lists of the best science fiction. It remains a novel that people scratch their heads over (to this day, no one is quite sure exactly what the title refers to), yet it is a novel that people return to again and again.The setting is Bellona, a Midwestern city that has somehow become cut off from consensus reality, a place where strange things happen. At one point there are two moons in the sky, at another the sun apparently fills half the horizon, and time does not follow a regular or consistent pattern. A young man who may or may not have escaped from a mental hospital and who does not even remember his own name, enters the city. There he joins the city's down and outs, joins a gang that wears projection devices to make them appear like massive animals, and becomes an acclaimed poet.But the novel opens in mid-sentence and ends in mid-sentence, suggesting everything is circular. There are hints that what we are reading is taken from somebody else's notebook that the kid cannibalises for his own poems. And echoes of the Greek myths keep breaking through amid the violence and explicit sex. It's an extraordinary novel that will keep you guessing and keep you enthralled. Why It Made the ListThis is a book you will either love or hate. Harlan Ellison threw it against the wall; Theodore Sturgeon called it a literary landmark. The one thing you cannot do is ignore it. This is, quite simply, one of the most important novels in the history of science fiction.Alternative ChoiceAn equal alternative choice for #26 on the Top 100 is Nova.Nova is a roller-coaster of a space opera that was one of the most important precursors of cyberpunk. It's got it all: the space jockeys are plugged directly in to their computers, they use drugs, and even use the tarot; all of which found their way into cyberpunk (and William Gibson included several very specific references to the novel in Neuromancer). It's the story of a spaceship captain who gathers together a crew of misfits in a race to harvest a substance that will change the balance of power in the galaxy, it's also a story that very closely follows the model of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

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Delany has written a bunch of amazing stuff (and also, frankly, a bunch of stuff you probably don't want to bother with). But here are some you really don't want to miss, including our Alternative choice.

Nova as suggested is our Alternative Choice for this position. If you've read Dhagren, read THIS.

Babel-17, which won the Nebula Award, is the story of glamorous spaceship captain Rydra Wong who is on the trail of the enemy code when she realises that it is actually a new language, one that can actually change the way you think, and she finds herself turning into a traitor.

The Einstein Intersection, which also won the Nebula Award, is a haunting story of an Earth in which humans have died out, but a race of aliens have taken on human form and play out mythic roles such as Billy the Kid, Orpheus and Ringo Starr, in an attempt to understand what humans were like.

"Hieros gamos" means holy marriage, and this is the story of an intense emotional bond that develops between the two characters at the heart of this extraordinary fable. The story starts with a nameless boy wandering through a city curiously devoid of life, the shops are intact, food is available, but people and animals are so scarce that the sound of a bird can reduce him to tears. Then he finds the body of a woman who has just given birth and realises that he must look after the baby. The two make their home in a department story, and at some point the boy is given a pile of books. What follows is a tale of slow intellectual growth and exploration as the relationship between the pair develops. Events keep circling around themselves, and much of the story is told through metaphor and allusion, so that we can never be quite sure if things are actually happening or if this is just the way that the boy sees them. Why it's on the list: Sly, oblique, poetic, filled with references to the works of Jung and Ouspensky, the work of Josephine Saxton occupies a very different place on the sf spectrum than most writers, which may perhaps be why she has not written as much as she should or received the acclaim she deserves. Nevertheless, anyone prepared to venture into the heady waters of her work is in for real delight. And this subtle fable indicates that new wave science fiction could take its intellectual inspiration from a much wider range of sources than the sf that went before.
In a world ruled by the Covenant, the denial of self is the absolute law. Which means that it is forbidden to use the word "I". Following the accession of his brother to the throne, Prince Kinnall becomes a penniless exile, tormented by increasing alienation from his culture and society. When he meets an earthman, he is introduced to a powerful new drug which opens their minds to each other. This direct engagement with another makes it more necessary to recognise the self, and Kinnall begins a “selfbaring” cult that turns into a rebellion, until he is betrayed. Alienation is one of the key words associated with new wave science fiction, and here Silverberg combines it with other new wave tropes such as the use of drugs, the uncertainty of self-identity, and even the ambiguity of the ending, to produce a story that in many ways does not feel at all new wave. But that just shows how flexible and how varied the form could be. Why it's on the list: A Time of Changes won the Nebula Award, which isn't something that many overtly new wave novels achieved. But Silverberg shows how successfully the tropes and ideas of the new wave could be combined with more traditional forms of storytelling.
He had reached the age of 650 miles. With its very first words, Inverted World tells us we are in a very different world. In fact, this is one of the great unique inventions of science fiction. Helward Mann, who is 650 miles old, lives on Earth. But Earth is a city set on rails that must forever move forward. Ahead is a spike that rises to infinity, and anyone who gets too far forward of the city finds themselves becoming elongated. Behind them is a flat, featureless plain where every feature they have passed, every person they have passed, is squashed smaller and smaller. Only by staying at optimum can the city avoid either fate, but since the ground is constantly moving, they have to keep the city moving too, taking rails from behind and repositioning them ahead of the city so that regardless of the obstacles they can trundle a few precious yards further forward.With incredible skill and grace, Priest very gradually reveals the truth about this hyperboloid world, providing at the very end a twist makes us re-evaluate every single thing we think we have learned. Inverted World won the BSFA Award. It's a novel that is universally recognised as being breathtakingly original and leading to a devastating psychological breakthrough. After reading this, you'll never see things the same way again.

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The Dream Archipelago is a sequence of novels and stories connected only by their setting, and by the powerful psycho-sexual charge they have. Priest's work has consistently undermined our notions of reality, demonstrating that our conceptions of the world around us are built on shaky foundations. And that is particularly true in these very different works. The Dream Archipelago is a chain of islands that stretch right around the equator. The countries in the northern continent have been at war for centuries, but they fight all their battles in the uninhabited southern continent. The islands of the Dream Archipelago provide a neutral zone, a place for leave (with prostitutes and police all over the place), for runaways, for tourists. But the sexual allure of the islands is matched by dangers. The stories collected in The Dream Archipelago explore that, while the novel The Affirmationmatches someone suffering psychosis in this world imagining the Dream Archipelago, and someone in the Dream Archipelago imagining this world. The Islanders,which won the BSFA and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is a gazetteer of the Dream Archipelago, with stories of horror and murder and sexual infidelity hidden within it. Most recently, The Adjacent describes war from 1914 through the Second World War and on to the near future, but it concludes with its varied recurring characters brought together in the Dream Archipelago.

The Prestige, which won the mainstream James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the World Fantasy Award, is about two rival stage magicians at the turn of the twentieth century, whose rivalry turns deadly and, through the effects of a machine invented by Nikola Tesla, goes on to affect their descendants down to the present day.

For new wave writers the world is never a fixed, absolute, unchangeing place, but is, rather, ever changing and ever changeable depending upon how it is perceived, and those perceptions can be altered by changing circumstances or by drugs. One prime example of this attitude towards reality is Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. In this story, George Orr's dreams change reality. He takes drugs to stop himself dreaming (one of the rare examples of drugs being used to stabilize rather than alter reality) until he is forced to undergo psychiatric care for his drug abuse. The psychologist, Haber, attempts to manipulate the dreams to improve the world, but in a classic case of “be careful what you wish for”, the alterations never quite work out the way they were intended. When Orr tries to abolish racism, he turns everyone grey; when he tries for peace, he unites the world against an alien invader; when he wants to end overpopulation, he unleashes a terrible plague. The novel ends ambiguously, as a new wave novel must, with shattered minds and fragmented realities. Why it's on the list: The Lathe of Heaven won the Locus Best Novel award, and demonstrates how skilled Le Guin is at blending new wave ideas with more traditional literary forms to create a story that is fresh, complex, engaging and mind-blowing.

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Philip Jose Farmer's career was revitalised by his engagement with the new wave. The taboo-defying fiction that he had already written in works like The Lovers (1952) suddenly became relevant, opening up new possibilities. These he explored in a number of short stories which played inventively with archetypal new wave themes such as inner space, fragmentation and dismay at the current state of the world. One such story was "The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World" (1971) which imagined a world so overcrowded that people were allowed to live for only one day of the week. In 1985, he used that story as the basis for his novel Dayworld, the first of a trilogy. Jeff Caird defies the government by living across every day of the week, but on each day, as a new population comes to life, he must take on a new personality, and adapt himself to new fashions, new trends, different world events. Why it's on the list: It is sometimes thought that new wave is all ideas and no plot, but this is a textbook example of a typical new wave story of unreliable realities and fragmented personalities put at the service of a gripping action adventure.

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Although there were distinct differences between the new wave in Britain and in America, there were American writers, like Thomas M. Disch and Pamela Zoline, who were far more closely associated with the British New Wave than the American. John Sladek was one of these, a satirist and parodist who saw the world as absurd rather than as a threat. He was merciless in making fun of pseudo-science, occult beliefs, politics, old-fashioned science fiction and the like. Much of this came together in his absurdist novel, The Muller-Focker Effect (it is telling that the title was meant to sound like "motherfucker"). Here disintegrating personality and dubious identity become a vehicle for a satirical attack on big business, evangelical religion, right-wing politics and even men's magazines. The Müller-Focker effect is the ability to store an entire human personality on four computer tapes. These can then be converted into a virus in order to upload that personality into a new body. When the person testing the equipment is caught in an explosion, it becomes the trigger for an escalating story of madness as different organisation battle to get control of the tapes. Why it's on the list: Sladek was one of the key writers of the new wave, though he gave up science fiction for a while after this novel appeared and is under appreciated now as a result. But the freewheeling absurdist comedy of his work (one of his collections, for instance, was called Keep the Giraffe Burning) gave a distinct character to his fiction that few other contemporary writers could match.

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Although he would enjoy something of a cult status among some British fans, Bayley is probably one of the forgotten figures of the British New Wave, largely because of his combination of extravagant old-fashioned sf devices with a distinctly British gloom, the fine analytical detail of his novels dressed up as what Aldiss called âwide-screen baroqueâ. Yet he was one of the key players in Moorcock's transformation of New Worlds, and at his best his novels have a glorious madness all their own. Collision Course takes ideas about time from the work of 1930s theorist J.W. Dunne, then blows them up into a novel in which paradox piles upon paradox. Two different "presents" are moving towards each other across time, and the moment where they collide is when disaster is let loose.Why it's on the list: Barrington Bayley was something of a devil-may-care writer who loved to upend genre conventions, and this wildly unlikely time paradox story is a fine example of why he still attracts devoted readers.

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James Tiptree appeared as if from nowhere in the late 1960s with a series of beautifully realised stories that yet revealed a dark imagination, particularly when it comes to matters of sex and violence. In "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain", for instance, a concern for the well-being of the Earth leads Doctor Ain to destroy the human race. In "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death", which won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, an alien creature recounts resorting to cannibalism to survive winters that are becoming longer, only to reveal that the mate for whom he is storing the food is already slowly eating him. In "The Girl Who Was Plugged In", a badly deformed girl becomes a media celebrity through controlling a beautiful female avatar. And in "The Women Men Don't See", survivors of an air crash in a South American jungle encounter aliens, and the women realise that they are better served by joining the aliens than by staying with the men. All of these stories and more were included in Tiptree's second collection, Warm Worlds and Otherwise. Why it's on the list: Although not normally counted as a new wave writer, Tiptree certainly benefitted from the new wave. Her stories are suffused with images of sex and violence that had become possible through the new wave; there was a detached almost clinical examination of the foibles of human personality that was again an offshoot of the new wave; and it was familiarity with the work of contemporary new wave writers that led her earliest readers to appreciate what she was doing with her fiction.
Expanded from the Nebula Award winning novella, "He Who Shapes", this is a story about using dreams to both escape and change the world. Charles Render is the inventor of a new psychological technique: he hooks his patients into a giant simulation within which he controls their dreams. In an overpopulated world in which people are increasingly finding themselves unable to cope psychologically with reality, Render's ability to destroy their nightmares proves to be tremendously popular and successful. But then a new blind patient wants to use the simulation in order to see through other people's eyes, and Render finds her slowly starting to control his own dreams. Why it's on the list: Sigmund Freud could be the patron saint of the new wave, throughout the literature dreams are where inner space and outer reality interact. The idea of controlling dreams that Zelazny explores here, is therefore the archetypal new wave project of changing reality.
Pavane is a sequence of linked stories set in the 1960s in a world in which the Spanish Armada had succeeded, Catholicism had defeated Protestantism, and the Church ruled Britain in a way that limited all technology. Although there are signs of modern life, such as road trains and semaphore signal stations that criss-cross the country, there is still a form of feudalism in place. The different stories each provide a vignette of ordinary life that together build up into a powerful and impressive portrait of the world.A young man operating a road train is cheated by his best friend, who attempts highway robbery. A signalman at a remote station is injured and as he lies dying is visited by a fairy (who did not flit from Britain with the coming of Protestantism). A monk who witnesses the tortures of the Inquisition starts to tour the country as an itinerant preacher recounting visions that seem to bear a resemblance to our own world. A young woman from a depressed and blackened town, sees a white boat that she imagines will be her passport to a better life, but it turns out to be smuggling forbidden technology and she ends up betraying it to the authorities. A woman related to the family who run the road train in the first story marries into the aristocracy, but discontent at the rule of the Church grows and she ends up leading a rebellion that may be doomed to failure. Keith Roberts was one of the finest writers ever to produce science fiction in Britain, his work is moving and vivid, with a wonderful evocation of landscape and a detailed knowledge of small, everyday technologies. All of which comes out in what many consider to be his best work and which the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction rates as the finest of all alternate histories.

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Roberts was a brilliant writer who was at his best in linked stories that built into a novel and that worked as a kind of mosaic.

The Chalk Giants is another mosaic novel, more ambitious in scope though some would say less successful in detail than Pavane. It starts with a sad, lonely, failure of a man fleeing an unspecified catastrophe. Depending on how you choose to read it, he either succeeds in escaping to a refuge in southwest England, or is overtaken by the disaster and the rest of the novel is his dying vision. From this present, the novel shifts future history, pausing at the diseased and mutated victims of nuclear war, at a primitive community, at something equivalent to the dark ages, and at the arrival of an analogue of Christianity. The various components of the novel varyn in quality, but at their finest, such as the immediate post-apocalyptic "Monkey and Pru and Sal", they are easily among the best work of his career.

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Roberts always worried about the way he had made the Church the villain of Pavane, and his later mosaic novel, Kiteworld, can be seen as a response to that. It is set in a post-catastrophe world in which watchmen on the borders are hoisted aloft on giant kites to watch for signs of "demons". The details of day to day life in a world that is slowly running down is what makes this such an effective novel. One of the constituent stories, "Kitemaster", won the BSFA Award.

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One of the few novels he wrote, as opposed to collections of linked stories, was Gr�¡inne, which is largely autobiographical in detail, recounting his life in art school (Roberts was a very talented illustrator) and in advertising. But alongside this conventional, realist story there are persistent encounters with the titular femme fatale who leads the book eventually into a curious technological future. Gr�¡inne won the BSFA Award.

How do you turn a technology-heavy subject like the expansion of the manned space programme beyond Apollo, into an unreliable new wave text? By turning it into a novel within the novel. Harry Evans, the only survivor of the first manned expedition to Venus, is writing his memoir as if it were a novel. But it soon becomes clear that he isn't exactly a reliable narrator. Details keep changing, his account of conversations with the Venusians is coloured by a deep paranoia, and before too long we are starting to suspect that Harry actually murdered his fellow astronauts. Beyond Apollo won the very first John W. Campbell Memorial Award, though it is hard to imagine any novel more antagonistic to the ideals of John Campbell. It is a deeply cynical and pessimistic novel in which technology is seen not as extending human capability but as inimical to humanity. Why it's on the list: The new wave was practically over by the time this novel appeared, indeed we could see it as one of the first post-new wave works. It has imbibed the lessons of the new wave and taken them forward into a new form. Malzberg's long, elaborate sentences certainly run counter to the more fragmented prose that is often typical of the new wave, but his ideas about the unreliability of reality and how we constantly remake our own world are clearly derived from the best of the new wave.