Riding the New Wave
Britain, 1960, mainstream novelist, poet, critic Kingsley Amis published New Maps of Hell, a literary history and examination of science fiction. In America Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), presented a dense, political novel with religious and social themes. 1965 acclaimed French director Jean-Luc Godard’s film Alphaville examined society with a dystopian and apocalyptic setting.
In Britain this new look at science fiction became known as The New Wave. This new generation of writers reimagined and experimented with scifi themes. Blending fantasy, surrealism, realism, social commentary, metaphysics, and other disparate ideas were explored.
These writers were heavily influenced by the French New Wave movement in cinema. These writers saw publication in New Worlds magazine during Michael Moorcock’s tenure as editor. In the U.S. Harlan Ellison edited the anthology Dangerous Visions, which challenged the acceptable scifi forms in the magazines. These stories were revolutionary, and Isaac Asimov said so in his introduction to the book.
Writers in the 60’s and 70’s turned their attention to both a more sophisticated literary style as well as controversial subjects, like sexuality which writers like Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon took seriously for the first time.
Movies and television produced scifi with varying success. 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange represented the New Wave on screen. Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, Godzilla, and a slew of B movies showed the audiences need for scifi. Then in 1977 a movie came along that skyrocketed the genre to unprecedented heights. Star Wars.
Television drama during the 60’s was dominated by Westerns but there were a few scifi series. Most successful was The Twilight Zone, which was a speculative fiction anthology but with many episodes being scifi. A later series The Outer Limits took up the mantle of Twilight Zone.Irwin Allen brought 4 scifi series to television: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Lost in Space.
In 1966 a series struggled with ratings until being cancelled after the third season. Star Trek. It gained iconic status during the 70’s with a new generation discovering them during after school reruns. It went on to spawn a series of movies and television shows (and a mountain of novels).
The distinction between soft science fiction and hard became delineated at the time. (Hard science fiction is generally more scientifically rigorous than soft science fiction.) Star Wars also popularized science fantasy and space opera.
To Boldly Go
Science fiction has flourished in movies, television, and video games since the 1980’s. (In the bookstores, though, it is overshadowed by the fantasy genre.) New subgenres sprung up, most notably cyberpunk and steampunk.
From its humble beginnings science fiction has since become entrenched in popular culture. New movies are released almost every month; new series are produced for network tv and streaming services; new games are being created. There is no indication that scifi will go away anytime soon.