After completing The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1950s, I decided to push ahead into the 1960s. Going through the databases and assembling the list was a shock to my memory. I remember the 1960s being a tremendous decade for science fiction, and it was in volume, but I just don’t know how many of the books I found to list here are actual classics. I’ve reread far fewer of these titles than I did for the books from the 1950s, so I’m going more from distant memory than recent. And I padded the list with more books I remember reading about but haven’t read. I included them because they still sound good enough to track down in 2013. Many of these books listed below are ones I discovered researching the Classics of Science Fiction website, so they stick in my mind.
Also, I’m doubting the completeness of my databases. I had to consult several sources to find many of the titles I “remembered.” If I had to actually make up this list from cold memory it would be far shorter. I needed tools like the Internet Science Fiction Database to trigger buried recollections.
In the 1960s I loved shopping for books so much that I would visit bookstores two or three times a week. Towards the end of the decade I learned how to go to flea market and garage sales and offer to buy whole boxes of paperbacks cheap. I’d then take them to 2 for 1 trade in stores. I got to know the science fiction sections of several used bookshops in Miami. So looking for cover art for this list was a trip down memory lane.
I’d often read a book a day back then. Which is probably why I don’t remember these books so well – I read fast, and consumed science fiction in mass quantities. Some do stand out, especially the titles I’ve reread over the years. In terms of ideas, the 1960s were rich in original content. Most of the 1950s was spent reprinting the classic stories of the 1930s and 1940s pulp area. This still happened, but less often. Heinlein’s great short novel Orphans in the Sky from 1963, is really two novellas from the early 1940s, “Universe” and “Common Sense.” Thus it’s very hard to think of Orphans of the Sky as a classic 1960s novel.
The original essay I wrote about the 1950s was inspired by the Library of America’s collection of 1950s science fiction. I assume Library of America will published a collection for the 1960s, and then the 1970s. After collecting all the most memorable titles from the 1960s that I could find, favorites just don’t jump out at me like they did for the 1950s. However, I would say this short list of books are the standout science fiction books of the 1960s, the ones most remembered by people who don’t normally read science fiction. These are the titles I think will be remembered by literary scholars, if they’re willing to read science fiction.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
- Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Canticle for Leibowitz is tricky, it was copyright 1959, but published in 1960. I personally think Stand on Zanzibar is a great SF novel of the 1960s, but it’s quickly becoming forgotten. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty I’d say Stranger in a Stranger Land and Dune are the quintessential novels of the 1960s. They aren’t my favorites, but I think they are the ones remembered by the most people.
Here’s the larger list I worked from, the titles that hard core science fiction fans should easily remember and love. These are the books that I either read, read about, won awards, or are often talked about at the Classics of Science Fiction Book Club. Compiling this list makes me want to reread a lot of books.
JWH – 4/7/13