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Merril herself lived for a year in England in and was so impressed she edited the anthology England Swings SF. It was intended to shake things up. It was conceived out of a need for new horizons, new forms, new styles, new challenges in the literature of our times. Like Moorcock, Le Guin sympathised with the anarchist theorist Kropotkin. Like Ballard, she rejected establishment science fiction:. From a social point of view most SF has been incredibly regressive and unimaginative.
All those Galactic Empires, taken straight from the British Empire of All those planets — with 80 trillion miles between them! Le Guin was also involved in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, while Russ, a lesbian, was more combative in her challenge of male dominance in the field. Both writers depict decaying civilisations filled with empty cities and ruined technologies. But Delany concentrates on the cultural relativism of language and science, with an emphasis on the marginalised and on problems of identity.
Later in the s he was involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and in he lived as part of an urban commune, an experience chronicled in Heavenly Breakfast. His writing represented a confluence of all of these currents.
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In , when the anti-Vietnam letter appeared in Galaxy , the American New Wave was reaching its peak. Robert Silverberg — probably the most right-wing of the New Wave writers — quickly produced a series of meditations on alienation, transcendence and political action, through which his stalled science fiction career was brilliantly relaunched.
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Philip K Dick had already built a body of work, including essays praising the New Left and the counterculture, centring around philosophical questions of reality, authenticity and what it meant to be human. She later published her award-winning novel The Word for World is Forest based on the novella of the same name included in Again, Dangerous Visions in which the gentle inhabitants of a planet fight the evil Yumen invaders. Revolutions in form represent the emergence of new content. In order to do so, they had to break apart the traditional narrative forms and structures.
The New Wave dissipated in the mid s along with the radical movement of which it was a part, though the story is less one of defeat than of integration acceptance by the genre as a whole and dispersal the disappearance of the distinctive tone representing the particular correlation of forces from which the New Wave emerged.
Because prior to that there really were all kinds of restrictions: it was edited as if it were stuff for teenagers, or more accurately, what librarians thought teenagers should be able to read.
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So there was all kinds of political restrictions, and sexual restrictions and language restrictions, none of which exist today. In that sense it succeeded completely.
Both novelists had been in the armed forces Heinlein in the Second World War; Haldeman in Vietnam, where he was seriously wounded ; both novels employ essentially the same plot the rise of the protagonist from lowly foot soldier to officer ; both have the same science fictional hardware and a similar hard-nosed literary style. For Merril, however, the letter was not enough. There, she founded Rochdale College, an experiment in cooperative living and student-run education, and was heavily involved in the peace movement.
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Others took different paths, though few of the New Wave writers entirely lost their radicalism. Forty years after the letter, their example shines for those who feel that contemporary culture needs to be revolutionised, not just in form, but in content. Of course, literary movements cannot be simply invoked out of thin air, any more than radical political movements can be conjured by pure will. The New Wave project was constructed in the context of the broad social radicalisation in which its writers participated.
It is easy for us to forget just how profound this was. The civil rights movement, black power, feminism, the New Left, gay rights, the counterculture — the s fundamentally altered the modern world. Revolution — in both East and West — seemed to be in the air, and to understand New Wave SF, you must understand it as emerging from and engaging with this radicalisation.
The political situation in Australia today is obviously different.
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The events of September 11 served to derail the anti-corporate movement, and since then no comparable struggles have emerged. Not surprisingly, radical political writing has declined — and this is a fact that we cannot simply wish away. That does not, however, mean that we should simply wait until the times change.
Literary and political movements are never entirely spontaneous. They never emerge purely unplanned, without someone initiating them. At key points of that history, both science fiction and the broader culture were shaped by people who had both a literary agenda and a political one. Furthermore, most of the New Wave writers embarked on their projects before the widespread s radicalisation took place. Moorcock took over New Worlds in Le Guin and Delany followed similar trajectories.
They were, in other words, participants in the s, not simply reflections of it. The New Wave is instructive in a final sense, demonstrating that approaching culture politically in the broad sense of the term does not necessarily result in the production of dour and didactic texts. Then nothing: New Worlds was dead. Until now. Bodies crawling from the grave are usually not too healthy, but this revenant looks good. Like magazines, but unlike paperbacks, it has been designed: relevant art work and crazy photographs of the authors accompany each story.
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People live out their entire lives, from birth to death, falling through the sky, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups loosely tied together. Mothers tend to hold on to their children — literally — for as long as possible; axing through the shrivelled umbilical cord to set out alone is a major occasion for a youngster. Dickens uses his fable to poke sly fun at both religious fanatics and scientific theorists — where did mankind first fall from, can we get back to that primal place, and where are we falling to? All the stories, with the obvious exception of this, are set firmly on Earth, though not always the Earth we are familiar with.
He fell to Earth between the wars, then worked for Hitler. He tell his story, in a parallel present day, to the last of the Nazi-hunters. One of the simplest, yet most compelling stories is J. This is real science fiction, in the genuine New Worlds mould, rather than the spaceships and tentacled aliens of the old pulp magazines, which ridiculously is still the image that non-readers have of the genre.