Glossary Home Movements

New Wave Science Fiction

The New Wave science fiction movement occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, writers experimented with the style of “soft” science fiction. 

These New Wave writers sought to break away from the traditions of pulp science fiction, which was popular after World War II. Their works are often considered to have higher literary importance and deeper meaning. The first works of New Wave science fiction were published in New Worlds, starting in the mid-1960s. 

The Dangerous Visions 1967 anthology is commonly considered the best resource of 1960s New Wave science fiction stories. 

New Wave Science Fiction definition and literary examples

New Wave Science Fiction Definition 

New Wave science fiction experimented with themes like sexual liberation, postmodernism, utopia, and dystopias and tapped into movements like surrealism, symbolism, and more. It occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.

It was a prominent movement in both America and Britain. The British New Wave science-fiction movement is generally considered to be more cohesive and similar in its output to that which occurred in America. American writers were less unified in their objectives and contributed to a wider variety of literary magazines.

In both countries, writers focused on breaking away from what is now considered to be the “golden age” of science-fiction. There were fewer novels and stories written about adventures in outer space and new technologies, and then there were stories exploring dreams and the unconscious. Writers explored feelings of alienation, isolation, class differences, the end of civilization, and more. 

The New Wave science fiction movement also helped shape developing genres, like cyberpunk. Readers can explore a few examples of New Wave science fiction below. 

Examples of New Wave Science Fiction 

The Female Man by Joanna Russ 

The Female Man is a feminist novel written during the New Wave science fiction movement. It was published in 1975 and followed four women who live in parallel worlds. The novel explores gender roles and the ways the four women influence one another’s lives. Here is a quote: 

You don’t want me to lose my soul; you only want what everybody wants, things to go your way; you want a devoted helpmeet, a self-sacrificing mother, a hot chick, a darling daughter, women to look at, women to laugh at, women to come for comfort, women to wash your floors and buy your groceries and cook your food and keep your children out of your hair […]

The novel asks readers to question what it means to be a woman as the main character challenges gender norms and seeks to remake her identity.

Riders of the Purple Wage by Jose Farmer 

Riders of the Purple Wage was published in 1967. The novella was awarded the Hugo Award in 1968, along with Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey. The book is made up of a series of poems, journal entries, fiction pros, and more. Many of these elements were specifically written as allusions to James Joyce’s classic novels, like Finnegans Wake and Ulysses. Here is a quote: 

He does not cry because he feels like a man who thinks about the mother he loved and who is dead but who died a long time ago. His mother has been long buried under a landslide of flesh. When he was sixteen, he had had a lovely mother. 

The premise of the novel is based on a universal income received by all citizens. In the novel, populations are segregated by choice and divided into controlled environments. Additionally, the author experimented with themes of sexual liberation, the importance of the arts, and consumerism. Specifically, the novel focuses on a relationship between a young artist and the man’s mother’s great-great-grandfather.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin 

The Dispossessed was published in 1974 and is a utopian science fiction novel. It won several awards after its publication, including the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1975. The novel is set in two fictional worlds, Anarres and Urras. Here is a quote: 

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. 

The novel explores themes of individualism vs. collectivism, economics, and isolation. 


Is Dune New Wave science fiction?

Yes, Dune by Frank Herbert is generally considered to be one of the most important works of New Wave science-fiction. It was written in 1965 and was followed up by several sequels. Despite its otherworldly setting, the novel explores numerous universal themes.

What are the five types of science fiction?

There are several sub-genres of science fiction that readers should be aware of. These include hard and soft science fiction, steampunk, parallel worlds, dystopian fiction, and more.

What is pulp sci-fi?

The term “pulp science fiction” refers to short, cheaply published literary works that date back to 1926. Pulp science fiction stories and novellas were published monthly or quarterly in affordable magazines. These stories were often short and easy to read. They included fantastical elements and outrageous characters.

Related Literary Terms 

  • Thriller: a genre of fiction that is defined by its wide variety of sub-genres. They range from crime to science fiction.
  • Dirty Realism: a literary movement of the 20th century in North America. The movement’s authors use concise language and clear descriptions of the darkest parts of reality.
  • Futurism:  an avant-garde movement that originated in Italy in the 20th century. It was part of the broader Futurist art movement.
  • Genre:  a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Fantasy:  a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.

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