The nominations for the 2022 Hugo Awards close tomorrow, so I have one last Non-Fiction Spotlights for 2021 for you. Though I will keep the project going and present SFF-related non-fiction books published in 2022, because after the Hugos is before the Hugos.
If you’re just joining us, the Non-Fiction Spotlights are a project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that came out in 2021 and are eligible for the 2022 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.
For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.
The subject of today’s Non-Fiction Spotlight is Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950 to 1985, a collection of essays about a most exciting period of science fiction, during which the genre changed and evolved significantly.
Therefore, I am pleased to welcome Andrew Nette, one of the two editors, to my blog today:
Tell us about your book.
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985 is the third in a series of books I’ve coedited that examine various aspects of pulp and popular fiction in the post war period, from the early 1950s until the early to mid 1980s, with a particular focus on what is sometimes called as ‘the long sixties’. This era, which began in the late 1950s and extended well into the 1970s, has become associated with widespread radical social upheaval and change. The most public manifestation of this was the plethora of social and liberation movements focused on class, racial, gender, sexual and other inequalities that emerged during this time. This period also coincided with the paperback revolution in the US in the immediate post war period, a development that soon spread to the UK and by the early 1960s to Australia. Because paperback producers needed a lot of material, fast, it was inevitable that many books would mine social developments taking place during this time, whether it was moral panics about youth or the civil rights and anti-war movements. This publishing market allowed a growing number of authors to make it into print and sustain a living doing so. This included a more diverse group of writers, obviously women, but also gay and lesbian authors, as well as, albeit, at a much slower place, people of colour.
The first book in this series, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, examined how paperback fiction reflected public anxieties, fears and fascinations in the US, UK and Australia around various youth subcultures: delinquent youth gangs, beatniks, hippies, musicians and groupies, bikers, and even surfers. The second book, Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, looked at how pulp and popular publishers, and the various genres they produced, crime, erotica, adventure, etc, responded to the upsurge in radical social movements that challenged the status quo in the US, UK and Australia, particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s: civil rights and Black Power, the New Left and the student movement, anti-war, gay and lesbian liberation, and feminism.
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds is focused on the science and speculative fiction that appeared from the 1950s until the mid-1980s in the US and UK, with a focus on the loose movement known as the new wave science. Starting in the second half of the 1960s, this saw the emergence of a body of works that challenged and destabilised the conservative literary, sexual, political and identity conventions of science fiction. This is, of course, not to say that there were no science fiction writers pushing boundaries prior to the new wave – writers such as Catherine Perkins Gilmore and Aldous Huxley are two very notable earlier examples just off the top of my head. But the changes in the second half of the 1960s, particular the upsurge of radical activity around the Vietnam War, significantly pushed the genre in all kinds of innovative ways, in terms of its political content, expressive and literary style, and the aesthetics of the cover illustration. Despite resistance from some fans, publishers and editors, the novels and short stories associated with this turn became hugely popular to the point of pretty much dominating awards and the field in the 1970s. As I noted above, this in turn also led to the gradual diversification of the authorship of science fiction.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a Melbourne based writer of fiction and non-fiction. But I’ve had many work incarnations, so to speak. For a large chunk of the 1990s I was a journalist in Indochina. I’ve since worked as a university researcher and in various policy development positions for a range of community and trade union organisations. And I just completed a PhD into the history of Australia’s largest post war pulp publisher, Horwitz Publications, which should be seeing the light of day as a wildly overpriced academic text sometime in 2022.
What prompted you to write/edit this book?
The second book in our series, Sticking it to the Man, originally included material on radical science fiction but the length of the book completely blew out and our publisher insisted we shorten it. It was at this point that my co-editor, Iain McIntyre, and I realised we had the makings of a third book – on radical science and speculative fiction. We pitched the idea to our publisher, and they were very receptive. With the high/low culture, hardback/paperback, literary/pulp distinctions particularly blurred with sci-fi, and a huge range of authors and works to choose from, we certainly had no trouble finding enough material for book-length treatment of the subject. Indeed, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds could have been twice as long, and we still would not have been able to cover everything.
Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?
Every review that I have read of our book has had something different to say about it & why it should be read (or in the cases not). I would nominate four reasons why people may be interested in reading this book.
First, we have made a deliberate attempt to expand the notion of new wave science fiction. This means that while our book looks at key new wave writers, such as Michael Moorcock, Samuel Delany, J. G. Ballard, Judith Merrill, etc, just to name a few, we also examine lessor known or recognised participants, including some of those working at the pulpier end of the spectrum. This includes things like smut SF, UK science fiction television novelisations, books like Hank Lopez’s little-known Afro-6, and William Bloom’s Qhe! series. It also meant looking at some well-known authors from a different angle; for example, examining John Wyndham from the point of view how his work aligned with second wave feminism, and Daniel Shank Cruz’s wonderful piece on the young Samuel R. Delaney’s time living in the Heavenly Breakfast commune on Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the winter of 1967-1968, an aspect of his life that has not received so much attention. Having this balance is not only about being comprehensive and expanding the commonly accepted parameters of new wave SF, but it works in terms of giving readers a glimpse of the work of little known or completely forgotten authors.
Second, we wanted to show the diversity of attitudes, styles, concerns, backgrounds and people involved with radical science fiction in the period examined in the book. While the new wave, certainly in its earlier days, was predominantly white and male dominated, this began to break down in the early 1970s with the success of authors such as Ursula K Le Guin, Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy, and in the UK the work of radical publishers such as the Women’s Press. Slowly but eventually, science fiction also became more racially diverse.
Third, the book includes an in-depth look at the political concerns of new wave science fiction and the direct political activity of many of the authors involved in it.
Fourth are the covers. As I noted earlier, a major part of the way in which science fiction began to change from the mid-1960s was aesthetic. Dangerous Visions and New Worlds contains hundreds of full colour cover images that are not only stunning to look at but they shed light of the political and thematic pre-occupations of the genre during the time.
Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?
I read a lot of new wave science fiction in my teens and have continued to dip into the genre ever since, so I feel I was already well versed on the subject. That said, doing this book exposed me to the sheer scale and diversity of new wave of science fiction. Not just in terms of stories, plot lines and speculative sub genres but the influence that came to bear on the new wave, everything from the Beats, modernism, New Journalism, William Burroughs, to psychedelics and eastern spirituality. Connected to this, it is fascinating how immersed in the counterculture a lot of the authors were and how this impacted their writing. Themes of mental disintegration, mass media saturation, sex, drugs, rock and roll, the occult, feminism, and anti-authoritarianism, not only influenced how writers told stories but manifested in books featuring experimental and bizarre prose and, of course, the cover art.
I was also really interested by how the new wave played out in terms of changing conceptions of sexual identity and joy. This is obviously related to factors such as the counterculture and the breakdown of strict post war censorship systems in the 1960s. But also important was technological innovation such as the uptake of offset printing which facilitated cheaper production and greater design flexibility, making it commercially viable for small publishers to undertake potentially risky publications, including those with heavily sexualised and pornographic content.
SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?
Not surprisingly, I think that non-fiction studies of book culture in general – not just science fiction – are vital. Hence why I have coedited three related volumes on the subject and a book an academic book on Australia pulp publishing in the works. I find authorial histories really interesting. Ditto, research on the marketing, distribution, and other political and economic aspects of the production of texts. Having a knowledge of these things really fleshes out and breathes additional life into ones appreciation of book culture and its social, economic and cultural links.
Where can people buy your book?
Depending on where your readers are, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds is stocked by a number of bookshops. In the US, the book is available through our publisher, PM Press here: https://www.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=1201. Readers in the UK and Europe can get the book through PM’s British site here: https://pmpress.org.uk/product/dangerous-visions-and-new-worlds/
Of course, it is also available on all the usual sites, Amazon, Book depository, etc.
Where can people find you?
I have a long running website called Pulp Curry.
Thank you, Andrew, for stopping by and answering my questions.
About Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950 to 1985:
Much has been written about the “long Sixties,” the era of the late 1950s through the early 1970s. It was a period of major social change, most graphically illustrated by the emergence of liberatory and resistance movements focused on inequalities of class, race, gender, sexuality, and beyond, whose challenge represented a major shock to the political and social status quo. With its focus on speculation, alternate worlds and the future, science fiction became an ideal vessel for this upsurge of radical protest.
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985 details, celebrates, and evaluates how science fiction novels and authors depicted, interacted with, and were inspired by these cultural and political movements in America and Great Britain. It starts with progressive authors who rose to prominence in the conservative 1950s, challenging the so-called Golden Age of science fiction and its linear narratives of technological breakthroughs and space-conquering male heroes. The book then moves through the 1960s, when writers, including those in what has been termed the New Wave, shattered existing writing conventions and incorporated contemporary themes such as modern mass media culture, corporate control, growing state surveillance, the Vietnam War, and rising currents of counterculture, ecological awareness, feminism, sexual liberation, and Black Power. The 1970s, when the genre reflected the end of various dreams of the long Sixties and the faltering of the postwar boom, is also explored along with the first half of the 1980s, which gave rise to new subgenres, such as cyberpunk.
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds contains over twenty chapters written by contemporary authors and critics, and hundreds of full-color cover images, including thirteen thematically organised cover selections. New perspectives on key novels and authors, such as Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, John Wyndham, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Judith Merril, Barry Malzberg, Joanna Russ, and many others are presented alongside excavations of topics, works, and writers who have been largely forgotten or undeservedly ignored.
About the Editors:
Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and nonfiction based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the coeditor of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (2017) and Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 (2019), as well as the author of a monograph on Norman Jewison’s 1975 dystopian science fiction film Rollerball, published by the independent film and media studies publisher Auteur in 2018. His contributed reviews and nonfiction to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sight and Sound, Australian Book Review, the British Film Institute, and Australian Centre for the Moving Image. He has written two novels, Ghost Money (2012), a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-90s, and Gunshine State (2016), and his short fiction has appeared in numerous print and online publications.
Iain McIntyre is a Melbourne-based author, musician, and community radio broadcaster who has written a variety of books on activism, history, and music. Previous publications include Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 (2019); On the Fly! Hobo Literature and Songs, 1879–1941 (2018); Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (2017); How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protest, Graffiti & Political Mischief-Making from across Australia (2013); Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (2010); and Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966–70 (2006).
This is the last non-fiction spotlight for a 2021 book. But will you publish a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.