New Wave (science fiction)

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New Wave is a term applied to science fiction writing characterized by a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, and a highbrow and self-consciously "literary" or artistic sensibility. The term "New Wave" is borrowed from film criticism's nouvelle vague[1]: films characterized by the work of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others. The New Wave writers saw themselves as part of the general literary tradition and often openly mocked the traditions of pulp science fiction, which they regarded as stodgy, irrelevant and unambitious. Gary K. Wolfe, professor of humanities and English at Roosevelt University identifies the introduction of the term New Wave to SF [1] as occurring in 1966 in an essay[2] for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction written by Judith Merril who used the term to

refer to the highly metaphorical and sometimes experimental fiction that began to appear in the English magazine New Worlds after Michael Moorcock assumed the editorship in 1964, and that was later popularized in the United States through Merrill’s … anthology[3] England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction.

Contents

History

Influences and predecessors

Antecedents to the New Wave in SF are difficult to identify because of the stated aims of its instigators and followers to break completely with the SF of the past:

... I think science fiction should turn its back on space, on interstellar travel, extra-terrestrial life forms, galactic wars and the overlap of these ideas that spreads across the margins of nine-tenths of magazine s-f. Great writer though he was, I’m convinced H. G. Wells has had a disastrous influence on the subsequent course of science fiction … similarly, I think, science fiction must jettison its present narrative forms and plots.[4]

However, Professor James Gunn in his assessment of the genesis of the 1960s New Wave, takes a broad view and stresses continuity rather than fracture.[5]:214 Thus he sees 1949 and 1950 as crucial dates in the transition from the kind of consensus definition of SF built up in the 1940s which he characterizes as “imagination leavened with pragmatism.” The year 1949 saw the creation by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction based on the belief that “science fiction could be literate and that a literary approach that included fantasy would be viable on newsstands.” In 1950, H. L. Gold produced the magazine Galaxy. Gunn traces the evolution of SF up to this point as follows:

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