Updates: My Top 15 Science Fiction Novels from the 1960s

Everyone loves lists!

The 60s produced some of my favorite science fiction works.  Many authors moved away from the technologic naivete of pulp sci-fi and predicted less than positive futures (overpopulation, natural disaster, etc) and attempted to instill a more literary quality to their works.  I’ve cobbled together a top eleven list — I have probably forgotten a slew of amazing works that I read years ago.  Also, I read majority of them before I created my blog and hence do not have reviews — I’ve included a blurb for those without reviews.  I’ve linked those that do.  And, as I have promised before, a review of J. G. Ballard’s masterful The Drowned World (1962) is on the way!

EDIT: Over the course of reading the comments and glancing over my bookshelves I’ve discovered how much I’d forgotten had been written in the 60s (Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, etc).  As a result, I’ll put together a more comprehensive top 20 or so in the near future.

EDIT: 06/26/2015: Because my post is receiving a substantial number of new visitors, I’ve decided to add a few novels I’ve read since I made the initial list three years ago.  Instead of a top 11 it’s now a top 15 in no particular order.

New additions:

Anna Kavan’s Ice (1967) — REVIEW LINK

Robert Sheckley’s Journey Beyond Tomorrow (1962) — REVIEW LINK

Josephine Saxton’s The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (1969) — REVIEW LINK

Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) — REVIEW LINK


Feel free to list your top 11!

Original list:

1. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968) — is by far the best of the overpopulated world genre (for additional works consult my index).  Brunner chronicles a dystopian future society in obsessive and awe-inspiring detail with shreds of newspapers, advertising jingles, quotations from invented books, and even current (60s) events.  Be warned: low on plot, heavy on world building, experimental structure…

(Steele Savage’s cover for the 1969 edition)

2. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin (1969) — The Left Hand of Darkness remains Le Guin’s best work.  Not only is she literary, but the political ramifications of the premise — androgynous humanoids who randomly become male or female for one month of the year — is unforced and fully realized (she invents mythologies, believable characters, and fascinating societies).


(Josh Kirby’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3. Hawksbill Station, Robert Silverberg (1968) (MY REVIEW)

(Pat Steir’s cover for the 1968 edition)

4. The Drowned World, J. G. Ballard (1962)  — The world is slowly submerging due to a solar flare, a retreat into a uterine state — a resigned fate.  Our “hero” hides from the world in the upper floors of a hotel with limited gasoline to power his airconditioner.  A strange man arrives in a casino vessel to collect relics of a past era and a pumping device to “excavate”  a submerged city… Beautiful.

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1966 edition)

5. Synthajoy, D. G. Compton (1968) (MY REVIEW)

(Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon’s cover or the 1968 edition)

6. The Man in the Maze, Robert Silverberg (1968) (MY REVIEW)

(Don Punchatz cover for the 1969 edition)

7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick (1968) — Philip K. Dick’s best.  There are millions of reviews on the web so I won’t go into any details.  But, there’s a scene I remember poignantly — a “chicken head” is “tortured” by androids slowly remove the legs of a spider.  Even the androids realize the strange sanctity of every life in a world mostly devoid of life — and use it for their advantage.  A deeply philosophical work worth pondering.  Bladerunner (a great movie in its own right) in an effort to titillate viewers transformed the android character of the opera singer in the strange scantily clad snake lady — PKD was interested in an android perfecting a human artform and contributing to society not a member of society’s criminal underbelly

(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition)

8. Dune, Frank Herbert (1965) — no words are needed.

(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1967 edition)

9. The Man in an in a High Castle, Philip K. Dick (1962) — PKD has an uncanny ability to focus in on the banal and transform it into a deeply poignant and metaphoric moment, object, action.  It’s unlike any alternate history you’ll ever read — if American culture became the subject of only antiquarian interest…  Our everyman heroes create “american” pottery.  Read reviews and plot summaries online — I’ve only pinpointed a thematic element that particularly resonated with me.

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1974 edition)

10. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem (1961) — I’ve had little exposure to non-English language sci-fi.  But, Lem’s vision is the epitome of thought-provoking first contact novel. A philosophical work ruminating ever so delightfully on nostalgia, the nature of sentience, memory, pseudo-science….  Lem’s His Master’s Voice (1983), on a similar subject might be a better novel….  Another “classic” with tons of plot info available on the web.

11. This Immortal, Roger Zelazny (1965) — Zelazny’s best work (yes, better than Lord of Light in my humble opinion) — tied Dune for the Hugo —  only in Zelazny’s world (perhaps Delany’s) would a man with mold growing on his face be the subject of a novel.  A post-apocalyptical vision of an Earth owned by aliens (for use it for tourism) filled with mutated lifeforms….

(Gray Morrow’s cover for the 1966 edition)

For all my book reviews ordered by rating consult the INDEX

For more articles/lists consult the INDEX

194 thoughts on “Updates: My Top 15 Science Fiction Novels from the 1960s

      • It’s interesting to see who isn’t there. None of the Golden Age stalwarts like Heinlein, Simak, etc. and apart from late flowerers like Silverberg and Brunner, none of the real new wave. As I think I may have said elsewhere, I’m impressed that any of it is still readable in objective terms. I’m supposed to be overcome by nostalgia and think it all wonderful (which it wasn’t). It’s reassuring someone new still finds it good.

      • I’m no fan of Heinlein or Simak. I enjoy a few of their works but have never been swept away in any sense of the word. Remember, these are personal favorites — I’m not trying to put together a most influential (socially, politically, etc) works list.

    • Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I love that you have a Brunner book. He almost never gets a mention. I read the covers off The sheep look up, The whole man … and wrote an essay for english class about Stand on Zanzibar. The teacher was awed and I got called Browner for the rest of the year. Sad to say my 800 old sci-fi paperbacks moulder in a friends garage in ontario.

  1. Great list. All classics that must be read by any real fan of SF. Sadly, I can’t say I have gotten through them all, but your list makes me want to get them all under my belt.

    By the way, didn’t see THE FOREVER WAR, by Haldeman. If it’s not in this list, I’d guess it’s one of your top 20?

    • The Forever War is from the 70s not the 60s. Actually, surprisingly, it’s not one of my favorite works — a classic definitely but because I’ve read so much, not in my top 20 😉

      • Interesting. I just read it and found it quite good. The military voice was quite strong, and the ending is somewhat simple, but very satisfying. What exactly didn’t you like about it? Not trying to argue, just curious.

        • I read it a good 7 or so years ago but I distinctly remember enjoying the book — the sequel, Forever Peace was pretty good as well. Worth reading — a loose thematic sequel…

    • I did read it a long time ago — my opinion might change a bit if I gave it a reread. I enjoyed Lord of Light but wasn’t as impressed — This Immortal feels similar to a work by Delany….

  2. An interesting list. Very strange to consider “This Immortal” (Zelazny’s preferred title was “. . . And Call Me Conrad”) superior to “Lord of Light” and “The Man in the Maze” better than its obvious inspiration, Budrys’s “Rogue Moon” (Budrys’s preferred title being “The Death Machine”).

    Do you consider “Slaughterhouse-Five” not SF? And I wonder if you know of Aldiss’s rather neglected “Greybeard.”

    • I haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five 😉 It’s on my list. And Greybeard — sitting on the shelf waiting to be read.

      My Zelazny kick happened years ago — a reread of his famous Lord of Light might yield a different order.

      • S-F is a very amusing and entertaining book……it sustained Vonnegut’s ascention to mainstream greatness and away from the sf genre forever.
        It was also published the same year as “The Left Hand of Darkness”,”Ubik”,”Galactic Pot-Healer”,and the non-generic “Heroes and Villians” by Angela Carter.

        Read Vonnegut’s book,then decide if it’s better than any of the above books,that the literary establishment chose to ignore,except prehaps for HAV,which still didn’t get the exposure of his book..I think I’d prefer any of them to S-F.

        “Greybeard” was proberly the best novel I’ve read by Aldiss,but I never feel propelled by any of his stuff.As a critic though,he’s ace,a capacity partly sustained of course of writing in the sf genre.

        “Lord of Light” is what might be called a magnificent but flawed novel,meaning it’s weak at the core…….it hasn’t the strength to sustain a powerful narrative plot.I prefer “Counter-Clock World”,”Faith of Our Fathers” and “Behold the Man”,all published the same year.

  3. An addition that I would like to propose to your list:
    Samuel Delany – especially The Einstein Intersection.
    I would suggest striking Hawksbill Station.
    Anyway, a list indicates a great deal about the list-maker… and yet, these are a wonderful group of stories! grazie mille!

  4. Great post, and I have to say that you make me realise how much I have to catch up on yet! I do love Philip L. Dick though – he was one of a kind (which may be just as well.)
    My list would contain a fair bit of John Wyndham too. he had such a talent for telling a good story deceptively simply.

    • Thanks for the kind words! Surprisingly, most of Wyndham’s works are from the 50s, not 60s (only Trouble with Lichen and Chocky are from the 60s and two short story collections)… He died in ’69, I guess he wrote very little over the course of the 60s.

        • Haven’t read anything by Malzberg,except 2 short stories in magazines,which I can’t remember about,as Kevin O’Donnell…..only just come to realise this!

          • Reading The Gamesman (1975) at the moment — brilliant, as I’ve pointed out before, Falling Astronauts (1972), Beyond Apollo (1972), Revelations (1973) are worth tracking down first.

            • True, but all of his stuff is that way. There is no other SF writer of whom it can be said, at least to the degree of Malzberg, that if you’ve read one of his books, you’ve read them all.

            • Mark, I disagree. If you reduce them to their barest of themes perhaps — but then again you can do that with any novel. He explores his themes in distinctly different environments with different messages — he most certainly does not critique SF with every novel (that’s more his early stuff). Nor does he deploy metafiction in every novel… There is plenty of variation — the tones might indeed be similar, but, I find him more comic than some I guess — it’s dark, but darkly funny.

            • I see your point, but stand by mine. Simply too many insane astronauts (“Beyond Apollo” is as representative a novel as any of his); I even remember one, read probably back around when it came out, about an insane chessplayer.

              There would not be any Malzberg novels in my top 100, 60s or 70s. Sorry 😦

            • There are only THREE novels with insane astronauts — The Falling Astronauts, Revelations, and Beyond Apollo — that’s it. It’s a thematic trilogy.

            • I feel like I haven’t read enough (although the majority of my SF reads are from the 70s) so I haven’t put together the list yet…..

              Here’s my preliminary top 11 (one book per author) of what I’ve read so far…. Need to read Wolfe, Priest, etc.

              Malzberg — Beyond Apollo
              Russ — We Who Are About To….
              Bishop — A Funeral For the Eyes of Fire
              McLean — Missing Man
              Silverberg — The World Inside or Dying Inside or Hawksbill Station
              Spinrad — The Iron Dream
              Wilhelm — Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
              Compton — The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe
              Effinger — What Entropy Means to Me
              Dick — A Scanner Darkly (perhaps)
              Le Guin — The Dispossessed

            • Agreed; I thought I had read a lot, but have plenty more to read. Looking at my database, I see I’ve only rated 7 SF novels from the 70s higher than 4 out of 5 (this could be a much longer list if we were including fantasy):

              Clarke – Rendezvous with Rama
              Niven – Ringworld
              Butler – Kindred
              Adams – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (hopefully, not all of the books on the list have to be serious, à la PKD)
              Haldeman – Forever War
              PKD – Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
              Gerrold – The Man Who Folded Himself (what can I say? I love time travel)

              There are a whole pile of books that I’ve rated exactly 4 out of 5: The Dispossessed (Le Guin), The Fountains of Paradise (Clarke), A Scanner Darkly (PKD), Gateway (Pohl), Showboat World (Vance), The Female Man (Russ), The Stochastic Man (Silverberg), To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Farmer), The Lathe of Heaven (Le Guin), The Gods Themselves (Asimov). There are a bunch more that didn’t even rate 4 out of 5. I didn’t much care for Tau Zero, as the “science” was simply too wonky.

              There are some very major 70s books that I know I haven’t read, especially Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love,” Wilhelm’s “Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang,” McIntyre’s “Dreamsnake,” Niven & Pournelle’s “The Mote in God’s Eye,” Pohl’s “Jem,” and Disch’s “On Wings of Song”. Along with a lot of PKD and Jack Vance.

            • Yeah, not a fan of a lot in your list… Clarke – Rendezvous with Rama and Niven – Ringworld are exactly the type of SF I avoid with a passion. Disliked both.

              Forever War is fine but not a classic. Adam’s is fine, but, I dunno. Have not read that PKD. No fan of Gerrold but have not read that one yet. Do want to read Butler, have Kindred on the shelf…

            • “Kindred” is completely awesome. If you liked PKD’s “Eye in the Sky” you’ll like “Flow My Tears,” as they are thematically similar. As for the rest, well, I’m not running for office, so it’s all one to me if you (or anyone else) likes or doesn’t like my picks. We’ll just agree to disagree, and keep reading!

            • I agree that Clarke’s prose is not all it could be; on the other hand, it often reads like a smart person explaining things, and that I don’t mind at all; even then, Asimov does it better, and less obtrusively. Niven’s not famous as a prose stylist, but the style certainly does not get in the way of the story in “Ringworld”. I see that you don’t like hard SF; de gustibus non disputandum est, as was so famously noted a very long time ago. Of course, a lot of “hard SF” is really no more than science fantasy, but I suppose the definition of “science fiction” is a topic for another thread.

              Butler’s prose is gorgeous (not surprising; she did win the MacArthur genius grant, after all).

            • I agree with the claim that a “lot of “hard SF” is really no more than science fantasy” — but, often the writers of hard SF get so caught up in waxing endlessly and obsessively about technological “possibilities” that they forget about the rest of the process of writing.

              Yes yes, Butler is on my radar. Want to read Kindred desperately. Will have time in the comings weeks (have been rather absent from book reviewing recently)

  5. Great list! I’ve only read a couple of these (Dune and Left Hand of Darkness), but I’m thinking that I’m definitely going to have to track down copies of Stand on Zanzibar and Solaris.

  6. Great list. Can’t argue with any of the books. Takes me back to the golden age of science fiction. However, I will have to find a copy of The Man in the Maze. I really like Silverberg but somehow missed that book. Need to re-read Hawksbill Station too.

    • Thanks for the kind words! What are your top 11 (or 10, or 5, or 3) sci-fi books from the 60s?

      The Man in the Maze is Silverberg at his darkest. A fascinating character study — unfortunately, people get preoccupied with the “mystery” of the maze which is never solved — it’s simply a backdrop for the character study.

  7. Very nice list. Dune and Lem are shoe-ins, Ballard rocks out, Hawskbill Station is amazing, and you can’t have a best list without Electric Sheep.

    I haven’t read Synthajoy, or This Immortal—I hear good things about it, it’s on my buy list—and Left Hand is in my TBR pile (bad experience reading The Dispossessed in college has delayed further LeGuin). And I think my lack of Brunner is apparent.

    So to make up for those four with books I -have- read, my list would add The Einstein Intersection, Flowers for Algernon, Slaughter-House Five, and another Dick—take your pick, Palmer Eldritch, Dr. Bloodmoney, Ubik. I might even replace High Castle with Ubik—as a history buff, High Castle fascinates me, but it always felt like nothing happens in it, whereas Ubik blew me away for some reason.

    I have a lot of ’60s novels on top of my TBR pile: Babel-17, Camp Concentration, Brunner, more Delany, more Ballard… so my list will probably be different in another six months.

    • What was your bad experience with The Dispossessed? I also enjoyed The Einstein Intersection but haven’t read Slaughter-House Five yet — as I pointed out in a different comment I’d probably include Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle instead of either Synthajoy or This Immortal — but, these are the problems with coming up with lists, especially short ones!

      • Partly the difference in reading a novel for pleasure and reading a novel for scholarly purposes, partly that one of the requirements was reading The Dispossessed in both chronological and -then- normal order… let me tell you what’s a terrible, terrible idea.

        I also forgot that Dangerous Visions and Pavane were from the ’60s. Canticle for Leibowitz is another strong contender, but I felt it hadn’t aged as well last time I read it.

      • I’ve remembered so many more good books from the 60s — I haven’t read Pavane yet — it’s a testament to the quality sci-fi of the decade. I’ll have to make a longer list….

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  9. What, no Nova (seriously – no Nova?), but the (in Science Fiction circles almost consistently overrated) Man in the High Castle which is actually one of Dick’s weaker efforts? I am flabbergasted. 😛 I’m not all that fond of Do Androids… either; his best one in my opinion is Ubik. Love that you included the Lem, and for another non-English masterwork, I’d suggest Hard to be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, surely a classic.My own list would probably also figure Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter A. Miller, possibly Davy by Edgar Pangborn, and I am sure there are more I just can’t think of right now…

    • I too love A Canticle — oops, I was under the erroneous impression that it was published in ’59…. I haven’t read Camp Concentration or Davy yet so perhaps the list wil change 😉

    • Ubik is a wonderful novel… not sure it’s better than Do Androids Dream or Man in a High Castle though 😉 But definitely top 25 books…. Perhaps I’ll expand this list after I read Disch etc.

  10. I really enjoyed reading your list. It made me think back to my SF reading for the 60’s. I love Roger Zelazny. I think I would put both “Lord of Light” and “This Immortal” on my list. I also loved his “Dream Master”(I think that was the 60’s also). Dune is a natural for any list, There’s an early McCaffrey called Restoree that’s a great book. Thanks again for your list.

    • Thanks for stopping by! Isn’t Restoree a pseudo-satire of women’s roles in sci-fi? I loved the Pern books when I was a kid but haven’t read any of her “sci-fi proper.”

  11. Okay, from the classic to the obscure. I remember a paperback scifi novel of this era that took place on another planet where novitiates in a secret order to could see the future through “extrapolation”. I was the first time I had seen the word and once I understood the meaning, I assumed that it was used in order to avoid denigration of the characters as “psychic”. Sadly, that’s all I really remember, except that it got thrown out at some point and I never did recall the title. Any ideas on what this proto-Jedi book might have been?

  12. Read most of those when they were published in the sixties. As you say we each have our own favorites. My favorite author is Heinlein his ability to tell more than just a story. Asimov comes next and Dick as well as Clarke. Zelazny’s work I read most of it as it was published and have copies of much of his work that I have bought in the last twelve years as my home burnt thirteen years ago and I lost over 2,000 hardback books and that again in paperback. Love to read and have since I found science fiction when I was in what is now called middle school, it was junior high back then. Stopped counting at 10,000 books read. Now with the ereaders I have over 2,000 to read on mine. Will continue to read until either my eyes can’t or I die.

    • Hmm, unfortunately, although I’ve read at least 14 or so Heinlein novels his work doesn’t resonate with me. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is by far my favorite of his — his later work is unreadable — some of his earlier juveniles are fine — and yes, Starship Troopers is probably the best of the juveniles.

      Asimov is another author which has never appealed to me — the Foundation trilogy was interesting but ultimately, doesn’t live up to the hype.

      I’m glad that you stopped by! Your knowledge on the subject is greatly appreciated! I’m relatively young (mid-20s) so I haven’t amassed a collection nearing that size yet.

      • My favorites of his were Citizen of the Galaxy, Star Beast which is a hoot, and Have Spacesuit Will Travel (where I was introduced to the concept of a wavicle and that to the rulers of the galaxy democracy and communism would be indistinguishable). Starship Troopers was very clever, they tried to bring the libertarianism and experimental novel structure across in the movie but was ultimately disappointing. I read them as a child and still have an affeciton for them.

        I’ve read much of his adult fiction but like you did not care much for them except perhaps The Door into Summer that was pretty priceless, with the cat who was going back and forth between the various doors of the house sure that one of them would have nice weather on the other side of it.

        I think any scifi buff should probably read Stranger in a Strange Land once, just for its trippy turn everything upside down view of the 60s, and to understand aging hippies with terms like “grok” and “I am but an egg”. I think it was a follow up to a really good juvenile Red Planet (a decade between the two). but so was Podkayne of Mars that I totally loathed, although the scene where its OK to have sex in public but disgusting to eat in public on Venus still sticks in my head.

        • I’ve read all of those and again, they were all readable but none of them (besides perhaps Starship Troopers) really resonated with me….

          I enjoy his juveniles perhaps more than his more mature novels — Starman Jones has to be one of the best juveniles ever written. And Orphans of the Sky — one of his novels to discuss a generationship.

  13. Tremendous list. His Master’s Voice blew me away when I read it, so even though it didn’t make the cut (and I think I’d have gone for Solaris too) I’m glad to see it getting a shout out.

      • In all honesty I have no idea when any of Lem’s novels were written. I hadn’t realised they were spread over that distance of time.

        I must reread some Lem, he really is brilliant.

        • Max, I know this is years ago — but, you’re right! His Master’s Voice was originally published in 1968 and translated into English in the 80s. And it should be on this list instead of Solaris!


  14. I just went through and wrote 40 more possibilities that should be considered and then lost the whole list before posting it. SIGH. The only one on your list I have not read is Synthajoy (although I liked two of his 70’s novels – The Steel Crocodile and The Unsleeping Eye) but I agree with all the others – here are some of my favorites that I would also consider:

    Thorns by Robert Silverberg
    Nightwings by Robert Silverberg
    The Masks of Time by Robert Silverberg
    City of Illusions by Ursula K. Leguin
    Jagged Orbit by John Brunner
    Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
    Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak
    Babel 17 by Samuel R. Delany
    Nova by Samuel R. Delany
    Pavane by Keith Roberts
    Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
    Hothouse by Brian Aldiss
    Greybeard by Brian Aldiss
    Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
    The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
    Past Master by R.A, Lafferty (Slipstream before it’s time?)
    Chthon by Piers Anthony
    Emphyrio by Jack Vance
    Davy by Edgar Pangborn
    Ubik by Phillip K. Dick
    The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
    Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick
    Ring of Ritornel by Charles Harness
    Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith
    The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch
    Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch
    Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
    Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
    Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    There that’s from memory – I really loved the 60’s for SF (started reading in the early 70’s). Anyway – you are right about Canticle for Leibowitz being a 1959 book – the confusion (I believe) is because it won the 1961 Hugo for best book of 1960.

    • A wonderful list! I’ve read a portion of them — I do love Martian Time-Slip — it’s actually my favorite of PKD’s novels, but, I didn’t include it on the list because I find that Do Androids and The Man in a High Castle are conceptually and intellectually more stimulating.

      Yup, I genuinely forgot to include Cat’s Cradle — I loved it. I have Camp Concentration on my shelf (and Norstrilia, The Masks of Time, Rite of Passage, Greybeard, Jagged Orbit, Nightwings on my shelf waiting to be read).

      Ubik was great fun — again, almost all of PKD’s novels are top quality. Way Station didn’t resonate with me. I found Thorns to be readable (I have a review on my blog if you’re curious) but not near his best of the 60s. Same with City of Illusions, a great book but not nearly as good as Le Guin’s more famous ones. If I were extending the list — Babel 17 OR Nova (more likely Nova) would find a way into the top 15 or so.

      So yes, I’ve read a great portion of those books and they’re all good!

      • Thanks for reminding me of what I first fell in love with in SF! I don’t think I could ever narrow it down to just ten – but 20 might be possible.

      • Yes “Martian Time-Slip” is excellent,but “We Can Build You”,written between “High Castle” and “Time-Slip”,became the first draft for “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” as far as I know,because it took so many years to be published.DADOES is surely the better book,but I read WCBU first,and was very impressed at the time.

        Both MTS and WCBU had difficulty in being published,and were written at a time before the audience of the time were ready for them it seems.It also affected the direction Dick’s career would take.

        I don’t really know what to make of Vonnegut.”Cat’s Cradle” was quite a good and amusing work I suppose,but I think a lesser writer compared to PKD,despite his literary ascendency.His the “Simulacra” I think was strongly based on “Player Piano”,which I know Dick admired,but I’ll leave it up to you to say which is the better book.

        The one I haven’t read of Vonnegut’s,is “Mother Night,which I think would be advisable to find.

        Yes of course “Ubik” is excellent too,it’s one of the lightest and funniest of his novels,although I can’t help feeling it should have been longer.It’s the antithesis of his “A Maze of Death” written two years later,though!

        I have “Way Station” on a want to read list on Facebook,but think you’ve put me off!Yes,”Thorns” wasn’t bad though,although not as good as “Nightwings” and “The Masks of Time” published soon afterwards.I thought,as I’ve said before,the symbolism was artless,and the later strong prose he would become known for,wasn’t developed.

        Haven’t read LeGuin’s “City of Illusions”,but I strongly feel that it’s not as good as her “The Left Hand of Darkness”.Also “Babel 17” wasn’t bad,as was “The Einstein Intersection”,but yet to read “Nova”.

        • I now consider Confessions of a Crap Artist as PKD’s best book, but it was written in the 1950s and published in the 1970s. It’s very hard to pick one book to be PKD’s book of the 1960s. I need to read The Man in the High Castle for the 3rd time, and Android and Martian Time-Slip for the 4th time each, to decide.

  15. My 11 would be, at the moment at least, in no order:

    + Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
    + Empire Star/Babel 17 by Samuel R. Delany
    + Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
    + Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
    + Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
    + Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
    + Mindswap by Robert Sheckley
    + The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd
    + Hothouse by Brian Aldiss
    + Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
    + Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

      • The Last Starship From Earth is a rather funky book, and I can see why readers wouldn’t like it, and maybe if I reread it now I wouldn’t like it as much as I remember it. But back in the 1960s when I was reading SF as a teenager, writing, plotting and storytelling didn’t count as much as ideas. The Last Starship From Earth had a lot weird ideas in it, especially as an alternate history of a world that had a different Jesus and science developed sooner. Also, the society in it really was a satire on the 60s, and I’m not sure how that would go over now.

      • I found it funky as well — in the bad way. It wanted to blend alt history and sci-fi but didn’t carry it out very well. And, it didn’t take itself seriously but didn’t seriously want to be a satire either… I was left with a rather bland, “oh, that probably wasn’t worth my time” feel.

  16. Haven’t read many of these, but Dune would for certain be on my list. And given that this would be a “favorite” list some Heinlein and Harrison would be on there for certain.

    The Ballard book looks/sounds great. Gonna add that to my list of books to look out for when at the used bookstores.

    • I highly recommend Ballad’s corpus of sci-fi novels — High-Rise (1975)(perhaps not sci-fi….) is worth reading as well. He’s a really moody, dark, ruminating author — my type!

  17. And as we’ve talked about covers here before, it makes me wanna cry seeing how the publishers wrecked that excellent Powers cover for The Man in the High Castle.

  18. Forever Peace is one of those “there was no sequel” books for me, like Highlander 2 or Matrix Revolutions. I thought it diminished the original novel. Interesting to hear another view.

  19. I just stumbled across your post, and I have to say, great list!! Of course everyone has their preferences, but I can find no reason to disagree with any of the choices, except one: Synthajoy. The reason: I haven’t read it! But your review entices. I’ll have to check it out!

    It’s not so often I stumble across a site that doesn’t revel in the mindlessly entertaining side of sf, so, looking forward to reading over your other posts!!

    • D. G. Compton is a great and sadly underrated/under read author. If you don’t want to read Synthajoy I suggest his most famous work, The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (variant title: The Unsleeping Eye) (1974).

      Thanks for the kind words!

  20. It is sort of hard, can’t assume that when I first read them was when they were published. For instance, I would have put Hal Clement’s Needle on there but it was actually first published in 1950, I bought my Ace copy in 1964. So that’s out. It is still a great book and author. It’s been fun to be reminded of some of these oldies. I first saw your blog on Io9
    My faves are: (although I am sure I will think of others I should have perhaps better listed).

    The Boy Who Bought Old Earth and The Underpeople by Cordwainer Smith
    The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by PKD
    Davy by Edgar Pangborn.
    Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson but also Tau Zero
    Saga of Lost Earths by Emil Petaja (& the rest of Kalevala series)
    Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton (hard for me to pick just one)
    Witch World also by Andre Norton
    Sword of Aldones by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
    Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley
    Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon
    The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson
    Stormbringer by Michael Morcock
    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
    The Maker of Universes by Phillip Jose Farmer

    • A great list! I’ve read a few of them — Lord of Light, The Three Stigmata, and Witch World. I’ve put the rest on my list. I enjoy Norton but would be reluctant to place her on a best of list.

  21. Can’t miss with that list. I remember when Dune first came out the question being asked was “How far did you get in it?” Most of us SF fans pushed ahead and were glad we did.

      • Of the six I’ve read on the list,Dune is the only one I don’t like.I can’t see myself reading it all again…..I still can’t make-out what the plot’s about.The two Dick novels and the ones by LeGuin and Ballard are among the best in sf,and the Zelazny one isn’t bad.

        Sorry I haven’t read the two Silverberg books,I really have liked his stuff.I’ve only just read “A Time of Changes”,which I found to be a well written,but difficult novel.Of the four cited by Brian Aldiss for close analysis in his history of sf,”Trillion Year Spree”,this is the only one I don’t agree is of the top rank.Written almost entirely in the first person in the form of a traveller’s guide,rather dense,cloudy characterisation,plus being lugubrious and long drawn-out,it takes stamina to read that is unrewarding.An example I think of the tail end of the New Wave gone wrong.

        Brian Aldiss has been a critic whose word I have trusted as though made of solid gold,but here it seems to contain a minuet core of lead!Not that it was a bad book and care hadn’t been taken to constuct it,but as a work which was written to be a piece of art,it fails in execusion.Mr Aldiss’s comments went a little over the top I think.

          • Yes…..well then,lets see……”The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”,Galactic Pot-Healer”,”The Crystal World”,”Nightwings”,”The Masks of Time”,”Martian Time-Slip”,”The Simulacra”,”The Drought”,”The Einstein Intersection”,”Pavane”,”Behold the Man”.They all good enough for your next top 11 1960s list?

            Sorry for so many by Philip K. Dick.It was difficult to make a choice,and he is so good.

            • I picked one book for each author on purpose. I might substitute Martian Time-Slip in for Do Androids Dream… But I’ve read all of those years ago, PKD isn’t where I would change much.

              Also, I’d be tempted to make a top 15 list…

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  23. Reblogged this on Word Alive and commented:
    Great blog I just found. Blog author Joachim Boaz creates a list of some of the best scifi/dystopian/social science novels he has read. Being my graduate studies focused on dystopia I have been really interested in what scifi novels from the 60s have to offer.

  24. Here are my 10 favorite (thus far) 1960s science fiction novels:

    2001: A Space Odyssey
    A Canticle for Leibowitz
    Stand on Zanzibar
    The Man in the High Castle
    Clans of the Alphane Moon
    This Immortal

    The 11th spot is left blank; I’m saving it for “The Left Hand of Darkness” which I will be reading soon.

    Others that I liked from the 1960s: Le Guin’s first SF trilogy (Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions), Space Opera (Jack Vance), Time Tunnel (Murray Leinster), Rite of Passage (Alexei Panshin), Up the Line (Silverberg), Rogue Dragon (Avram Davidson), Way Station (Simak), Greybeard (Aldiss), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

    Ones that I liked OK, but didn’t think were great: Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Emphyrio (Jack Vance), The Einstein Intersection (Delany), Picnic on Paradise (Joanna Russ), The Wanderer (Leiber). And, I’ve read a few that I liked minimally or didn’t like at all. I’m currently reading Delany’s Nova, and have to catch up on Vonnegut and Lem, as well as the PKD novels that I haven’t read yet. Wishing you many happy days of reading!

  25. A very interesting list and I will be able to test whether or not I don’t like 60s Sci-Fi as i have the Left Hand of Darkness and Solaris here to read.
    I think I might also try The Man in The High Castle at some point.

  26. I’ve posted too quickly. I’ve read and reviewe Dune two years ago as part of a readalong and I was one of the rare who had problmes with that as well. To be fair, the images are still in my mind, the world buidlung is great but I was not so keen on the story telling.
    Loking over my shelves I seem to like 50s (Bradbury) and 80s (Sheri S Tepper).

    • And Stand on Zanzibar? Hehe — the only reason I ask is because it’s my favorite sci-fi novel…. I like the early late 60s and early 70s — Brunner (Stand, The Sheep Look Up, etc), Malzberg, Silverberg, Russ, Compton etc.

        • Not to worry. Even though there are definitely some experimental sections, you get used to them quickly, and most of the book is really a great read. I rated it 4 1/2 out of 5, and highly recommend it.

          • I agree — it might take a while to get into (the plot slowly unfolds along with the vividly descriptive world conveyed via fragments of various invented books, news clips, etc) but the plot itself is rather straightforward despite the complexity of the framework. But then again, all the social ruminations are so much more intriguing than the actual progression of the narrative.

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  28. Interesting lists brings back memories. I’ll have to read SF again. I was an avid SF reader in the 60s & 70s, mostly through reading Analog magazine & Amazing stories (I think-it’s been many years). I’m trying the remember a short story not a novel about overpopulation. The image that has stuck in my mind was an adolescent girl standing on a bridge over the tank? where bodies were dumped to be processed (maybe into food, not sure). A very dark story. Does anyone know the title or author for such a short story.

  29. You’ve convinced me to read John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. I own the SF Masterworks Edition, it’s been sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and its honestly been staring me down. Right after I’m done with Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, I’m jumping into Brunner.

    Most of my experience with Silverberg extends to his 70s work (Dying Inside, The Book of Skulls…), but I’m actually reading backwards so the 60s are next as far as he’s concerned.

    Don’t shoot me for this but I’m not Dune’s biggest apologist. I was born in 1991, Dune in 1965, but unlike some other 60s novels it dated badly. Sure, it was written with aplomb, knowledge, and a skillful prose, but I just wasn’t convinced throughout. Paul Atreides was just too unconvincing a Messiah. Granted, it should be on any meritocratic list, but as far as a list built on preference goes, it’s not in my the top 30, let alone top 11.

    I wish I could confidently draw my own list but I’ve not read near enough books to do that. What I an convinced of is that half of it would be comprised of Philip K. Dick novels: Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip… Definitely, Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and maybe Delany’s Babel-17. The rest of the positions are uo for grabs.

    • I created this list a long time ago. I suspect my current one would be rather different.

      There are so many amazing New Wave novels from the later 60s that I hadn’t read yet. Also, Le Guin’s novel should in no way stand in for all the other amazing novels written by women in that period (as it tends to do on lists).

      • That’s true, but “The Left Hand of Darkness” was the novel in which Le Guin finally started to come into herself. I still largely prefer “The Dispossessed”. But as far as the 1960s go I’m hard pressed to think of any female author that surpassed her, other authors are Joanna Russ, Anne McCaffrey and Zenna Henderson, and I’ve not yet read any Henderson. If you have any books to recommend of that period I’d appreciate it a lot.

        • I prefer The Left Hand of Darkness l)

          Joanna Russ wasn’t publishing novels in 60s. Her first novel is Against Chaos which was published in 1970.

          Here are some worthwhile 50s/60s novels written by women.

          C. L. Moore’s 50s novels can be quite fun — her most mature/serious is Doomsday Morning (1957).

          Kit Reed’s Armed Camps (1969) is wonderful.

          Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

          The Sword of Rhiannon, Leigh Brackett (1953) — she is a great “pulp” writer if you’re in the mood for pulp.

          Judith Merril’s Shadow of the Earth (1950) is great for a late 40s/early 50s novel. As are most of her 50s/60s short stories.

          I have some reviews of these on my book review list.


          • Actually, Russ’ first novel was “Picnic on Paradise” from 1968. Then “And Chaos Died.” Her third major novel was “The Female Man” (1975), which is the book I’m reading now.

            • You’re right. I forgot about that one. Need to find a copy. I’ve read The Female Man, And Chaos Died, and her best (in my minority opinion), We Who Are About To… I want to tackle some of her short works.

            • Cool. I thought “Picnic on Paradise” was pretty good, though it dragged at the end, and “And Chaos Died” almost unreadable. So far (I’ve read about a third of the book) “The Female Man” is the best of the bunch. I have the other one you mentioned–but I’d never even heard of it until I came upon it unexpectedly in a bunch of books we were given. Not the 60s, of course, but I think the best SF novel by a woman I’ve read is “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” And, of course, “The Hunger Games.”

            • “but I think the best SF novel by a woman I’ve read is “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” And, of course, “The Hunger Games.” — umm, really?

              No way! Eh, but I’m not in the arguing mood 😉

  30. “Confessions of a Crap Artist” is truly excellent,but like other of Dick’s 1950s mainstream novels,it was written early in his career,and doesn’t seem fair when you think he did excellent stuff much later.”High Castle” is a great novel,but was still written fairly early,but “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”,written in 1966,five years after TMITHC,would seem to be the peak of a long writing career.It adds so much that was new to an already original body of conceptual work.

    I think it’s only fair to pick it as the best of the novels you nominated.

    • I was struggling with my PKD selection. I think that Martian Time-Slip might be my personal favorite of his novels, but, not PKD’s best work. So, Do Androids, Man in a High Castle, and Ubik get my vote. But, had trouble picking from those…

      • “Martian Time-Slip” was a breakthrough novel at the time,but as I’ve more or less said,in the wrong place at the wrong time……it changed his then present outlook on his writing career.Yes,I suppose I can agree on the others,but I prefer “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” to “Ubik”.

  31. Ok then,here’s my top 11 best 1960s novels that I’ve read,based on David Pringle’s “SF The 100 Best Novels”:

    The Drowned World.
    The Man in the High Castle.
    Journey Beyond Tomorrow.
    Martian Time-Slip.
    The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.
    Dr Bloodmoney.
    The Crystal World.
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
    Heroes and Villians.
    The Left Hand of Darkness.

    HAV by Angela Carter is the only one that wasn’t published within the sf genre,but it’s brilliant.If she had been lucky or unlucky enough to have written within it’s confines,I still think it would have been like this.Compare to LeGuin’s TLHOD,and decide if you can,which is the better book.

      • I thought it was an easy way to decide apon a top 11 of the decade……it’s not the final word on the subject,but the’re all deserve to be on there.

        Of those other ones he included,some,not all I think,could be added for a top 15 list.Here’s the other ones I’ve read for potential inclusion:

        Rogue Moon.
        Cat’s Cradle
        The Dream Master.
        Camp Concentration.

        • I understand the merit of the list, but, he most definitely does not include everything of worth that might be considered…

          For example, Katherine MacLean’s Missing Man (1975) SHOULD be on at least one best of the 70s list — but it isn’t, and it is hard as hell to find at used book stores, and thus, people don’t read it…

          I loved The Drowned World and Cat’s Cradle. No fan of Greybeard, not sure while. The Dream Master (reviewed recently) was great, but no classic…

  32. It’s a shame he didn’t include any of Silverberg’s novels of the decade,and the one he did,”Downward to the Earth”,was published only just after the end of the 1960s.He also admitted he wasn’t fond of his later novel,”Dying Inside”.

    That would be a good one for a 1970s list.

  33. The Silverberg ’60s novels that could have been included that I’ve read,are “Thorns”,”The Masks of Time” and “Nightwings”.At least the last one could have replaced Dick’s “Martian Time-Slip” or “Dr Bloodmoney”.The other one from the decade,is the forgetable “The Time Hoppers”.

    The other later books I’ve read of his,are “DTTE,”Dying Inside”,”The Books of Skulls” and “Lord Valentine’s Castle”.All but the last one could be candidates for at least two on a 1970s book list.I’ve only just very recently read “A Time of Changes”.which I think you’ll recall I commented on elsewhere on this page.

    This leaves out his excellent shorter stuff,such as “Born with the Dead”,”Sailing to Byzantine” and “Passangers”.

    I wasn’t all that keen on “Greybeard”,it seemed to lack power,like Aldiss’s other stuff,but was proberly the best book of his I’ve read.Sorry Brian if you’re reading this!I also agree about the “Dream Master”,but have the idea that the shorter version was better,as I’ve said…..maybe that’s what David Pringle really had in mind.

  34. You’ve been pushed by the Robert Silverberg Facebook page today for this list. Congratulations, hope you attract some new readers.

  35. Nice list. Of the one’s i haven’t read i am most looking forward to reading Memoirs of a Spacewoman. I read Ice this year thanks to your review. I enjoyed Kavan’s distorted logic immensely. If I was to draw up a list of the best 60s sf the Strugatsky’s Hard to be a God would be on it. Something by Dick but so many to choose from: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, The Penultimate Truth, Ubik. Maybe Ballard’s The Crystal World or The Atrocity Exhibition (the stories were all published in the 60s).

    • I think I should read “Memoirs of a Spaceman”.I’ve still read so very little by women sf authors.As I’ve said here,I’m glad I read Anna Kavan’s excellent “Ice”,and recently,”Time is the Fire:the Best of Connie Willis”,which I thought was done in a polished style and was reasonable,but that was all.

      I do intend to read Sturgatsky.There is a dearth of European,not counting British,authors I haven’t read.Yes,Dick and Ballard are really so very good,but Dick is hard to chose from,because he wrote so many,but so much of it,is so very good.Ballard had a more exquisite writing style and less obvious sf tropes,although it was Dick who had the more powerful imagination,topped off by a distinctive prose,but for the sake of equity and actual brilliance,should include Ursula Le Guin,among some other female authors.SF thrives on being a gender bending,multicultural field.

      • One problem I face, at least, is that women start to make a bigger impact in sf from the 60s and onwards (baring notable exceptions like Brackett, Moore, Merrill, etc.). I face this problem because I rarely read sf written after c. 1975 – a decision I still don’t regret or break much. Le Guin was an early favourite of mine, having being weened on Earthsea back in the 70s and 80s. I still remember borrowing The Tombs of Atuan from the School library in 1979. At the time I felt like I had discovered some old and venerable manuscript! I was fortunate to be able to return to Le Guin witht he added bonus of a taste for far-left politics in my adulthood.

        • When you mention left wing politics in regard to her stuff,are you directly referring to “The Dispossessed,or all her fiction? Much of which is written within the science fiction genre is concerned with human freedom and the release from the restraints of capitalism that keeps society repressed,so could be said to have a far-left political edge I suppose.TD is an excellent novel I suppose,but still a lesser one than the “The Left Hand of Darkness” I think.I call that sf ice cream.

          You might have missed some very good books though.Have you read Gene Wolfe’s “The Book of the New Sun”,Robert Holdstock’s “Mythago Wood” or George Martin’s “Ferve Dream”?

          • The Dispossessed is certainly the most obvious choice but Le Guin is not shy with regard to her sympathies. I remember rereading the Earthsea books in my thirties and being pleasantly surprised that her worldview shined through even here (perhaps she was one of the authors who helped plant the seed in my child brain?) I’ve read the first of Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and was more impressed with the first half than the second so I didn’t continue. Though I recently was talking about this to a friend and plan on returning to finish it all. I haven’t read the Holdstock or Martin. Thanks for the suggestions.

            • Yes,I suppose there’s the determination to succeed and therefore to rise above the shallow level of meagre existence in all her books.That I suppose would be the power within the ideology of left wing politics that you allude to in her work.

              The second volume of TBOTNS,I thought was the best from my memory,but it’s all worth reading to the end.”Ferve Dream” compares a lost race of living vampires and nineteenth century slavery among other indiscretions,with cutting edge results,and is a well sustained if fairly long novel,while “Mythago Wood” has a haunting and mysterious beauty within psychological reasoning,that is one of the best books in the English language I think.

  36. Sir,

    I read a science fiction book in the early 80’s that was written in the 60’s or 70’s. The main character is a telepathic gov’t spy that gambles high stake poker on his off time. these telepaths die early from something called Raushberger syndrome (wrong spelling?) US telepaths die about 33 but the Russian spies die around 31. the gov’t compound is lead by a character named Pops by his protégés is ultimately in on this fake sickness. The hero? in love with his Russian counterpart goes off the reservation with her. Eventually found The handlers kill his pregnant wife. He’s saved by a former classmate and Romany. They eventually over run the compound/school by riding an elephant through the gate with Romany circus and new cameras.

    I have used ever book search engine with no success. Do you by any chance know the title and/or the author. I believe it came out about the same time as Emerald Eyes by Daniel K Moran.
    Might you have an idea of the book I seek?
    I thank you for any time or effort you expend on my behalf
    Rose Forrester

        • Not interested in transcending times. Books are written, as I have waxed poetic about before, in a particular time for particular concerns. How they relate to the time is part of the fun… I have noticed that you only bring up the social commentary/political commentary when you dislike a book, and carefully ignore it when you love the book. So….

          • I tend to dislike books if I do not agree with their social/political commentary, or think it’s not well done from an artistic point of view. Of course I bring those feelings up in my reviews. If I do agree, and/or like the way it’s done, I tend to mention that too, like in my review of Wolf Hall, or Green Earth just to name two recent examples of books I liked. Could you give an example were I ‘carefully ignored’ it?

            • You dislike a book because you disagree with the social/political commentary? Ah, the cat is out of the bag! Your comments make sense! No wonder! Why didn’t you say that early? All your attempts to justify such weird positions falls into line! (I already knew this, I just didn’t say anything)

              That would be a lot of effort — you could just read the reviews. You already do not sync well with my cornerstone ideas regarding genre.

      • Ah, I thought that was kinda obvious. I don’t try to hide that. I’m a political reader, in the sense that everything is ideological. Who likes a book that tries to sell you something you don’t agree with? You might still be able to enjoy the artistic merit, but surely not the content? Do you claim to be an ‘objective’ reader than? Ideology isn’t part of the thing when evaluating a book?

        It’s not necessarily only “not agreeing” on a political level, but simply seeing lots and lots of logical/factual mistakes in some writers’ work (The Lathe Of Heaven springs to mind, or Dark Orbit). Since books are content based art, the content should check out. That’s not a strange position, is it?

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