Retrospeculative View, 1966

neu_starSome of the short fiction published in 1966:

Neutron Star, by Larry Niven, which won the Hugo Award for short story

Bookworm, Run!, by Vernor Vinge

For a Breath I Tarry, by Roger Zelazny

The Last Castle, by Jack Vance, which won the Hugo Award for novelette and the Nebula Award for novella (I suppose it was considered either a long novelette or a short novella).

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, by Philip K. Dick. This story was the inspiration for the two Total Recall movies (1990 and 2012).

Light of Other Days, by Bob Shaw

Man In His Time, by Brian W. Aldiss

Call Him Lord, Gordon R. Dickinson, which won the Nebula Award for novelette

The Secret Place, Richard McKenna, which won the Nebula Award for short story


Some television shows first broadcasted in 1966:

Star Trek (1966-1969).  In retrospect, the most forward-thinking element about the show was the group that worked together with the white-bread males:  a black woman (black actors of either sex were rarely observed on TV at the time), a man of Japanese descent (also rarely seen, except as a white man with makeup), and a Russian (during the cold war!). The creator, Gene Roddenberry, originally wanted the second-in-command to be a woman, but that was too progressive and frightening for the conservative money-men. It was a wonderful mix; but, for me, it was the Spock character (played by Leonard Nimoy) — the half-human, half-Vulcan — that made for interesting developments.

Batman (1966-1968), the live-action, campy, tongue-in-cheek adaption of the dark, brooding comic book hero. The TV show tickled the fancy of many, but annoyed some comic book aficionados.

The Marvel Super Heros (September — December 1966), an animated showcase of five Marvel Super Heros: Captain America on Monday, The Incredible Hulk on Tuesday, the Invincible Ironman on Wednesday, The Mighty Thor on Thursday, and  Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner on Friday. The series was in colour, but the animation was minimalistic, produced by a process referred to as xerography, which is much more mundane than the name implies: photocopies of comic images were used and the only ‘animation’ was lip movement, with a rare shift of an arm or leg (some segments had animated silhouettes).


Some of the movies of 1966:

Batman: The Movie, based on the television show (see above).

Persona, a Swedish film directed by Ingmar Bergman. The movie is considered to be a masterpiece, and Bergman called it one of his most important films. It is a difficult film to describe, but it is certainly psychological and minimalistic, and Bergman utilized intriguing cinematography. It has been interpreted in many different ways, but is possibly best labelled as an avant-garde horror story.

Fantastic Voyage, starring Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, and Donald Pleasence. Based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. A crew is shrunk down to a miniature size in order to enter a man’s body and save his life (he is a scientist with secret information, but he is in a coma and he has an inoperable brain clot that can only be cured by the miniature team from inside). I mistakenly thought Isaac Asimov wrote the story, but he wrote a novelization of the screenplay; Asimov’s novelization was published before the movie was released, and the general public (me included) assumed that his novel inspired the film.  


Some of the novels of 1966:

The Witches of Karras, by James H. Schmitz, his most enduring work of fiction. The novel is an amalgamation of science fiction and fantasy, and can probably best be pigeonholed in the genre of space-opera. The protagonist, Captain Pausert, becomes involved with a trio of young witches, who are sisters (in descending order of age, Maleen, Goth, and the Leewit), and the captain’s life branches off in unexpected directions. After an initial adventure that includes a visit to the witch’s home planet and troubles with various government organizations (presented as a novella in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume 2B), Pausert and Goth journey the galaxy sashaying from one humorous adventure to the next. A fun, minor speculative classic, best enjoyed for the first time at a young age.

World of Ptavvs, by Larry Niven. The novel is set in Niven’s ‘Known Space’ universe. I enjoyed Niven’s novels when I was younger (particularly Ringworld); he writes about interesting phenomena and aliens, but he is not an elegant writer. I read World of Ptavvs many years ago and I needed to search the web for a synopsis to patch the holes in my memory. A statue is found at the bottom of the ocean, but the statue is actually a Thrint in a stasis field. The Thrint are a telepathic, alien species that — many hundreds of years before the events in the novel take place — ruled the galaxy through mind control: the subjugated species rebelled, and the Thrint’s control was broken, although at a catastrophic cost to the rebellious sentient species. The plot is basically a struggle between the human that discovered the Thrint at the bottom of the ocean, and the Thrint. Interestingly, a Ptavv is a Thrint without telepathic abilities, and the Wolrd of Ptavvs, such an exotic sounding planet, is Earth.

Rocannon’s World, by Ursula K. Le Guin. This was Ms. Le Guin’s first published novel. The novel’s prologue is an earlier short-story, Semley’s Necklace (1964), which has been extrapolated into a short novel, which, although not as remarkable as her later fiction output (in particular, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed), is an interesting glimpse into the early work of a developing talent.

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, which won the Nebula Award (a tie with Delany’s Babel-17). This is an expanded form of the classic 1959 short story (which won the Hugo Award). I enjoyed the novel, but prefer the short story version: I don’t think the expanded story adds anything significant, and there were a couple of ‘new’ sections that I thought could have been excised.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein, which won the Hugo Award. This is probably my favorite Heinlein novel (and is his best title); although, for me, his writing hasn’t aged well: his prose is smooth, but seems pulpy to me now and I have a difficult time reading his works. His novels tended to be political, and this novel was no exception, though the politics add to the plot, rather than detracting from it (as I found was the case in Starship Trooper). The most interesting character is the sentient computer, Mike. This is a typical Hugo Award novel; interesting ideas and fun to read, but not necessarily written with literate qualities.

And my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1966 is…

babel17Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany, winner of the Nebula Award (a tie with Keye’s Flowers for Algernon). This is an early Delany novel that explored linguistics, sociology, and psychology. Like a few other science fiction novels of the time (e.g.: Jack Vance’s The Languages of Pao), Babel-17 examines the idea that linguistic construction affects the speaker’s perception of reality (linguistic relativity, generally know as the SapirWhorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism. The theory has since been debunked: language has a slight influence on perception, but nothing like that imagined in the novel; nevertheless, the idea works well in the confines of the story). The title refers to a codified language that is being used for sabotage in an interstellar war. The protagonist, Rydra Wong, is a poet with a genius-level aptitude for languages. Some of her poems are included within the novel: these poems, which add texture and realism to the work, were written by Marilyn Hacker, who was Delany’s wife at the time. Delany is one of my favorite science fiction authors and this is an interesting book, but the ending felt rushed, and the novel was a bit uneven compared to his  best books; nevertheless, Babel-17 is a remarkable work, well worth perusing.


15 thoughts on “Retrospeculative View, 1966

  1. I loved Babel-17 as well…. 🙂

    But hmm, the best of 1966 — let me think about this, I think I’d go with a slightly esoteric pick, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss, D. G. Compton (1966). Have you read it? It’s fantastic.

    • I don’t consider Babel-17 to be one of Delany’s best novels, but I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate from 1966…

      But I haven’t read Compton’s novel. I’ll give it a try; and, if I agree, I’ll amend the post.

      Thanks for the input!

      • That is good news: a few weeks ago I bought a ‘Masterworks’ edition of The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, and it’s sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. I think I’ll dip into it this weekend.
        Your review of Farewell, Earth’s Bliss piqued my interest, especially the mention of “…social science fiction heavy on character development.”
        Again, thanks!

      • The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe is in my top 5 SF novels….. Brilliant, harrowing, and downright depressing… But what other SF novel of the era (or any era) has a central female character in her 40s?

      • Ah, you don’t have to amend anything 😉 It’s a cross section of you at the time you made it 🙂 Just like any best of a certain decade list, we all change, and, hopefully, read more…

      • Perhaps it’s a touch of OCD in my personality, but I’ll probably feel the need to include an addendum if I’m impressed with the novel. I wouldn’t change the post, except to add relevant details of Compton’s novel.

      • Oh oh oh oh, the best novel of ’66 — I’ve changed my mind, This Immortal by Zelazny. Won the Hugo the next year — brilliant, tied with Dune but Dune was published earlier but not considered for the Hugo until ’67.

      • I’m afraid I may be in the minority about Zelazny; I thought his short story A Rose for Ecclesiastes was excellent, but I wasn’t drawn into his Amber series (I thought it was okay…), and I really didn’t enjoy Lord of Light, so I haven’t read anything else by him since finishing that novel. I’ve heard that This Immortal is excellent, but I heard the same about Lord of Light, and perhaps his novels just don’t appeal to me (there’s no accounting for tastes).

      • I believe Dune won the inaugural Nebula in 1965, and the Hugo in 1966 (a tie with Zelazny’s …And Call Me Conrad), but I considered it a 1965 novel (the year it was published), and discussed it in my post of that year.

      • I looked at many sites last night, and I think I’ve finally read enough positive reviews of This Immortal to break me out of my closed-minded curmudgeonliness and read it: I even read a review that raved about This Immortal from someone (Jo Walton) who — like me — didn’t enjoy Lord of Light (which sounded like a novel I would enjoy, but didn’t work for me).

        Thank you so much for your insights: I think you may have read even more science fiction than I have! I had a quick look at your blog, which seems very interesting: I’ll definitely go back for a more protracted crawl when I have more time.

      • I put This Immortal on my best of the 60s list a few years ago…

        Thanks! I review predominately SF from the 40s-70s (150+ reviews). And have thematic SF cover art posts occasionally (60+ or something).

    • I haven’t read The Crystal World either (or the Drought), but I did really enjoy the Drowned World (and Empire of the Sun; quite different, semi-autobiographical).

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