An Introduction to the New Wave


The New Wave is the name given to an important ideological movement within the science fiction community which began in the 1960’s. The movement got its name from another “New Wave,” one consisting of French filmmakers in the 1950’s and 60’s, which tended toward controversial and avant-garde subject matter (Higgins, 2013, p. 6). The New Wave in science fiction also focused on more controversial subjects. As Barron (1987) has described it, “the New Wave propagandists wanted to be “experimental” in every way they could think of, and wanted to break and overturn “editorial taboos” wherever they could locate them” (p. 211).  The inclusion of more mature and psychological themes were major characteristics of the New Wave, and served to distinguish it from earlier, more pulp-influenced works (Higgins, 2013).

The New Wave was particularly prominent in Britain, with short stories published in the New Worlds magazine being heralded as the beginning of the movement, particularly with the more subversive stories published under the editorial supervision of Michael Moorcock (Greenland, 1983, p. 20). New Worlds magazine, like Amazing Stories in the United States, was a magazine where new and vetted authors alike could publish shorter, more experimental works, often under the editorial supervision of other authors. These short stories were not the only works being published by New Wave authors, however. Novels and novellas were also being published by the authors participating in this movement, such as the popular Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick.

One major aspect of the New Wave was social criticism, wherein racist and classist ideologies were being explored through the lens of science fiction (Melzer, 2006). There are many possibilities for why these subjects may have become prominent during this time, although the history of British colonialism and the involvement of US troops in the Vietnam War clearly contributed to the inclusion of these themes in the works being published in the 1960’s (Higgins, 2013). Other themes present in New Wave science fiction were also controversial, with many stories referencing religion and containing a heavy emphasis on “taboo” topics, like sexual intercourse (Latham, 2008, p. 65).

Since there are so many aspects to the New Wave, this pathfinder will contain lists of resources focusing on science fiction in general, especially the history and criticism of the genre, as well as some important themes within New Wave works, such as the sexual and psychological themes which they are known for. Critical guides, encyclopedias, and online collections will be explored in this pathfinder, as well as primary sources from the New Wave, for those interested in reading the stories that made up the movement itself.


Barron, N. (Ed.). (1987). Anatomy of wonder: A critical guide to science fiction. New York, NY: Bowker.

Greenland, C. (1983). The entropy exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British “new wave” in science fiction. Boston, MA: Routledge.

Higgins, D. (2013). New wave science fiction [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Latham, R. (2008). Sextrapolation in New Wave science fiction. W.G. Pearson, V. Hollinger, & J. Gordon (Eds.), Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction(52-71). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Melzer, P. (2006). Alien constructions: Science fiction and feminist thought. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Parrinder, P. (1979). Science fiction: A critical guide. New York, NY: Longman.