The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1950s

1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s
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In 1963, when I was 12, science fiction began imprinting on my brain, so that science fiction from the 1950s is how I define the genre.  All science fiction novels I’ve read in the succeeding fifty years are measured against those stories I  first discovered in my early teens.  That’s why I so completely understand the statement, “the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12.”  Younger generations of science fiction fans have since imprinted on science fiction via television shows like Star Trek, or movies like Star Wars, and even later forms of the genre that I don’t even understand like comics and video games.  Science fiction is very hard to pigeon-hole because its so radically different from generation to generation.  For me, science fiction is defined by certain books I first read in 1963, 1964 and 1965, and most of those were first published in the 1950s.  I discovered 1950s science fiction in libraries, as cheap paperbacks on wire racks, in dusty used bookstores, and most of all by joining the Science Fiction Book Club which often promoted the classic books from the 1950s.


Sad to say, many modern science fiction fans don’t know about the science fiction I point to when I think science fiction.  That time is so far in the past that the Library of America has even published American Science Fiction:  Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, a two-volume boxed set, edited by Gary K. Wolfe.  The collection is almost an academic preservation of old, mostly forgotten, science fiction novels.

  1. The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
  2. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
  3. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
  4. The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
  5. Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
  6. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  7. A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  8. Who? by Algis Budrys
  9. The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

To get a feel for capturing the science fiction novels of the 1950s, just take a gander at their companion website, especially their wonderful Timeline, and their short overview essays.  And you can pick up even more details about the decade by reading Arthur D. Hlavaty’s review in The New York Review of Science Fiction, or visit the Library of America Science Fiction Facebook page for more reviews to read.  Everyone remembers something different about the 1950s.

Now, here’s the funny thing, those nine novels aren’t the nine novels from the 1950s that would define my memory of 1950s science fiction.  Not that I am saying Wolfe selection is a bad, it’s just not mine.  Like the web site The Burning House, in which people take photos of their favorite possessions, the ones they would grab first while running out of their burning homes, my selection of 1950s science fiction novels would be different.

And there’s a further complication.  For the last decade I’ve been rereading many of those Oldie-Goldie science fiction novels from mid-20th century by listening to them on audiobook, and most of them are disappointing to me now, even though I thought they were wonderful back then.  Would a 12-year-old today discovering these books find them exciting, or would they seem dumb and quaint compared to all the modern books, television shows and movies of today?

In other words, if we are defining the classic SF novels of the 1950s do they have to succeed for Golden Age readers (age 12, remember) or for people of any age in any reading year?  For example, The Foundation Trilogy was mind blowing for me at 13 in 1964, but I found unreadable clunky at 59.  Conversely, I thought Asimov’s The Naked Sun was boring back then and page turning fascinating a few years ago.

So I have two views of 1950s science fiction in my mind, 1950s SF Classics from my 10s and 20s, and 1950s SF Classics from my 50s and 60s.  If I had been hired by Library of America to collect books that represent American science fiction in the 1950s I’d be torn between collecting those books I nostalgically remembered, and those books I felt held up over time.  But I’d also be troubled by collecting books I loved versus books I knew were well loved by others.

Ultimately such a collection is a burning house situation, you have to grab the ones you want to save, the ones you want people to remember, the ones you want young readers to discover.  Gary K. Wolfe made a great selection, but here are my personal remembrance of 1950s SF if I had been an editor at LOA.

  1. Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
  2. City by Clifford Simak
  3. The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
  4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  5. Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
  6. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  7. Brain Wave by Poul Anderson
  8. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  9. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement

I follow the precedent of only one book by any author, otherwise five of the books would be by Heinlein.

Twelve 1950s SF Books That Might Be Remembered in the 22nd Century

However, if I try to ignore my personal tastes, and reflect on what I’ve read about these books over the years, and from studying science fiction, these are the twelve science fiction books I think will be remembered most in the future. These are my predictions, too bad I won’t be around to find out if they come true.

  1. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)
  2. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)
  3. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (1951-1953)
  4. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1952)
  5. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)
  6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  7. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (1953)
  8. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement (1954)
  9. A Case of Conscience by James Blish (1958)
  10. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1959)
  11. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (1959)
  12. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1959)

Even ardent bookworms will have trouble listing from memory a hundred classic novels from the 19th century, while most readers will only recall a handful at best. Most books fade away over time. Sure, literary scholars have better knowledge of what was read in the past, but few books last to maintain a presence in the eternal now. Think of how many 19th science fiction novels we still read today – only three come to mind: Frankenstein, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. I’m not sure any of the twelve books listed above will be remembered in the popular culture of the 22nd century. But I do believe, there will be readers like me, who love the genre and will mine the past for sense of wonder classics.

I previously felt there were zillions of great SF books from the 1950s, but when I did the research I found far fewer than my nostalgia remembers.  Below is a list of SF books that are vivid in my memory still, and  I constantly remember seeing at libraries, bookstores, garage sales, friend’s bookshelves, etc., when I first began looking for science fiction.  Library of America only publishes American writers, but I’m including the British ones I remember too.  The other thing I forgot is how many great 1950s science fiction books were collections of short stories.  The Foundation Trilogy is really three volumes of short stories.  Some books like City, A Case of Conscience or The Martian Chronicles, were called “fix-up” novels, but originally appeared as stories in the magazines.

So, here’s how I remember the 1950s, from my fading memories of the 1960s when I became addicted to science fiction.












Now, I don’t know how many of these books are worth reading today.  I’m in an online book club for people who love classic science fiction, and many of the members prefer the old stuff, especially books from the 1950s and 1960s, but most of those members are like me, in their 50s and 60s, and when we all pass from reality, who will remember these books?  I doubt many science fiction books from the 1950s will be taught in schools in the future, but who can tell today.

For me, remembering the science fiction books from the 1950s is a nostalgia trip.  I tend to think the people who buy the Library Of America books will be people like me and my friends at the book club.  They are marketing these books to us old farts who have fond memories of reading that far out Sci-Fi.

1950s SF: My Personal Favorites (links to Wikipedia)

1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s

JWH – 4/4/13 – Table of Contents

108 thoughts on “The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1950s”

  1. I still have to read so many of these 😦

    At least I’ve made a dent and read some of them.

    The 1950s really was a great time for Science Fiction!

    1. John, you’re still young, so you have plenty of time to catch up. So, what is the science fiction that imprinted on you? What is your defining science fiction?

    2. can anyone help me? I have re-read most books over the years, but there were a couple when I was a young teenager (1960’s) that I cannot for the life of me remember the title of the author. I have searched the net with my sketchy plot line memories but to no avail. Is there some guru out there with a better memory than mine who can help me find these old gems?

        1. 50’s SciFi abt an asteroid predicted to strike/destroy the Earth. Only a few astronomers know the truth. There will be a near miss. But they don’t tell in the belief that peoples of Earth will come to their senses when they are “ Spared” and life will be beautiful again. The 2021 movie “Don’t Look Up” sounds like it is a rip off of this bk

  2. I’ve read about 95% of this list and am surprised how many of theses still hold up. The exceptions are Asimov who I now find pretty much unreadable and EE Smith who I found terrible even when I was 14.

    1. I find it almost tragic to try and read E. E. Smith. He is a legendary science fiction writer but his literary abilities are so bad that it’s painful to read his books. However, I know people that still love his stories and still read him.

      1. Thanks for the above link to . I posted there last night and had an instant reply from someone who has the actual story!!

        I read ‘First Lensman Smith’ and never realised the amount he wrote later!

        Well, here goes – I use Eudora on Mac1068. She tells me I’m not sintactically valid on some links (:-)) so have to copy to GoLive and answer that way. I’m really glad I found you!!

  3. That’s a very nice survey. In answer to the question ‘how many of these are worth re-reading today?’ – I’d have to say ALL of them. (and the ones you didn’t list as well).
    It’s worth mentioning that some of these books appeared in somewhat different forms in the magazines as much as a decade or so earlier, and so the list is partially representative of two decades, but that’s mere detail.
    The thing I want to point out is that SF builds on its body of work like no other genre – there’s gold (for writers and readers) in them thar
    musty old hills. And comparatively not that much – your combined lists give a good running start at everything published that decade. Furthermore, novels of this era are not the doorstop volumes they are today – most run to barely 200 (paperback) pages. Playing catch-up is possible.
    Readers of contemporary SF will be well rewarded: chances are the authors you like to read now grew up on this stuff. Where’s they get THEIR ideas? Your looking at it here.

  4. ooops, forgot one other thing. James, like many others reminiscing and then re-reading, you mention that you found some of the works to not live uo to your memories – essentially reading differently on second blush. You’re not the only one to remark on this phenomena. I suppose that makes me an outlier; I’ve yet to find an older book I thought worthy of a re-read to ‘change’ my reaction to it over time. Foundation for example. I recognize what you (and others) refer to – dry, or clunky or lacking juice, whatever, but that doesn’t bother me. I get (almost) as much enjoyment re-reading it as I did upon initial discovery. Is it me? Am I not being criticsl enough – or – are my sensuwunda meter and my suspension-of-disbelief dial more finely tunable than most?

    1. That’s interesting Steve that you can read the old books and still enjoy them in the same way. I guess I’ve changed over the years. Essentially fiction is about telling an entertaining story. Whether I’m 12 or 62 its the same story, the words in books don’t change, but evidently I have. Part of my problem is I remember the story differently from what it is written, and that presents a kind of disappointment. For example Foundation by Asimov. I remembered Trantor and thought it amazingly cool. When I reread Foundation 40 years later, I discover that very little of the story was set on Trantor. Also I had forgot the “novel” was actually five short stories. And they really didn’t make a novel. Now that’s not the fault of the book, but my memory and my desire to have one long narrative structured like a novel. I also wanted the story to stick with a set of characters all the way through.

      So my disappointment was that I had a memory of a very cool idea, and no memory of how the story was told. When I reread it, I discovered the book was full of cool ideas, but it wasn’t really a novel, and it was a bunch of disjointed badly told short stories shoved together to be a coherent whole that wasn’t.

      1. A lot of my rereading is selective. I tend to reread writers who have aged well, such as Sturgeon, Bester, Vance , Sheckley, Pangborn and Wyndham. My biggest disappointment was rereading Caves of Steel by Asimov last year. The writing was terrible and the characterization worse. Had to put it down when he introduced the main characters wife and son(whose dialogue consisted of lines like Gee whiz pop and Golly gee dad).

        1. That’s how I am. Some of these old books really are classics, we just have to find out which ones. I was also disappointed with The Caves of Steel, but for some reason loved The Naked Sun, it’s sequel.

  5. Good survey James. I’ve been reading sf only for a few years & focusing mostly on short fiction, & I’m amazed at how many of these longer works I’ve already read. Still many unread, though.

  6. So should we encourage the imprinting of 60s science fiction on kids brains today now that so much of it is public domain? We have computer tablets which would have been regarded as science fiction in the 60s and lots of stuff to download.

    Thinking as a Science (1916) by Henry Hazlitt

    Omnilingual (Feb 1957) by H. Beam Piper

    Badge of Infamy (Jun 1957) by Lester del Rey

    We have kids that can’t read and teachers who can’t teach science.

    My first SF book:

    Star Surgeon (1959) by Alan E. Nourse

  7. Pingback: SCIENCE-FICTION
  8. I think Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Clarke’s Sands of Mars make for a great introduction as a comparison of “science fiction”. By saying that “Fahrenheit 451” was his only work of science fiction Bradbury was admitting that Martian Chronicles was not. But most people put it into the SF category. We need to come up with some kind of spectrum of sci-fi so that we can be clear what we are talking about.

    Sci-fi fans do not want to be scientific about their science fiction. LOL

  9. Wonderful scifi article(s), as im still working through the site. I’m wondering if you recall a 50s or 60s book with a title ” Of Men and Machines,” or “Men and Machines”? The storyline had a firstminterstellarnvoyage to Barnard’s Star, an African-American medical officer who didn’t suffer “space sickness, and because the engine ran well an additional planetary visit. Sadly, Af some point, the six double-stocked shelves of scifi novels were tossed and reading your comments recalled those shelves to me. I’d be exceptionally glad of any assistance you could render.
    Thanks, Happy New Year!

  10. I am looking for a book prior to 1970 titled The Rule or The War of the Rule. A sci fi where aliens take over the bodies of people on earth but no one can tell, they eventually want to rule the earth. So when talking to a person you don’t know if he or she is an alien.

  11. Very nice list. To my pleasant remembrance, I did read most of them. If I didn’t read it, it wasn’t in the libraries frequented. I pretty much started at the beginning of the SF section and read until the end of it. Being young (I was born in ’60) poor (No money to buy books) and female (Yup, the other girls thought I was weird) amd isolated ( House out in the country w/ no neighbors and no TV) SF was the only thing I would read for years.

    1. When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s reading science fiction I never met any girls that read science fiction. I thought they just plain didn’t. Now that I’m old, and participating online, I’m meeting women all the time they said they were reading science fiction. Of course, even back then, even meeting other male fans was hard. It wasn’t like today when everyone claims they love science fiction.

      1. They may claim they love it but do they actually read it? Not just see the movie? A lot of people who tell me they “love” Science fiction have never picked up a Sci-Fi book in their life.If I mention “I Robot they talk about Will Smith. I’m not knocking the movies, but many of the best books will never be a movie. No one knows who Keith Laumer was, or Delaney, or…too many to mention.

        1. That’s true. Nowadays you mention science fiction and people think movies. No one thinks of Alfred Bester, Clifford Simak, John Brunner, Brian Aldiss, or even Robert Heinlein.

  12. I may be coming to this late, James, via Carl Anderson’s Stainless Steel Balls blog, but I do want to say it’s a fine list. I went through the 1950’s books and have read all but two of them, which is a good mark, I believe. Now 70, I started reading SF by the time I was 9 years old or so and have kept going, though the offerings in the last decade seem slim and lacking of much sense of wonder. I still like to pull the old paperbacks off the shelf and enjoy them all over again.

    Which brings me to the then and now topic mentioned. I enjoy most all the Heinlein still, and a lot of Asimov, some Clarke. I still enjoy Clement, just re-read Iceworld, and Poul Anderson is a real favorite. I don’t ever seem to tire of the Nicholas van Rijn and David Falkayn stories. I’d say for me most of the old favorites are still favorites. But there is much I haven’t reread: Van Vogt, Simak. I want to reread Simak, not Van Vogt. Doc Smith? Unreadable. I labored through even then.

    A fine blog, fine post, and I’m glad to have made it’s (your) acquaintance. I’ll be back to look at the other decades and whatever else is here. Oh, and it’s nice to see Steve Davidson chiming in, I lost his blog years ago.

    1. Thanks Richard. Your seven years older than me, old enough to have actually read some of those stories in the 1950s. I didn’t start until 1964. Of the ones you haven’t read, I still like Simak. He’s very sentimental, but I can still read him. I can’t do Smith or Van Vogt anymore. I have a lot of trouble with Clarke, and most of Asimov. But I’m still finding things to read that are good that I didn’t catch the first time around. Like Brainwave by Anderson.

  13. I remember reading a SF novel back in the early 70s (not when this book was published) that was about a little universe some scientist made and it started leaking out into our universe. Some newspaper reporters got wind of this and found themselves on a mountain side(?) in a secret lab. They were not allowed to leave so took part in the experiment. The scientist found a way to communicate with this universe they had “made” (made what they believed to be the start of the Big Bang) You got onto a cot and put this device over your head and went to sleep and would find yourself inside a beings body in this little universe.
    What the scientist wanted was to boost up the technology of the U.S.A.. The KGB got wind of this and along with the CIA went to this science lab and banged down the front door so they could get the information the scientist had gathered. Well, one of the women reporters managed to get rid of the force field holding in the tiny universe and the tiny little space ships escaped getting larger as they went out the door of the laboratory .

    This is all I can remember of this book. The paper back I had had a farmer on earth looking horrified and he stared into the face of a dinosaur. There were other depictions besides this. If at all possible I would like to know if you have ever seen this SF novel. I do not recall the publication date or the publisher.

    1. Try going to the Internet Science Fiction Database and search on “Ace Double” and “Publication Series” – you’ll get this results

      One person has suggested it was an Ace Double. But I’m not sure. You can also search by year in the advance search to see all the books that came out each year. You can narrow the search by putting in qualifiers like NOVEL and ENGLISH.


    2. re – Marvin L. Stacks
      Better late… I suspect the novel with the “little universe” story was Ace Double d-362 “Edge of Time” by David Grinnell (Donald Wolheim?). It’s something I recall reading a few years back from the large number of Ace Doubles on my shelf. I was thinking of doing an RPG scenario based on an episode of The Outer Limits called “Wolf 359” and this is one of a few stories with a similar idea.

  14. Wondering if anyone on here may be able to help . My husband when he was a child read a collection of science fiction short stories( they were all in one book By the top science fiction writers of the time) and the story was about a group of people trying to get an abandoned spaceship up and running ( when said ship turned on the people)

  15. ps he believes the book was published in 1950’s,1960’s or 1970’s sorry but this is all he can remember
    really trying to help him find said story

  16. Great list! Like yourself I didn’t start until the early 60s, but I reread many to compile my own best list, and may alter it when I can find Wolfe’s Limbo for a reasonable price…
    Asimov, Isaac Foundation, 1951
    Christopher, John No Blade of Grass, 1956
    Wyndham, John The Day of the Triffids, 1951
    Bradbury, Ray Fahrenheit 451, 1953
    Asimov, Isaac The Caves of Steel, 1954
    Shute, Nevil On the Beach, 1957
    Frank, Pat Alas, Babylon, 1959
    Asimov, Isaac The End of Eternity, 1955
    Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End, 1953
    Clement, Hal Mission of Gravity, 1954

        1. This is interesting. I got for years not hearing about Limbo, and then in the last month or so, I’ve seen several references. I’ll look forward to seeing new reviews.

  17. I only learned about it when I was compiling a reading list for the 1950s several years ago. After seeing it included as #6 on David Pringle’s 100 best science fictions novels and seeing the remarks in the Wikipedia, “Boucher and McComas….received the novel poorly, calling it “pretentious hodgepodge” and describing its theme as “a symbolically interesting idea . . . never developed with consistent or convincing details,” [while] P. Schuyler Miller gave Limbo a mixed review, describing it as a “colossus of a novel” while faulting its “endless talk,” I didn’t know if it was worth reading. I’m about 100 pages into it so my gut feeling is that it was probably not a best seller despite later cover blurbs such as the …”More satisfying than Mr. Orwell’s 1984 or Mr. Huxley’s Brave New World.”

  18. My first impressions of Limbo are that it’s stylistically better than anything else I’ve read from 1952. It has humor, autobiographical content and reflects what I believe was Wolfe’s love of Jazz, incorporates some his porn writing, and gets preachy at times to the detriment of the story.

      1. I’ve almost finished Limbo while reading it during lunchtimes while at work and have kept some notes that may lead me to write a review… I’ve also read Anderson’s Brain Wave and Kornbluth’s Not This August in the meantime. I found I liked the latter much more his more famous Gladiator at Law and The Syndic, and would put it in my top 25 for the 1950s.

        1. I really liked Brain Wave when I read it a few years back. I haven’t read any Kornbluth in decades. I did reread The Space Merchants awhile back, but didn’t really like it. I’ve been tempted by Kornbluth’s complete short stories on Audible.

  19. Oh, you’re killing me here- I just was looking for hints to find a couple of Sci Fi stories I read in late elementary school, and now you’ve made me think of all these books I want to reread (for the nth times for some of ’em). Maternal grandmother was a superfan of classic and New Wave back in the 60’s, and as she had ample $ and seldom reread, started giving me her finished books when I entered first grade in ’66… Grams was the coolest; and blown away doesn’t begin to describe it- that woman caused my teachers in every grade a lot of stress, as the books I had my nose in probably weren’t classwork. Favorites were Anderson (Star Fox, anyone?), Andre Norton, Heinlein, and Asimov, right up until I read “Dhalgren”, and the hilarity of Slippery Jim DeGriz (Harrison), Reteif of the CDT, and Ensign Flandry, which got me through high school and my Air Force years. As a disabled vet, you’d think I’d leave it, but for the last decade or so, I have been a hardcore military SF fan (John Ringo, David Weber, etc), and quite taken with the Steampunk movement ala “Difference Engine” and George Mann (“The Affinity Bridge”, etc). Curses; even if I won the lottery I’d never have the time to get them all read. “Dhalgren” is still my favorite, even after all these years. Jaw dropping intense when I read it new as a HS soph, still holds me in the chair at 57.
    Anyway, was trying to remember the title and author of a story, probably for teens, that involved the salvage of a dumbbell shaped starship belonging to an ursine race by a small group of humans, as I recall a tween/teen boy was involved somehow. I think the bear-liens had crashed into shallow water? Over 40 years is screwing up my recall. Any thoughts? Thanks for the great memories- now I’m gonna dig out “Tower of Glass” or the “Deathworld” trilogy and be up all night!

      1. Thanks! It almost seems as if there was some sort of interstellar/interspecies conflict where the bear-liens, though not friendly with humanity- humankind being late to the party, not part of the galactic civilizations, and not nearly as technologically advanced- were the closest physiologically among the species who’s ships the humans and their stranded allies had to pick from in the aftermath of some kind of catastrophe, so despite the risk the characters chose to salvage one of the dumbbell shaped bear-liens ships to escape the dead world.
        Oh- another story that just blasted my 10-11 year old mind, and still gives me a great deal of pleasure, as I am a cat person to the core: how about “The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal” by Cordwainer Smith? Thanks again for the memories! -R

          1. No sir, my recollection was that the characters in the story described the bear-liens as grizzly bear sized, with the temperaments to match, and the only reason they dared to salvage one of the dumbbell starships from the wreckage was the physiological similarity, atmosphere requirements, etc., and that all the characters, even the technologically advanced non-humans dreaded any encounter with the ship’s original owners. Also, I seem to remember that the bear-liens were sort of peripheral to the story, more of a plot device rather than main characters. The intent was to simply get off the war ravaged planet and back to their own ship(?), ditching the dumbbell shaped ship as quickly as possible, avoiding contact with the bear-liens. Hope this helps- this is driving me crazy, as in late elementary school this was one of my favorite stories, and my 5th grade reader was “The Hobbit”, which is one of the best stories ever, but not really science fiction. Thanks again for your help!

        1. That doesn’t ring a bell in my faulty memory, but I’ll try to find a copy or synopsis and check… As I recall, even though the book seemed to be a work for “young adults”, teens if you will, the story arc, conflicts, and situations all were quite grim and fraught with danger, and one of the reasons I enjoyed the story was that there was no clear sense (to me at the time) that everything, or even anything, would “come out right’. I am also going to check out the first “Uplift War” book by Brin, even though it seems to lately published- the story I’m looking for may be from anywhere between 1960 & 1980, but my feeling is late 60’s to perhaps ’72. I would have been too old, I think, after then.
          Anyway, thanks for the suggestion. Curses. Where’s that omniscient computer Star Trek promised us? I’d rather have that than the stupid communicators! (Bwahahaha)-R

  20. Interesting 50s lists — I’ve read all of them (born in the mid-1940s to two SF-reading parents and benefited from good libraries) and am glad to be reminded of several that I haven’t read in some years now. I do have three questions for the hive mind… I’m trying to find (1) a very early SF anthology that almost certainly came into the house via the Book of the Month Club–many short stories and a couple of novels–and had a red cover (I know–but it’s sometimes useful ID for a reference librarian). (2) trying to find a short story (probably late 50s through mid 60s) with the premise that atoms, subatomic particles, etc. didn’t exist until people looked for them with the proper technology (e.g. no alpha or beta particles until someone invented the cloud chamber) (3) a series of short stories (Analog? Galaxy? F&SF?) about radical transplants (whole head, for instance, for a kid with severe disabilities)

      1. I don’t think so — it was 1 volume and I’m pretty sure it would have been published before 1959 since I recall reading it when I was fairly young and as far as I recall, my parents didn’t subscribe to the SFBC but I’m pretty sure they subscribed to the original BC in the 1950s. But I’ll look for that one to check.

  21. About those bears… I thought I remembered something by Gordon R. Dickson. Not actually sure but – “The Right to Arm Bears”?

    1. Ooh, another great story I have to dig out, always loved Dickson’s military sci-fi stuff. But the hostile bearliens were part of a midlength novel, and even though their dumbbell shaped starships are what stuck in my admittedly sketchy memory from jr. high in the early ’70’s, in fact they were peripheral to the main story, being more a plot device to add urgency to the main characters plight. I think the reason I am so “stuck” on them is that I always felt the bearliens deserved a better back story, or even a stand alone novel. This was, of course, a couple of decades before marketing “tie ins” invaded the sci-fi world, so my bearliens passed into history apparently little remembered and less remarked… while in some dark Disney dungeon the wicked Accountians are even now torturing the Lucassians into writing the inevitable Jar Jar Binks extravaganza (sigh).
      Off topic- did anyone else notice the news with respect to the “METI”(?) project, where unlike the passive listening of SETI, the operators intend to broadcast extremely high power signals, towards Proxima Centaurus initially? Both Stephen Hawking and David Brin went on record as believing this to be a very bad idea (read Brin’s “Earth” for an idea of possible outcomes).
      I would think that the opinions of two of the smartest living scientists would weigh a bit more, but the project goes apace. Hopefully, they won’t contact anyone who wants to “serve man”! Didn’t any of these people ever read “Who Goes There”? Oh well. Thanks for the input. At the rate I’m going, I’ll get to Dickson next year sometime. -R

      1. I’m not very paranoid about alien invaders. I’m not sure interstellar travel is practical at all. And if everyone waits to hear from someone else, we’ll never discover if we have neighbors.

        1. I don’t think it’s “invaders” that Drs. Hawking and Brin are concerned with, either. My apprehension, which I believe is shared by the good Drs., involves what is repeatedly observed when two civilizations of differing levels of social and technological development interact, whether forcibly, intentionally, or simply by accident. Inevitably, the less developed people are destroyed… given the constant state of war, oppression, unconcern for the environment, starvation, class division, species exploitation and extinction, weapons development over rights protection etc, I’m not certain that any civilizations sufficiently advanced to respond to the message, and perhaps visit, would even consider us sentient, much less civilized. Objectively, the “human” race as a whole is pretty inhumane- check some of the animals at a shelter, or people at a mission- and who in the wide universe would willingly hang out with us? At this juncture, we’d be fortunate to merely be quarantined by our betters, rather than put down like the rabid baboons we must seem.
          Many electromagnetic effects are broadcast at light speed by various aspects of “advanced” civilizations like ours, so we’re by no means hidden. Why open the door to being an analog to the post-colonial Third World, on a much grander scale? When the great and powerful sky gods wish to deal with us, I’m quite certain that they will! -R

          1. No, was thinking more along the lines of oh, the “colonies” of say, Western Europe, and what happened to the poor folks who were, ah, discommoded by the influx of heavily armed, highly fertile, exotic disease bearing “colonists”. And, of course the invasive, non native species such “colonists” invariably bring with. Ever seen an American “Indian Reservation”? Read about the Conquistadors and the atrocities committed in the name of Catholicism and the gleaning of gold? Or perhaps checked out the past couple hundred years of Hell the Aboriginal peoples of Australia have experienced? As for the cargo cult, well, that inadvertently was a good example. Those peoples religion and culture were permanently altered, in no positive way, by their homelands advantageous location for an airfield to support a war of which they had and could have had no understanding. I don’t believe Dr. Brin was being facetious, even if he does have a great sense of humor. And my experience of Dr. Hawking is that he considers his words very carefully before uttering them or committing them to paper. I’m only a disabled vet and retired geologist, and I’m quite certain that if there are people who know more about potential “First Contact” problems than I, Drs. Hawking and Brin are first among them. I’m not concerned for myself, as barring miracles I will be long dead before any answers may come, but I do have a niece and nephew both planning families, and I would wish a better future than somebeings “Raj” or “El Dorado”. Maybe Great Cthulhu will protect us! Iä! Iä! – RRC

  22. Hi James,

    Could you please help me with a book/ story I am looking for?
    A friend of mine has been searching for a short story and has been unable to find it for years. He is sure that this science fiction short story comes from 1950s or 60s. It’s supposedly part of an anthology whose name or authors my friend doesn’t know. All he remembers is that the main character (most probably an archaeologist) finds a mirror/ door/ window to another world. These mirrors/ doors/ windows explain the sudden disappearance of items/ people from main character’s world. As he steps into one of those, he sees that there are wolf like creatures (called rukhs or ruhks or something along those lines) who have enslaved the human beings (who probably have to work in their plantations). This parallel world leeches upon main character’s world for their survival. These are the hints I have been given and I have spent hours on google search but in vain.
    Do you happen to know what short story this is? Thanks in advance!

  23. Came across your column while doing some research for my new book. Wonderful insight to the 50s when I started my SF reading. What memories you have recalled for me….thank you.
    How come I dont see Dune mentioned anywhere … was that written later?

  24. I read a book back in the 60’s about how civilization had advanced to the point that robotics and AI did all the work and people no longer had to do anything. The earth was covered with ice. Then the machines started breaking down and nobody new how to fix them. Can you tell me the title?

    1. That doesn’t ring a bell, but I’ll ask around for you. Check back.

      It does sound a bit like “The Machine Stops” the classic SF story from 1909 by E. M. Forster, the English literary writer.


      1. Pretty sure that wasn’t it. It did not have such a classic (read old style) literary flavor. Seemed contemporary to the 60’s.. Thanks for you efforts. LOVE this site.

        1. I posted your query to the Science Fiction Book Club on Facebook. It’s generated a few replies. Some people propose “Cacoon” by Keith Laumer. Here’s where that story has been reprinted: but the description here for “Cocoon” doesn’t sound like your story.

          The more I think about it, the more I think your story sounds like something Philip K. Dick or Clifford Simak might have written.

          The other suggestions aren’t from the 1960s. One is from the 1950s, The City and the Stars. That’s a classic by Arthur C. Clarke about a far future where there’s one city automated city left taking care of what remains of humanity. However, in that story, the world is a desert.

          David, you might like joining the Facebook group. Its address is:

          1. I’m sure I read the story when I was in the 5th/6th grade, 1970 or ’71.
            Looked through all my stored paperbacks, no luck. My head now hurts, but I will keep looking/thinking. Curses.

  25. HELP! Does anyone remember a sci-fi book or short story from the 60’s-70’s (possibly the 50’s but I don’think so), it may have been in a magazine, which was sort of;

    A monkey or monkey-like character trapped in a seemingly self-propelled caravan or circus wagon, which travels across the surface of a somewhat featureless landscape.
    Story centers on the inner life and thoughts of the ‘monkey’ character, I vaguely remember it as an analysis of existential ‘meaning of life’ type ideas, although it sounds flat and frustrating now.
    Still I think of it from time to time, and wonder if anyone else remembers what it was.
    Please respond to if you have some ideas. Thanks so much for your help!

  26. I really like your decade lists. I’ve recently been reading a lot of 1950’s sci-fi. It was all a bit before my time (I was born in 75), but there is something really neat about science fiction that predates the space program. Did you make lists for the 2000’s and 2010’s?

      1. I would recommend considering 2001’s Under the Skin by Michael Faber for the first list. I just got around to reading it this year. It does some very nice things with reader perspective. Better than most of the sci-fi books of that decade.

          1. Read the book, but skip the movie. It was very low budget and bore little resemblance to the novel

  27. Y’know I have read most of the books on the list and a zillion more but the books I have the most affection for are some that are really pretty trivial. Two series:
    Neil R. Jones – The Professor Jameson series. Of course I read the bulk of them in the Ace paperbacks but now a number of additional stories – “The Cat Men of Aemt” 1940, “Cosmic Derelict” 1941, “Slaves of the Unknown” – 1942, “Parasite Planet” 1949, “The Star Killers” 1951 and “Exiles From Below” – 1989 (!) have appeared as e-books. Does 1931-1989 form some sort of record in continuing series? Anyway, I now have a reason to re-read all of them.
    Eando Binder/Gordon Giles/(Otto Binder) – Via… The series that became one of those dynamite Curtis Books with a cover photo made using a G.I. Joe figure in the Mercury Space Suit – Puzzle of the Space Pyramids 1971. Made up of the stories “Via Etherline” and it’s sequels from 1937-1942.

      1. Adam Link… I better check and see what I have. I remember liking those when I read them about 30 years ago. I believe I read that Black Gate article a few years back. Five years ago might mean that it is the thing that prompted my last re-reading. Now, with the new stories, I’ve got the whole lot back in the TBR stack – which these days is actually a directory on the computer.

          1. I don’t read on my actual computer very much. PDFs (the sort that are merely a stack of jpegs, are not much good to me because they require a big screen and are unreadable on a Kobo or a Kindle – both of which I use. I read whole issues of old magazines when I have paper copies and I have been lucky enough to get a small shelf-full of Astounding from the ’40s and ’50s along with some assorted Galaxy and odds and ends… Thanks to the San Francisco Library book sale (Which didn’t happen this year, to my and my wife’s sadness). Actually there are a few e-book conversions of old magazines the last few years, I just have gotten sidetracked reading other things. I applaud the dedication of those who go through the difficult task of converting scans to something handier, having made a few e-books myself from online scans (Just Dark Shadows novels).
            Hey, looks like I do have a set of Adam Link… And it has original illustrations, thanks to somebody named Jerry who produces or has produced a vast array of SF e-books.

  28. 50’s SciFi abt an asteroid predicted to strike/destroy the Earth. Only a few astronomers know the truth. There will be a near miss. But they don’t tell in the belief that peoples of Earth will come to their senses when they are “ Spared” and life will be beautiful again. The 2021 movie “Don’t Look Up” sounds like it is a rip off of this bk. Sorry if this is a duplicate request.

  29. Hi;

    I posted the following last week on the 1960’s forum but never received any confirmation it cleared the moderation hurdle.

    Since then I was able to finally find the book! It is The Star Seekers by Milton Lesser, 1953. Thought you might want to add it to the list.


    ——————- previous post —————–
    I need help identifying a science fiction story I read back in the late sixties or early seventies.

    It was a story about a generation ship Not sure if it was a full length novel or a short. It had the standard plot of the inhabitants not being aware that they were in an Interstellar generation ship. It’s not any of the obvious famous gen ship stories, I have all of them after all.

    My memory of the story is very hazy. I remember that the hero has the typical dissatisfaction that comes from being trapped in a generation ship and not really understanding the universe. He went on some kind of a journey, climbs a very tall mountain, and at the top of that mountain he was actually up against the inner portion of the sky. He discovered a hatch of some sort, at that point I really have poor memory of what happened.

    Some of the crew (who had a higher yet still incomplete understanding of the ship) somehow interacted with him. I remember that the crew was divided into different responsibility castes. One such caste was called Atmospheres, perhaps responsible for air? From this point, I really don’t remember what happened at all.

    Can anyone help?

    1. Sorry Steve, but I’ve been down with my back. The discovery you have made is fascinating. The Star Seekers by Milton Lesser is one of the Winston Science Fiction series of YA novels in the 1950s and 1960s. I wrote about them here:

      I loved those books as a kid, but I don’t remember reading this one. It has been reprinted for ebook and is available on Amazon for $2.99 from ThunderChild Publishing, a company that has reprinted many of the Winston books.

      I doubt it’s one of the defining SF books of the 1950s, but I’ll give it a look. However, you might be interested in this blog that has been reviewing generation ship stories.


      1. Star Seekers is probably not worthy of classification as a “defining work ” but it sure made an impression on me. After trying for 40 years to remember the title and author it was wonderful to finally locate it. Looking forward to re-reading it when it arrives next week.

        It was the “List of Generation Ship Science Fiction Novels/Short Stories” that finally brought my quest to fruition. He did not provide a link, but the title seemed familiar, and a search for Star Seekers led to Amazon.

        The idea of climbing a mountain and then at the summit finding an opening in the sky was amazing to my teenage mind, particularly since I lived in Anchorage Alaska at the time and was starting my adventures in mountaineering!

        I can’t help but wonder if this book was part of the inspiration for the Star Trek episode “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky ”


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