The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1970s

1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s
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What started as a review of American Science Fiction: The Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, has put me on a quest to organize my memories of the great science fiction books, decade by decade, and year by year.  Back in the mid-90s I created The Classics of Science Fiction website.  Then I wrote The Greatest Science Fiction Novels of the 20th Century about the science fiction books that people who don’t read science fiction might know.  I’m preoccupied with how people remember science fiction, well at least the literary form.  Recently I wrote The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1960s which is getting more hits than usual for my blog, so that makes me think other people are like me – looking back, trying to remember all their favorite science fiction books from childhood.

For those science fiction fans who really love reading about the great books of science fiction, I highly recommend reading Anatomy of Wonder edited by Neil Barron, now in it’s 5th edition.  It’s a very expensive book, designed for library reference, so it’s cheaper to get used copies of the older editions.  Go to the Amazon link I provided with the title and click on Look Inside to see what it’s like.  Neil Barron and his contributors are doing what I’m doing here, but exhaustively, scholarly, and providing a summary description for each book.  If you really love science fiction and want to read about the best books from the past, this book is for you.   You can get used copies of older editions for less than $5 at  Editions were 1976, 1981, 1987, 1995, 2004.  Aim for the latest edition you can afford.  I hope a 6th edition comes out soon.


Doing the research for these essays has been great fun.  A test of my memory.  It’s also shown me how science fiction has aged, and changed over time.  The science fiction of the 1970s seems more grownup than the 1960s and 1950s, less about space adventure and more about people and their problems.  Part of that change came about because of Terry Carr and his Ace Science Fiction Specials (1968-1990), and the impact of The New Wave on science fiction.  Science fiction also seemed to be polarizing over politics of the 1970s – see “New Maps of Science Fiction” by William Sims Bainbridge and Murray M. Dalziel from the Analog Yearbook, 1977.  For the article they polled 130 readers to get a list of the popular SF writers of the 1970s.


It you study this list and then look at my long list below you’ll notice that there are many new authors breaking out in the 1970s, especially women writers.  Of the 27 writers making their popularity poll, only two are women, Ursula K. Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey.  My 1970s long list adds Octavia Butler, Suzy McKee Charnas, C. J. Cherryh, Vonda N. McIntyre, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.), and Kate Wilhelm.

I create two lists for these remembrances of science fictional past.  The first is a short list of the most famous titles, the science fiction books probably most remembered today, especially by current fans, and maybe famous enough to be known by people outside of the genre.  The second, the long list, are the books that hardcore science fiction fans should fondly remember.

The Best Remembered Science Fiction Books of the 1970s

I believe these 1970s science fiction books are more often reprinted, more often talked about by young readers I meet, more often discussed in the book club, and more often written about, but I can’t prove it – just my intuition.  I expect every science fiction fan who lived through the 1970s will want to argue with me.  None of the books I picked for the short or long list are my top favorite SF books of all time.  I like them, but none of my all-time favorite science fiction books came out in the 1970s.  I’ve read many of the books from the long list, and most are entertaining, but none of them have stuck in my heart.  For some reason, since the turn of the century, I’ve been experiencing a reading renaissance, and I’ve been discovering new books again that I love like I did when I was a teen – but that’s another essay.  They do say getting old leads to a second childhood.

Like I said in the original essay about the 1950s, it’s the books we read starting at age 12, and following few years, that imprint on our souls.  The 1970s represents my twenties, and I was branching away from science fiction by then.  I’m quite sure there are fans who were teens in the the 1970s that found many of these books wonderful and are lifetime favorites for them.  But also remember, the 1970s was when Star Trek fans started swarming into the genre, and then Star Wars hit.  After that science fiction conventions were more about media science fiction than literary science fiction.

The Best Science Fiction Books of the 1970s for Hardcore Fans










inherit the stars


1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s

JWH – 4/9/13 –  Table of Contents

24 thoughts on “The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1970s”

  1. Great series! Has sci-fi been going down hill since the 70s?

    Star Wars and Hitch Hiker’s Guide being the turning points. At least Star Wars is enjoyable though not science fiction. I don’t get anything out of HHGG but an occasional weak chuckle. Mostly it just seems dumb.

    1. I do enjoy Star Wars but it’s space based fantasy so I agree with you. I think scifi has been going down hill since.. um… 1984. The Hugo nominees of 1983 were IMO so impressive that we haven’t seen the like since. I mean, 83, what a year and these were the nominees:

      Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
      The Pride of Chanur by C. J. Cherryh
      2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke
      Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
      Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury
      The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe

      Really good stuff.

  2. The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P. Hogan is not mentioned.

    I think it is the best AI story available in terms of reasonably possible portrayal of the AI.

  3. I would add at least Christopher Priest’s THE INVERTED WORLD (1974 I think?) to the list.

    The greatest of those books is ENGINE SUMMER.

    And for what it’s worth, Le Guin’s “The Word for World is Forest” actually appeared in 1972, in AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS. (It was written in 1968 or so.)

    1. I’ve been meaning to update those lists with all the books I’ve learned about since I first created them. This is the second time this week that Engine Summer has come up.

  4. A teen in the 70s so yes, I can say that my favorites can be found in this era. Nothing beats Sir Arthur’s Rendevous with Rama IMO. The quintessential BDO novel that will always define the best of what science fiction has to offer.

  5. I’m trying to remember a book from the mid seventies where there is a hero and he is adventuring with a dog he encounters along the way…..sound familiar ?

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