10 Best Adventures of 1970
November 19, 2015
Forty-five years ago, the following 10 adventures — selected from my Best Sixties (1964–1973) Adventures list — were first serialized or published in book form. I urge you to read them immediately.
The following titles are listed in no particular order.
- Philip K. Dick‘s New Wave science fiction adventure A Maze of Death. A naturalist, a typist, a linguist, a geologist, and ten other colonists living on the mysterious planet Delmak-O — or supposedly on Delmak-O — begin to kill themselves, or get killed. Are they criminally insane and part of a psychiatric experiment? Are they the crew of a spaceship that has become stranded in orbit around a dead star? Can the deities of their religion really be contacted through a network of prayer amplifiers, or is this part of the hallucination? What’s the deal with the gelatinous 3-D printers known as “tenches”?
- Peter Dickinson’s YA fantasy adventure The Devil’s Children. Part of the author’s excellent Changes trilogy, about life in a future England which has suddenly reverted to a medieval-type social order and way of life. We don’t discover why that happened, in this book — we do in The Weathermonger (1968); instead, we witness the Changes through the eyes of a streetwise 12-year-old English girl, Nicky. Having run away from home, Nicky joins a wandering group of Sikhs — who, in post-Changes England, are considered “devil’s children” — and assists them as they establish themselves in a new home in a farming community. When raiders attack the farmers, the Sikhs come to the rescue. Fun fact: Although it was published third in the Changes series, The Devil’s Children is chronologically the earliest.
- Poul Anderson‘s New Wave science fiction adventure Tau Zero. When the colonization starship Leonora Christine is caught in an uncontrollable acceleration, the reader learns a lot about relativity and time dilation, not to mention details about the ship’s engines and radiation shielding. The crew’s original plan was to spend five years in transit, during which time 33 years would have passed on Earth; instead, they travel millions (billions?) of years into the future. While the universe outside the ship prepares to collapse and re-Big Bang, the ship’s constable must maintain order and morale among the crew. It’s a kind of On the Beach story, set in outer space. Fun fact: Anderson’s novel is regarded as a quintessential example of technology-driven “hard” sci-fi.
- Mary Stewart’s Arthurian fantasy adventure The Crystal Cave. In this education-of-a-wizard prequel to the legend of King Arthur, Merlin, a neglected Welsh boy, is taught to use his psychic and practical powers by an Obi Wan Kenobi-like hermit. He joins the court of Ambrosius, who, supported by his brother Uther, plans to invade and unify Britain. Merlin is then captured by the Saxon high king, who plans to sacrifice him. Fun fact: Stewart was best known as the author of popular romantic suspense novels until the publication of The Crystal Cave, the first in what would be a bestselling Arthurian quintet of novels.
- John Sladek’s New Wave science-fiction adventure The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970). While his persona is being recorded as computer data, Bob Shairp, a government worker, dies in a freak accident. Can he be reconstructed? That’s the ostensible plot of Sladek’s romp across late Sixties America — which satirizes then-burgeoning right-wing forces in the military, evangelism, and radical anticommunist groups. (Ronald Reagan, of all people, is president!) Long before Iain M. Banks and others explored the possibilities of mind uploading, Sladek conjures up a scenario in which Shairp’s persona-data is encoded into a virus, which is then used to infect a host body. Fun fact: The book’s title, in case you haven’t already guessed, is an obscene pun.
- James Dickey’s atavistic wilderness-survival adventure Deliverance. On a back-to-nature canoe trip, a group of Southern businessmen (who feel emasculated by their bourgeois lifestyles) are sexually assaulted by hillbillies. The trip’s leader, Lewis, a survivalist type, comes to the rescue… but then he breaks his leg. So the ill-equipped group must canoe the treacherous river, battle the hillbillies (with bow and arrow), then cover up the entire affair. Fun fact: Adapted as a movie, considered one of the best suspense/thriller films of all time, in 1972 by John Boorman. See my FITTING SHOES post about the tennis shoes worn by this novel’s protagonist.
- John Christopher’s YA science fiction adventure The Prince in Waiting. In a post-apocalyptic future, in which England has reverted to a medieval way of life, complete with an untouchable caste of mutants, thirteen-year-old Luke’s father becomes the Prince of Winchester; Luke is named his successor. All of this is ordained by the Seers, England’s priestly caste, who commune with the Spirits. A few years later, however, Luke’s mother is murdered, his father is killed, and his elder half-brother becomes Prince. Luke flees Winchester, and is taken in to the Sanctuary of the High Seers… where he discovers the truth about them… and the Spirits. Fun fact: This is the first installment in Christopher (Sam Youd)’s excellent Sword of the Spirits trilogy.
- Tony Hillerman’s crime adventure The Blessing Way. The first of the author’s 18 mysteries featuring officers from the Navajo Tribal Police Force boasts a complex plot. McKee, an Indiana Jones-like anthropologist, is researching tales of witches in the sprawling Navajo region of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah; his colleague, Canfield, is killed. Another researcher, Dr. Hall, is — it turns out — surreptitiously collecting radar data about missiles being tested near the Reservation. Two no-good Navajo men protect Dr. Hall’s scheme by disguising themselves as witches and killing sheep. When the ersatz witches kill a young Navajo man, Lt. Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police gets involved. Fun fact: Hillerman was hailed for having “reinvented the mystery novel as a venue for the exploration and celebration of Native American history, culture and identity.”
- J.G. Farrell’s Troubles. Less an adventure than a sardonic inversion of the cozy catastrophe genre. Near the beginning of the 1919–1921 Irish War of Independence, Major Brendan Archer, recently discharged from the British Army, arrives at the enormous, dilapidated Majestic Hotel in south-east Ireland. Archer may or may not be engaged to the daughter of the hotel’s owner; hers is an Anglo-Irish Protestant family at odds with the local Catholic population. As the novel progresses, the hotel — a symbol of England’s dilapidated empire — decays in a spectacular fashion. Fun fact: In 2010, via a public vote, Troubles, the first instalment in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, won the Lost Man Booker Prize, a special edition of the Man Booker Prize.
- Joanna Russ‘s New Wave science-fiction adventure And Chaos Died. Two planets come into conflict. One is highly industrialized; creativity and individuality are suppressed; and a police state monitors citizens’ actions. The other is a proto-LeGuin-esque anarchist utopia, on which the natural world is revered, unique individuality is encouraged, and psychic powers have been discovered and nurtured. The latter aspect of the plot gives the novel its trippy, difficult-but-rewarding flavor — because Russ explores exactly what it might feel like to be clairvoyant dropped into a totalitarian culture!
Let me know, readers, if I’ve missed any 1970 adventures that you particularly admire.
JOSH GLENN’S ADVENTURE LISTS: 200 Greatest Adventure Novels (1804–1983) | Best Adventure Novels (1984–2013, notes only) | 100 Best Radium Age Sci-Fi Novels (1904–1933) | 75 Best Golden Age Sci-Fi Novels (1934–1963) | 75 Best New Wave Sci-Fi Novels (1964–1983) | 75 Best Diamond Age Sci-Fi Novels (1984–2003) | 55 Best Scientific Romances (1864–1903) | Best 19th Century Adventure (1805–1903) | 101 Science Fiction Adventures | 70 Crime Adventures | 65 Fantasy Adventures | 61 Espionage Adventures | 40 Atavistic & Historical Adventures | 25 Frontier & Western Adventures | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger Adventures | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt Adventures | 20 War & Ruritanian Adventures | 18 Picaresque Adventures | 10 Robinsonade & Survival Adventures.
ALSO: BEST SIXTIES YA & YYA (1964–1973) | THE OUGHTS: 1904 | 1905 | 1906 | 1907 | 1908 | 1909 | 1910 | 1911 | 1912 | 1913. THE TEENS: 1914 | 1915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1919 | 1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923. THE TWENTIES: 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933. THE THIRTIES: 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939 | 1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943. THE FORTIES: 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953. THE FIFTIES: 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963. THE SIXTIES: 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973. THE SEVENTIES: 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983. THE EIGHTIES: 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993. THE NINETIES: 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003. I’ve only recently started taking notes towards a list of the Best Adventures of the EIGHTIES, NINETIES, and TWENTY-OUGHTS. | Best Scottish Fabulists | Radium-Age Telepath Lit | Radium Age Superman Lit | Radium Age Robot Lit | Radium Age Apocalypse Lit | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophe Lit | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Cold War “X” Fic | Best YA Sci-Fi | Hooker Lit | No-Fault Eco-Catastrophe Lit | Scrabble Lit |