10 Best Adventures of 1966
December 28, 2015
Fifty years ago (as of this coming year), the following 10 adventures — selected from my Best Sixties Adventure list — were first serialized or published in book form. They’re my favorite adventures published that year.
In no particular order…
- Thomas Pynchon’s postmodernist, apophenic adventure The Crying of Lot 49. Has discontented California housewife Oedipa Maas uncovered a centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies? Or is she perhaps merely detecting signals where there is only noise? “The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate.” Fun fact: Pynchon’s fictional aerospace engineering company, Yoyodyne, is referenced in the movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.
- Richard Fariña’s comical picaresque Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Gnossos Pappadoupoulis, an undergrad at a thinly fictionalized version of Cornell University, is — like Odysseus — a world-weary traveler who has returned home a changed man. Having spent time in Cuba during the revolution, Pappadoupoulis returns to “Athene” to become the inadvertent leader of a student rebellion against a university edict banning women from men’s apartments. An admirer of the comic book superhero Plastic Man, Pappadoupoulis prides himself on being adaptable, a hustler, a trickster — yet he yearns to find meaning in a plasticized society. Fun fact: The author was a folksinger who died, in an accident, two days after this first novel was published. Thomas Pynchon would dedicate Gravity’s Rainbow to Fariña.
- Samuel R. Delany’s New Wave science-fiction adventure Babel-17. Starship captain, codebreaker and telepath Rydra Wong discovers that a software code used by an enemy civilization’s hackers is actually a language… one which alters perception and thought, enhancing your abilities but turning you into a traitor! Babel-17 is an adventure yarn — including everything from hand-to-hand combat to full-scale spaceship battles — but at the same time it’s a philosophical novel challenging the reader to imagine what kind of culture might speak a language lacking a pronoun, or any other construction for “I.” Fun fact: Babel-17 was joint winner of the Nebula Award in 1966 (with Flowers for Algernon) and was also nominated for the Hugo Award in 1967.
- Philip K. Dick’s New Wave science-fiction adventure The Unteleported Man. War between the US and the Soviet Union has led to UN rule of the planet, renamed Terra. Theodoric Ferry, a capitalist mogul, is teleporting millions to Whale’s Mouth, the universe’s only other inhabitable planet, a Garden of Eden where Terrans can start over. Freya Holm, an agent with the private police agency Listening Instructional Educational Services (LIES), Inc., speculates that Ferry may be an alien… and that Whale’s Mouth may not be all that it seems. Rachmael Ben Applebaum, owner of an outer-space freighter company that has been disintermediated by teleportation technology, decides to travel to Whale’s Mouth the old-fashioned way… i.e., he will be the only unteleported man. The UN, meanwhile, attempts to defeat Ferry via a mind-control device of their own: a pulp sci-fi novel! Fun fact: Originally published as a novella, in 1964, by the sf magazine Fantastic.
- Lionel Davidson’s hunted-man/treasure-hunt adventure A Long Way to Shiloh (aka The Menorah Men). When Caspar Laing, an Indiana Jones-like British professor of Semitic Languages, is asked to translate an ancient scroll that may give directions to the hiding place of a menorah rescued when Nero’s army in Israel sacked the Temple in 70 AD — that is to say, a sacred relic which is the very symbol of Judaism — he quickly gets tangled up in Middle Eastern politics. The Jordanians, it seems, are also hunting for the menorah… and what’s worse, the scroll is purposely misleading. Veers from deadly cat-and-mouse chills to hermeneutic thrills. Also, it’s funny! One of my all-time favorite adventures.
- J.G. Ballard’s New Wave science-fiction adventure The Crystal World. In the Cameroon Republic, a British doctor discovers that entrance to the forest is being discouraged… but he can’t figure out why. Seeking his friends, who run a leper colony, he travels upriver and discovers a forest of glass. Trees, grass, water, animals and men are slowly encased in glittering crystals. The universe, its myriad of possibilities, is crystallizing into sameness. Fun fact: Serialized in the first Moorcock-edited issue of New Worlds.
- Helen MacInnes’s espionage adventure The Double Image. A minor thriller from one of the great midcentury adventure writers. John Craig, an American historian, is vacationing in Paris when he bumps into Mr. Sussman, an old professor of his and an Auschwitz survivor… who claims he’s just seen an SS Colonel, who’d been reported dead, posing as a Russian. When Sussman is killed, Craig becomes a suspect… at which point he joins forces with French, Italian, British, and American intelligence operatives who are investigating whether the Communist states of Eastern Europe are harboring former Nazis. The action moves to the Greek island of Mykonos, where the Cold War turns smoking hot.
- Francis Clifford’s hunted-man adventure The Naked Runner. A recently widowed Englishman, Sam Laker, comes to the attention of an intelligence operative, Slattery, with who he’d served in the war. When Laker travels to Germany’s Russian Zone on business, taking his teenage son along for a holiday, Slattery asks him to deliver a package. Laker’s son is abducted, and Laker — who, as it turns out, was a merciless guerrilla behind enemy lines, during the war, and who suffers from what we’d now call PTSD — must turn back into an assassin. Fun fact: Frank Sinatra starred in the book’s 1967 movie adaptation. Those Liam Neeson movies seem awfully familiar, when you read this plot description, don’t they?
- Philip K. Dick’s New Wave science-fiction adventure Now Wait for Last Year. In the near future, Terra — a unified Earth, the supreme elected leader of which is UN Secretary General Gino Molinari — has become entangled in an unwinnable war between an insect race (the Reegs) and a humanoid race (the ’Starmen) who may be out to exploit Terra’s natural resources. Dr. Eric Sweetscent, a surgeon who specializes in replacing worn-out bodily organs with artificial ones, is secretly asked to tend to Molanari, who has developed a psychosomatic ailment in which he suffers along with anyone near who him who is in any kind of pain. Sweetscent’s wife, meanwhile, takes a drug which — it turns out — causes the subject to move forwards, backwards, and sideways through time. She brings Sweetscent along with her…
- Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fantasy adventure Rocannon’s World.. When ethnologist Gaveral Rocannon visits the primitive planet Fomalhaut II, his ship is destroyed by agents of Faraday, an upstart planet threatening the peaceful galaxy. Rocannon sets out to find the enemy’s secret base on Fomalhaut II. As he journeys across the planet, he encounters various fantasy-esque species, including the dwarfish Gdemiar, the elven Fiia, and the nightmarish Winged Ones; his advanced science makes him a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court-type wizard. However, when he reaches the enemy base he must revert to a sophisticated interstellar op. Fun fact: Sci-fi fans will be familiar with the concept of an “ansible” — i.e., a faster-than-light communicator. Le Guin first introduced the term here.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1966 adventures that you particularly admire.
JOSH GLENN’S *BEST ADVENTURES* LISTS: BEST 250 ADVENTURES OF THE 20TH CENTURY | 100 BEST OUGHTS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST RADIUM AGE (PROTO-)SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TEENS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TWENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST THIRTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST GOLDEN AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FORTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FIFTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SIXTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST NEW WAVE SCI FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SEVENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST EIGHTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST DIAMOND AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST NINETIES ADVENTURES (in progress) | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | NOTES ON 21st-CENTURY ADVENTURES.