Re: RARA-AVIS: 1960s: No acid freakouts?

From: John Williams (
Date: 04 Feb 2003

Bill wrote re: Richard Neely's THE PLASTIC NIGHTMARE (aka NIGHTMARE) (1969)
 'It got me thinking about how hardboiled and noir writing went through the sixties and into the seventies. Science fiction changed a lot in that time, but how did HB writers deal with it all? For all that other writing, and other genre fiction, was affected by the sixties, from what little I know about that
 time, I don't see many changes.'

It's an interesting question this one - how the sixties impacted on H/B fiction. There are a couple of general points I think are worth making. First off the counter culture 'sixties' didn't actually happen between 1960 and 1969 but from the mid sixties to the mid seventies (or till the present in some places). Second there are novels of the sixties and novels about the sixties. It's perhaps one of those times that's easier to make sense of in retrospect and some very fine h/b novels do just that - Leonard's Freaky Deaky, Higgins' Outlaws amongst others.

There may also have been a fashion element - it does seem true that hepcats of the time were more likely to write sci-fi than h/b which was no doubt seeming very 'fifties'. Interestingly some of the h/b ish novels of the time that did deal with 60s radicalism were written by authors better known for their sci-fi (I'm thinking of Disch & Sladek's Black Alice and John Brunner's Black Is The Color). Oddly enough both of them deal explicitly with black radicalism and the other source of 60s semi-h/b that deals with the politics of the era is the lode of black American writing - not just Himes but novels like John A. Williams' Sons Of Darkness, Sons Of Light, Sam Greenlee's The Spook Who Sat By The Door, even some of the Holloway House stuff.

However I think it's fair to say that h/b didn't really come into sync with the counter culture till the seventies and the advent of post hippie post Vietnam disillusion - an era we will no doubt be going into in depth next month so I leave it out for now.

Finally though one exception to all these rules is Joe Gores extraordinary Interface - as black a counter culture novel as one could imagine.


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