The Best Year in Science Fiction: 1968

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Today's candidate for the best 365 days of scifi is 1968, a year that spawned masterpieces like 2001 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and such enduring tales as Night of the Living Dead and Planet of the Apes.

1968 was a year of social upheaval — student protests and civil rights activists challenged the status quo around the globe. In the realm of science fiction, posthuman forces upended human hegemony. This is not to suggest that all these scifi works were cut from the same ideological cloth as the progressive movements, but it's rather uncanny how the humanity of 1968's speculative fiction — hobbled by its own hubris and technology — gave up the mantle of alpha species.


In Stanley Kubrick Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 and Harlan Ellison's Hugo Award-winning I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, computers saddled with man-made directives transcend their programming and rebel against their human overlords. The Homo sapiens of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? must live in a polluted hell of their own design — they further relinquish their own humanity by hunting and enslaving organic androids. Planet of the Apes saw mankind enslaved by damn, dirty simian masters, and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead depicted Smalltown, USA overrun by its rotting, shambling past. The apes (and possibly the zombies) rise thanks to mysterious events orchestrated by science gone wild.


Even when the characters of speculative fiction reached new technological heights, these achievements showcased their own limitations. The intelligence enhancements of Ralph Nelson's Charly were ephemeral and cruel. Tony Stark finally got his own title with The Invincible Iron Man 1, but for all of his massive firepower, he was still a slave to his armor. The great science fiction of this year illustrated that technology wasn't synonymous with enlightenment. If anything, technology highlighted our frailties and accelerated our collapse.