While I'm posting a few previously unpublished reviews, here's one written last year on Jason Heller's intriguing Strange Stars examination of the relationship between rock music and science fiction (and far from just the obvious ones as well, even if there's bands, such as SpAce for instance, that I'd have though merited a little more coverage). I'd first heard of Jason through a piece he'd written on Hawkwind for one of the US science fiction magazines (Clarkesworld I think), which had referenced some of my own writings on the band... and was delighted at the number of times the references section of his book saw my name included. That has to be one of the highlights of researching and writing non-fiction, to see another writer build on what you'd published.
I see that Strange Stars had its paperback release a few days ago; this review, originally commissioned by Record Collector but then left unpublished, derives from last year's hardback edition. I'd planned to write an extended review to coincide with the paperback edition, but that's got away from me with other work, so here's my condensed to print magazine review length thoughts on this book, from summer 2018.
Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, And The Decade Sci-Fi Exploded
978-1-61219-697-8; 254 pages
Ground Control to everybody
Bookended by Bowie’s laments to Major Tom, Space Oddity and Ashes To Ashes, Strange Stars is an immersive pulling together of the connections between rock music and science-fiction of prose and screen, a vast network of influences, inspirations and fantasies drawn from the classic writers of the genre, be it Clarke, Asimov, or Heinlein from one era, to Dick and Ballard from its next.
At the core concept of the text is Bowie’s interest in reflecting science fiction ideas in the rock genre, something that he returned to multiple times. It’s the narrative that American journalist and musician Heller anchors his chronology to, while casting a panoramic eye across those who made sci-fi their lyrical driving force, or embedded it in their sound, or indeed those who simply adopted its imagery for visual effect.
There’s Hawkwind of course, an entry point for discussion of their sometime contributor and sci-fi giant Michael Moorcock’s wider rock connections, though their late lyricist Bob Calvert’s work merited more examination. And there’s the translation of J G Ballard’s dystopian visions into bleak disconnection by Joy Division and others.
But Heller delves further than SF’s use in muscular space-rock or clinically dispassionate post-punk. This book was also conceived from a love of Meco’s disco crossover Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band 7”, though not so much from the briefly acknowledged Magic Fly of its contemporary, Didier Marouani’s Space. And it’s built upon an extensive knowledge of the sci-fi sources that found their re-entry point in everything from Jefferson Airplane to George Clinton’s P-Funk, scientific romances that rocket-fueled these musician’s daydreams.
Jason tweets as @jason_m_heller