Strange Stars :: David Bowie, Pop Music, And The Decade Sci-Fi Exploded

Six days before he died in a car crash in 1977, Marc Bolan of T. Rex published a review of  George Lucas’ new film Star Wars  in his weekly column for Record Mirror. Praising the space opera as a "classic," he noted, “Now perhaps more people will pay attention to the science fiction field, where so many great poets, writers, and musicians are lurking unsung.”

Jason Heller is not the first writer to take science fiction and its poets and musicians seriously, but you get the sense that Bolan was distinctly forecasting something like Heller's new book, Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded.  In it, the science fiction field – and specifically its impact and influence on the music of the 1970s – gets its due. Focusing on under-recognized connections and moments when the science fiction establishment embraced music, like when the animated Yellow Submarine film and Paul Kanter's Blows Against the Empire earned Hugo Award nods -- the equivalent of Emmys in sci-fi, Heller’s sharp, lyrical, and evocative pages bring the relationship between music and science fiction to life.

Heller, the author of the satirical novel Taft 2012, whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and elsewhere, knows his stuff. Here, he connects Robert A. Heinlein’s Starman Jones to David Bowie’s Major Tom, traces hard SF pioneer  Samuel Delany's early forays into rock criticism  for Crawdaddy,  examines the "myth science" ethos of Sun Ra, how Michael Moorcock's  consciousness-expanding literature crossed over into the psychedelic rock of Hawkwind, and explores a  dozen  more corners of the pop spectrum where the influence of the space program, technological advancements, experimental science fiction novels, and films gave musicians license to showcase their most  propulsive ideas.

Though  his original idea for the book was to  broadly chart science fiction's influence on pop music -- encompassing everything from Billy Lee Riley's 1957 rockabilly rave-up "Flyin' Saucers Rock & Roll" to Janelle Monî¡e's current Do Androids Dream of Electronic Bangers aesthetic -- Heller instead chose to focus on the 1970s, a decade that found the tone and character of pop music tilting toward potential ideas about the future.

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