STRANGE STARS by Jason Heller


David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded
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The mothership connection is clear: Where there’s rock ’n’ roll, science fiction isn’t far away, as Hugo Award winner Heller (Taft 2012, 2012, etc.) deftly demonstrates.

The author was born in 1972, a couple of months after David Bowie’s landmark album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” appeared. That wasn’t Bowie’s first foray into sci-fi; as Heller notes, his career is bracketed and punctuated by tunes devoted to the intrepid Major Tom, who ends up a skeleton encased in a spacesuit with Bowie’s 2015 farewell album, “Blackstar.” It’s a good thing Bowie was on the case, writes the author, for Pink Floyd wasn’t going to get the interplanetary job done, and Neil Young, despite the sci-fi–born “doomsday, time-travel, space-ark” album “After the Gold Rush,” was pretty well earthbound. There’s a lot of yes, but hedging as Heller assembles his catalog of sci-fi rock: ELP may not have been thinking outer-spacey thoughts with “Tarkus,” which, “for all its highbrow musicianship…is hardly the stuff of classic sci-fi,” and X-Ray Spex was more tuned to pop culture than cyberia when Poly Styrene got to caterwauling about the Bionic Man. Still, it’s clear the author has listened to a vast assemblage of music, and readers who don’t know the foundation stories of P-Funk and Devo, Gong and Hawkwind, Kraftwerk and Jefferson Starship, and a whole host of lysergic-and-Asimov–soaked bands will find his tales to be both entertaining and instructive. His explorations sound just the right note, too, as when he unpacks the Deep Purple tune “Space Truckin’ ” to find in it “in essence, Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild’ recast for outer-space Hell’s Angels.” Though the thesis can be a little wobbly once taken outside of the 1970s—Chuck Berry didn’t hitch his Caddy to a star, after all, and Elvis, though Martian, was resolutely terrestrial—the book holds up well to argument.

Sci-fi geeks with a penchant for rock ’n’ stomp, prog excess, and other flavors of pop will enjoy this one.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61219-697-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Melville House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2018


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