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A Hugo Award-winning author and music journalist explores the weird and wild story of when rock ’n’ roll met the sci-fi world of the 1970s
As the 1960s drew to a close, and mankind trained its telescopes on other worlds, old conventions gave way to a new kind of hedonistic freedom that celebrated sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Derided as nerdy or dismissed as fluff, science fiction rarely gets credit for its catalyzing effect on this revolution.
In Strange Stars, Jason Heller recasts sci-fi and pop music as parallel cultural forces that depended on one another to expand the horizons of books, music, and out-of-this-world imagery.
In doing so, he presents a whole generation of revered musicians as the sci-fi-obsessed conjurers they really were: from Sun Ra lecturing on the black man in the cosmos, to Pink Floyd jamming live over the broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing; from a wave of Star Wars disco chart toppers and synthesiser-wielding post-punks, to Jimi Hendrix distilling the “purplish haze” he discovered in a pulp novel into psychedelic song. Of course, the whole scene was led by David Bowie, who hid in the balcony of a movie theater to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, and came out a changed man…
If today’s culture of Comic Con fanatics, superhero blockbusters, and classic sci-fi reboots has us thinking that the nerds have won at last, Strange Stars brings to life an era of unparalleled and unearthly creativity—in magazines, novels, films, records, and concerts—to point out that the nerds have been winning all along.
Hugo Award winner Heller (Taft 2012) traverses the realm of 1970s science fiction in his thorough cultural history that examines how the genre influenced music and musicians, from David Bowie's 1969 "Space Oddity" to the "tipping point" in 1977, when Star Wars, Alan Parsons Project's I, Robot, and Styx's "Come Sail Away" were all released. David Bowie's career is a constant thread throughout, from his "Space Oddity" song (inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Apollo 11 moon landing), which Heller establishes as the catalyst for sci-fi infiltrating 1970s music, to its sequel "Ashes to Ashes" in 1980. Heller excavates sci-fi influences across genres, including the impact Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End had on Bowie and myriad psychedelic artists; the robotic aesthetic of electronic duo Kraftwerk and their cold, mechanical, synthesizer-driven music; the dystopian lyrics of postpunk bands such as Joy Division; and the extraterrestrial liberation baked into the identity of seminal funk band Parliament. Heller concludes that, while countless bands wrote songs about science fiction, Bowie stood apart because he "was science fiction." An adventurous guide through 1970s music zeitgeists, Heller's work will pique the interests of those in search of something a little more cosmic.