Jason Heller presents Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded at the Jean Cocteau Cinema
Is there life on Mars? Whether you get your science fiction fix from literature or film, you can’t argue that the genre has been popular in those two mediums. But what about music? The central premise of Hugo Award-winning author Jason Heller’s new book Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the
Decade Sci-Fi Exploded is that music, too, became a prime source for narratives of dystopian futures, close encounters, and journeys to the stars. In the music world, Bowie’s alter-ego Ziggy Stardust rained down rock ‘n’ roll from the stratosphere.
From the start, Heller presents the rise of sci-fi music as intricately linked to cinema and literature, particularly because its musical luminaries grew up immersed in the genre. In the decade before the British invasion of pop music, young David Jones, as Bowie was known then, was hooked on TV shows like the Bernard Quatermass series and the slightly later, long-running Doctor Who. In literature, beyond the impact of authors like Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Frank Herbert on the counterculture, Heller writes about the influence of Santa Fe writer Roger Zelazny, Arthur C. Clarke, and popular sci-fi magazines like New Worlds. These magazines gave voice to a new wave of science-fiction writers who were influenced by, as Heller writes, “the ambiguity and deconstructive darkness of William S. Burroughs.”
While Bowie may be Heller’s cornerstone, and progressive rock a major vehicle for interstellar fantasy and otherworldly oddities, Heller delves into less obvious examples of science fiction music in reggae and jazz and in the music of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and even John Coltrane. Heller traces an influential genre that’s so rich and vast — and so convincingly elucidated — that he has you not only reaching for all your old records and listening anew but wondering why you never really saw sci-fi’s significant impact on popular music before.
Heller makes an appearance at Jean Cocteau Cinema to sign copies of Strange Stars at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18. The entry fee is $10. — Michael Abatemarco Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller was published in June by Melville House Press.