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Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded

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A Hugo Award-winner explores the massive influence that science fiction has had on popular music, particularly on David Bowie and the heady, experimental 1970s scene In the 1960s and 70s old mores and lingering repressions were falling away, replaced with a new kind of hedonistic freedom that included sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Although it didn't factor into the stereot A Hugo Award-winner explores the massive influence that science fiction has had on popular music, particularly on David Bowie and the heady, experimental 1970s scene In the 1960s and 70s old mores and lingering repressions were falling away, replaced with a new kind of hedonistic freedom that included sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Although it didn't factor into the stereotype, it also included science fiction. Strange Stars tells the story of how incredibly well read artists--David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and many more--brought Sci Fi's cosmic flare to their lyrics, sounds, and styles, and changed pop music forever.


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A Hugo Award-winner explores the massive influence that science fiction has had on popular music, particularly on David Bowie and the heady, experimental 1970s scene In the 1960s and 70s old mores and lingering repressions were falling away, replaced with a new kind of hedonistic freedom that included sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Although it didn't factor into the stereot A Hugo Award-winner explores the massive influence that science fiction has had on popular music, particularly on David Bowie and the heady, experimental 1970s scene In the 1960s and 70s old mores and lingering repressions were falling away, replaced with a new kind of hedonistic freedom that included sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Although it didn't factor into the stereotype, it also included science fiction. Strange Stars tells the story of how incredibly well read artists--David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and many more--brought Sci Fi's cosmic flare to their lyrics, sounds, and styles, and changed pop music forever.

30 review for Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded

  1. 5 out of 5

    Billie

    Great title, great cover, great concept, "meh" content. By the end, I really felt like Heller had had to dig to find artists and songs to support his thesis, relying heavily on the obscure and only vaguely sci-fi-ish. There was also a lack of first-hand research and/or personal interviews, which gave the book a dry, academic tone. In the end, the result is a book that a.) could have been a 50-page paper, rather than a 200-page book and b.) will likely have limited appeal to the general public, i Great title, great cover, great concept, "meh" content. By the end, I really felt like Heller had had to dig to find artists and songs to support his thesis, relying heavily on the obscure and only vaguely sci-fi-ish. There was also a lack of first-hand research and/or personal interviews, which gave the book a dry, academic tone. In the end, the result is a book that a.) could have been a 50-page paper, rather than a 200-page book and b.) will likely have limited appeal to the general public, in spite of its subject matter.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jason Diamond

    Heller uses sci-fi to tie together everything from Sun Ra to Bowie to X-Ray Spex and even some New Romantic stuff from the 80s. It's really all I could ever ask for in a book and possibly the most interesting music book of 2018.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is fantastic. I was a child in the '70s and I am familiar with much of the music and books Heller discusses (not so much on movies although I do know Star Wars and Star Trek which was more than enough to get me through) so I figured this would be a fun "trip down memory lane," as it were. Nope. Not one piece of nostalgic fluff in sight! (That's not a bad thing, in case you aren't sure.) I was so absorbed with the connections I hadn't considered (or wasn't aware of) that it was as if I'd nev This is fantastic. I was a child in the '70s and I am familiar with much of the music and books Heller discusses (not so much on movies although I do know Star Wars and Star Trek which was more than enough to get me through) so I figured this would be a fun "trip down memory lane," as it were. Nope. Not one piece of nostalgic fluff in sight! (That's not a bad thing, in case you aren't sure.) I was so absorbed with the connections I hadn't considered (or wasn't aware of) that it was as if I'd never heard/read/seen/lived it. To have a new view of David Bowie's Space Oddity, for example, just seems impossible. It's decades old, overplayed, clearly in the cannon of songs that pretty much everyone knows, and yet here I am, listening to it with new ears and new insights. (The old lady in me is supremely happy about this since she will do something drastic if she has to hear one more auto-tuned piece of shit while searching for new music, but we'll talk about that some other time.) That said, the list of unknown (to me) musicians and songs is embarrassingly long. I can't even begin to imagine how Heller found them all (it must be a personal passion.) Even more impressive is that despite the overlap of themes, topics, and names, despite the levels of influence from authors to musicians and back again, the timetable is seamless. Rather than feeling insulting, repetition is relevant and short, assuming the reader can remember something said twenty pages ago and be reminded with a little "shorthand." I'm making it sound too academic Really, this is a book I could not put down. It's encyclopedic in the content but it is also compellingly written. And did I mention it's fascinating? Bowie, of course, takes center stage but we also see a good bit about Jefferson Airplane/Starship, P-Funk, Hawkwind and some other biggies I'm sure I'm forgetting. You're probably saying to yourself, "Yeah, but I bet he doesn't cover (insert obscure '70s band here)." If they wrote a sci-fi song, I'd put good money down that you're wrong. The only two omissions that surprised me were Frank Zappa and the Residents but neither of them could, in any reality, be considered pop. I ended up with three pages of notes (mostly stuff I need to listen to, watch, and/or read) and can't stop obsessing over the topic so I think this has become a long-term commitment for me. I doubt it would be easy for anyone to read it and forget it. Apparently it is good form to tell you that I received a pre-pub of this book for free, but as I like to point out, I get books from my library for free all the time, too, and you just need to look at my reviews to see that it doesn't seem to influence me.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    I enjoyed this book very much, but to me, it was the very definition of a mile wide and an inch deep. Heller tracks down and catalogs what seems to be every one of the hundreds of science fiction themed songs recorded during the 70s and duly notes if they were inspired by any specific book or movie. What's mostly missing is any sort of broader historical context as to exactly why any of this stuff was happening - beyond "Star Wars came out and was really popular," Heller doesn't seem too interes I enjoyed this book very much, but to me, it was the very definition of a mile wide and an inch deep. Heller tracks down and catalogs what seems to be every one of the hundreds of science fiction themed songs recorded during the 70s and duly notes if they were inspired by any specific book or movie. What's mostly missing is any sort of broader historical context as to exactly why any of this stuff was happening - beyond "Star Wars came out and was really popular," Heller doesn't seem too interested in getting at why certain themes emerged in music while others faded, beyond vague waves of the hand at topics like the death of 60s idealism, etc. What did any of this actually mean? Strange Stars doesn't really answer that, and that's what prevents it from being a great history book rather than just a really good one. Still, it's ridiculously well-researched and comprehensive, though there are a few irritating, obvious mistakes, such as attributing the Roger Waters-penned "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" to Syd Barrett. Overall, though, this is a fun, very readable book that unearths a ton of music I never knew existed, even if it's not very concerned with explaining why it existed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Allison Thurman

    My teenage musical interests tended to be deep and specific. As I read more about 1970s pop music the more I realize that I'm ignorant of so much of it even now. This book filled in some very serious gaps. This book isn't just about songs that literally reference sci fi (though there is that - remember disco Star Wars?) but also about the interaction between sci fi authors and rock musicians (Hawkwind and Moorcock) and the fact that a lot of 70s prog and glam rockers were inspired in both sound a My teenage musical interests tended to be deep and specific. As I read more about 1970s pop music the more I realize that I'm ignorant of so much of it even now. This book filled in some very serious gaps. This book isn't just about songs that literally reference sci fi (though there is that - remember disco Star Wars?) but also about the interaction between sci fi authors and rock musicians (Hawkwind and Moorcock) and the fact that a lot of 70s prog and glam rockers were inspired in both sound and appearance by their love of science fiction (Bowie would watch 2001 repeatedly). Like a lot of aficionados of post punk I wrote off prog rock as overblown and didn't realize how much they innovated in terms of theme albums and use of synthesizers. If you have an interest in 70s rock with a look at broader 1970s sci-fi culture, this book comes highly recommended. If you're interested in Bowie and his ilk in general this and Simon Reynolds' "Shock and Awe" are excellent primers for what to listen to and how it came about.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nick Spacek

    it's fun and all, but i can't help but feel that it's just another in a series of books which follow such a particular pattern that certain aspects of it can't help but feel shoehorned in. i really wanted heller to tie bowie in more often to the other things he was discussing, but it seems like the throughline floats above the rest of it at too much a remove. for all its flaws, dave thompson's children of the revolution did a better job of a similar task, using the story of marc bolan as the conn it's fun and all, but i can't help but feel that it's just another in a series of books which follow such a particular pattern that certain aspects of it can't help but feel shoehorned in. i really wanted heller to tie bowie in more often to the other things he was discussing, but it seems like the throughline floats above the rest of it at too much a remove. for all its flaws, dave thompson's children of the revolution did a better job of a similar task, using the story of marc bolan as the connecting thread for the history of glam rock. there's just too much listing here, rather than exploring connecting stories and themes. i understand that it's all about sci-fi, but a discussion as to why so many metal bands looked to fantasy literature -- and especially tolkien -- instead of science fiction would've provided excellent contrast. there are also some interesting omissions. for all the discussion of rare and obscure singles by bands which never went anywhere, leaving out brownsville station's 'martian boogie' -- which not only went to 59 on the billboard hot 100, but ties into the novelty hits of the '50s and '60s like 'purple people eater,' 'flying saucers rock 'n' roll,' and the like -- is a real missed opportunity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Todd Glaeser

    I'm disappointed in a way I have I have criticized others before in other reviews, in so much as I'm wishing this book covered things it doesn't. I did enjoy what is there. It puts forth an interesting premise. But I think it misses things that should have been included: Chariot of the Gods, Zolar X, Kiss (previous to Phantom of the Paradise, which does get mentioned,) The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Vambo Rools!) and Dhalgren by Samual R. Delany.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Trace Reddell

    A mind-exploding collection of albums inform this fascinating exploration of the intersection of music and science fiction. Science fiction and music or sound is a woefully under-developed area of written analysis and history, and while a few existing essays, articles, or books (Eshun's "More Brilliant than the Sun," for one) may turn up the volume of an informed discourse, Jason Heller's "Strange Stars" is like Nigel Tufnel's famous amp plugged into a starship's drive -- it takes us right to 11! A mind-exploding collection of albums inform this fascinating exploration of the intersection of music and science fiction. Science fiction and music or sound is a woefully under-developed area of written analysis and history, and while a few existing essays, articles, or books (Eshun's "More Brilliant than the Sun," for one) may turn up the volume of an informed discourse, Jason Heller's "Strange Stars" is like Nigel Tufnel's famous amp plugged into a starship's drive -- it takes us right to 11! This is a thrilling, fast-paced flight through science fiction and the music of the '70s, linked together by the ever-evolving David Bowie, but touching on every genre of music that has some connection to sci-fi. Some artists discussed -- like Bowie, Devo, Meco, Paul Kantner, Gary Numan, Sun Ra, George Clinton and P-Funk, and many more -- are eager to make music a science fictional form in its own right. Others, like Boston or ELO, get caught up in the image of sci-fi on album art and stage shows but without necessarily writing sci-fi songs. But in either case, the author makes the important point that science fiction in image, word and sound, is more than a mere meme but an important means by which we navigate technically accelerated culture. The book is relatively short, and my only wish is that at times the author had delved more deeply into the philosophical implications of his discoveries and observations before moving on from one artist or album to another. With that said, the book is not only fun and informative but thought-provoking, and its smart focus on the '70s (with brief discussions on either side of the decade) leaves the reader plenty of room to think about ongoing connections between music in its many forms and the field of science fiction as something that goes well beyond pop culture to get at the heart of the human drive through technoculture. Another bonus? I ended up with a hell of an awesome space disco playlist after reading this! How had I never heard Mandré?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Thanks to Melville House for an advance reading copy of this book. In the acknowledgements to this book the author writes that if not for his editor he would have written an encyclopedia. He nearly did anyway, having created here a comprehensive, sometimes dizzying account of science fiction-inspired music and its democratizing effect on sci-fi within popular culture (with a little help from NASA, drugs, and "Star Wars"). Each year of the 1970s is given a chapter along with brief prologue and epi Thanks to Melville House for an advance reading copy of this book. In the acknowledgements to this book the author writes that if not for his editor he would have written an encyclopedia. He nearly did anyway, having created here a comprehensive, sometimes dizzying account of science fiction-inspired music and its democratizing effect on sci-fi within popular culture (with a little help from NASA, drugs, and "Star Wars"). Each year of the 1970s is given a chapter along with brief prologue and epilogue chapters of the adjacent decades, with David Bowie as the lynchpin: "Space Oddity" and its sequel "Ashes To Ashes" frame the decade. But Bowie is far from the only act covered as Heller recounts sci-fi-influenced artists from the obvious (Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic, Hawkwind) to the obscure (MU), and all the novelty acts along the way. It's also interesting to watch the evolution of popular music from jazz to psychedelia to glam to prog to funk to soul to disco to post-punk and finally to techno, electro, and synthpop. On the science fiction side of things Michael Moorcock, Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, William S. Burroughs, and J.G. Ballard loom large as influences, but only Moorcock through his involvement with Hawkwind is profiled to any extent. Dense with information but a lively, quick read, I recommend this to anyone interested in the intersection between these two pop culture forces. Bowie fans likely won't find anything new but might find interest in this cataloguing of his influence.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Mae

    This was a heck of a lot of fun to read. My interest in sci-fi is fairly minimal, but it was delightful to read about how different sci-fi authors and stories and franchises influenced rock music, especially David Bowie - who is the main thread through the book. You better have YouTube or Spotify handy while you read because you’ll be picking up lots of new tracks to listen to, and I finished with a small list of sci-fi novels I’d like to try. If you’re a fan of Bowie, read it. If you like 70s r This was a heck of a lot of fun to read. My interest in sci-fi is fairly minimal, but it was delightful to read about how different sci-fi authors and stories and franchises influenced rock music, especially David Bowie - who is the main thread through the book. You better have YouTube or Spotify handy while you read because you’ll be picking up lots of new tracks to listen to, and I finished with a small list of sci-fi novels I’d like to try. If you’re a fan of Bowie, read it. If you like 70s rock, read it. If you like the sci-fi genre, read it. There’s something for most everyone in the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Woody Chichester

    Very well researched look at how sci fi influenced and was influenced by pop culture throughout the 1970s. Jason Heller's book reminded me of a wall map of strings, connecting Bowie's Space Oddity to Kubrick's 2001, Sun Ra and afrofuturism, Devo, Kiss, Battlestar Galactica, Michael Jackson, Anne McCaffrey, Insta Funk, Mötörhead, early hip hop, punk, Carl Sagan, Klaus Nomi, JG Ballard, and lots lots more. And it all leads back to Bowie. Lots of pop culture crammed in here. An enjoyable read for s Very well researched look at how sci fi influenced and was influenced by pop culture throughout the 1970s. Jason Heller's book reminded me of a wall map of strings, connecting Bowie's Space Oddity to Kubrick's 2001, Sun Ra and afrofuturism, Devo, Kiss, Battlestar Galactica, Michael Jackson, Anne McCaffrey, Insta Funk, Mötörhead, early hip hop, punk, Carl Sagan, Klaus Nomi, JG Ballard, and lots lots more. And it all leads back to Bowie. Lots of pop culture crammed in here. An enjoyable read for sci fi, music, or pop culture fans.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Hunter

    Throughout most of my life I have been drawn to sci-fi influenced music. So seeing this book was a dream come true. Heller's book is a well researched document about the influence of science fiction in popular music of the 70s. He discusses at length all the usual suspects like Bowie, Devo, and Parliament along with cult bands like Hawkwind, Kraftwerk, and Sun Ra. Strange Stars is a must read for geeky music fans.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Amazing book that not only makes you want to keep reading it, but start diving through old music and breaking out your library card and pick up all those old sci-fi books and settle in for an adventure. This is exactly what Dean Venture must have felt like in "Perchance to Dean" when he lets his science mind explore the outer reaches of the universe though music. Great history, great insight, great book!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Max

    This serves as an excellent survey of the fruitful exchange between pop music and science fiction in the 1970s. Heller's thoughtful and thorough research proved the explicit influence the movements had on each other and was illuminating from cover to cover. I highly recommend this for fellow devotees of pop and sci-fi as well as anyone seeking to further their knowledge of punk, glam, electro, funk, psychadelic, hippy, early metal, synth pop and obscuro folk history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deke

    So... I wanted to like this book more than I did. Thumbs up for being comprehensive, but thumbs down for interest and insight. Long on names of groups, songs, sci-fi books and movies (many of which are repeated several times throughout), but short on broad context and insight. Reads a bit more like a wiki article than a long-form essay.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stacey

    Reading this book is like having an intense and thrilling conversation with my favorite geek friends. Heller ties sci-fi music and literature together in a narrative that celebrates both the well known and almost forgotten. Your listening and reading lists will grow. *Review based on Advanced Reader Copy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    This book might have been more accessible if the chapters were organized thematically rather than chronologically, but obvs I still loved it. I reviewed Strange Stars for The Current.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Casciato

    I'm actually doing a paid review for a local publication so you'll have to wait... But it's good. I'll post a link when the review goes live.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lee Barry

    An exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) chronicle of the synergy between science fiction and pop music in the 70s. A fascinating nostalgia trip, yet probably different for every generation.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erik Carl son

    Detailed and vastly interesting, it tends to read more like an extended encyclopedia entry than an actual exploration, but that does not in anyway take away from the quantity of spectacular information. This book itself could (should?) be an entire course in 70’s science fiction culture.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Shapiro

  22. 5 out of 5

    Karin Kross

  23. 4 out of 5

    J

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kristianne

    From 'Stardust' in Shelf Awareness for Readers "The scarcity of science fiction titles on David Bowie's list of 100 favorite books is notable because, from lyrics to stage personalities and film roles, it's apparent that speculative fiction inspired the musician. That influence, on Bowie as well as on several of his contemporaries, is the subject of Jason Heller's Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded (Melville House). As Heller looks closer at each of the performe From 'Stardust' in Shelf Awareness for Readers "The scarcity of science fiction titles on David Bowie's list of 100 favorite books is notable because, from lyrics to stage personalities and film roles, it's apparent that speculative fiction inspired the musician. That influence, on Bowie as well as on several of his contemporaries, is the subject of Jason Heller's Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded (Melville House). As Heller looks closer at each of the performers in his book, including Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and George Clinton, he traces connections between the artists' work and their influences...." Continue reading at Shelf-Awareness.com

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ben Shakey

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bob Proehl

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vince Lamacki

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jason Mock

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Irby

  30. 5 out of 5

    Saoirse

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