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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. 4 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

    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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This took a while to finish because I kept having to look up songs. I knew most of the Bowie stuff, but not a lot of the other stuff. Would've liked a little more anecdote/humanizing, but the connections themselves were enough in the end. Clever to structure it around the decade, more or less opening and closing it with Major Tom. This took a while to finish because I kept having to look up songs. I knew most of the Bowie stuff, but not a lot of the other stuff. Would've liked a little more anecdote/humanizing, but the connections themselves were enough in the end. Clever to structure it around the decade, more or less opening and closing it with Major Tom.

  4. 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. 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    In 1976, a Canadian rock trio calling themselves Klaatu (a familiar name for any nerd who saw the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) released a song called “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”. (Here’s the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ4IU...) It was even covered later by The Carpenters. (Here’s that video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teBV0...) Both versions are pretty awesome, in my opinion. Okay, so that was a total Chris Farley moment. (Remember Klaatu? Yeah, they were In 1976, a Canadian rock trio calling themselves Klaatu (a familiar name for any nerd who saw the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) released a song called “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”. (Here’s the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ4IU...) It was even covered later by The Carpenters. (Here’s that video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teBV0...) Both versions are pretty awesome, in my opinion. Okay, so that was a total Chris Farley moment. (Remember Klaatu? Yeah, they were awesome…) My only point in bringing it up is that I literally discovered the song (both versions) a few days ago, after reading Jason Heller’s book “Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded”. In fact, thanks to Heller, my knowledge of ‘70s sci-fi-related pop music has nearly tripled. I had heard of a few of the bands and artists Heller mentions in the book—-Bowie being only one of many—-but I have either re-discovered or discovered for the first time some phenomenal music in the genre that Haller dubs “sci-fi rock”. Thank God for Google, too, by the way, as a lot of this music can be found on the Internet. Who knew? Anyway, Haller’s fascinating, trippy, and incredibly fun foray into the ‘70s starts, inevitably, with Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a film that Bowie watched obsessively, as did many young sci-fi nerds at the time. It led to the creation of the song that would catapult Bowie’s career into orbit, “A Space Oddity”. The story of Major Tom, argues Haller, opened the door for many more sci-fi-themed songs and concept albums. Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane) created one of the first full-length sci-fi rock albums, Blows Against the Empire in 1971, an album that earned a nomination for the Hugo Award, the first and (until 2017’s nomination of the band Clipping’s album Splendor and Misery) only rock album to have that honor. Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Tarkus, also from 1971, was another influential album. The ‘70s quickly saw the formation of a slew of bands, such as Hawkwind and Parliament Funkadellic, that were incorporating sci-fi themes in their music. Along with the new bands were bands and artists that had been around for a while—-Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and T.Rex, to name two—-that were jumping on the sci-fi train. It’s no exaggeration to say that science fiction really did explode in the ‘70s. The genre’s heyday arguably began in the late-1960s, but it continued to gain incredible popularity throughout much of the ‘70s, with authors like Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Michael Moorcock doing some ground-breaking stuff and culminating in the film that changed both sci-fi and cinema forever: George Lucas’s 1977 “Star Wars”. Haller’s book is a love letter to both science fiction and music and a must-have for any nerd who has a vast library of ‘70s paperbacks and vinyl albums. Or for anyone who wants to start one.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    Great overview of the many, many artists who were influenced by Sci-Fi and incorporated it into their music in the 1970's. (There is only brief mention of music after 1980.) Many of the examples are well known, such as David Bowie, Sun Ra, Hawkwind, and Rush, but many more are not. This took a long time to read because I kept wanting to search for and listen to the listed songs. (There is probably no reason to read this unless you also want to seek out the songs.) I wish there were a website acc Great overview of the many, many artists who were influenced by Sci-Fi and incorporated it into their music in the 1970's. (There is only brief mention of music after 1980.) Many of the examples are well known, such as David Bowie, Sun Ra, Hawkwind, and Rush, but many more are not. This took a long time to read because I kept wanting to search for and listen to the listed songs. (There is probably no reason to read this unless you also want to seek out the songs.) I wish there were a website accompanying the book with quick and easy links to all songs, but that is too much to ask for. Some of the new-to-me things I found from this book: Paul Kantner - "Blows Against the Empire": perhaps the first Sci-Fi concept album. Nominated for a Hugo Award in 1971. Marvin Gaye - "A Funky Space Reincarnation". Not great, but still, it's Marvin Gaye! Dream Boys - "Outer Limits". A future actor who played Dr. Who was already singing Sci-Fi punk in the 70's. George Duke - "The alien succumbs to the mucho intergalactic funkativity of the funkblaster". Hey, P-Funk weren't the only ones to make space funky! Fabulous! Jimmy Castor Bunch - "Bertha Butt Encounters Vader". One of many Star-Wars influenced songs. Alan Parsons Project - "I Robot". Note the absence of a comma in the title. The rights for "I, Robot" had been sold to someone else. Queen - "39". Inspired by Heinlein. Julian's Treatment - 'A Time Before This'. Another early Sci-Fi concept album, with related novels: Waiters on the Dance I need to add this book to my collection so I can slowly listen through all the songs mentioned.

  7. 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Todd Glaeser

    I'm disappointed in a way 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. I'm disappointed in a way 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam Ross

    A rather enjoyable read that takes a stroll down the sci-fi and music memory lane. I’m a Bowie fan as well as Star Wars fan. Reading about the seventies and how both entities exploded into popular culture was like pulling back the curtain and seeing how the machine works. Quite fascinating! Star Wars I, unfortunately, did not see the original trilogy in theatres. However, I am familiar with the hype. For me, the prequel trilogy is what I can relate to in terms of the excitement of the seventies. A rather enjoyable read that takes a stroll down the sci-fi and music memory lane. I’m a Bowie fan as well as Star Wars fan. Reading about the seventies and how both entities exploded into popular culture was like pulling back the curtain and seeing how the machine works. Quite fascinating! Star Wars I, unfortunately, did not see the original trilogy in theatres. However, I am familiar with the hype. For me, the prequel trilogy is what I can relate to in terms of the excitement of the seventies. What I didn’t know is how much into sci-fi Bowie was. Makes perfect sense in hindsight. Helle does a great job of telling a story about an era that changed every level of society and our values. He touches on Star Trek and of course Star Wars and how they impacted the music world. His encyclopedic knowledge of music is impressive as he details one year after another. A nostalgic read that captures a groovin’ space explorin’ era.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Judd Taylor

    Actually a 4.5, because I appreciated the amount of genres taken into consideration. As the subtitle suggests, David Bowie fans will enjoy this book; and indeed his music is the anchor that holds the theme together. However, non-fans will enjoy it too, if they are music and/or sci-fi fans, as many musical artists and genres are discussed, from folk to glam to funk to new wave to electronica to disco to hard rock to indie. Sci-fi novels and movies get a look in, too, as they serve as inspiration f Actually a 4.5, because I appreciated the amount of genres taken into consideration. As the subtitle suggests, David Bowie fans will enjoy this book; and indeed his music is the anchor that holds the theme together. However, non-fans will enjoy it too, if they are music and/or sci-fi fans, as many musical artists and genres are discussed, from folk to glam to funk to new wave to electronica to disco to hard rock to indie. Sci-fi novels and movies get a look in, too, as they serve as inspiration for the music. The period covered is the late 60’s to early 80’s, the book is really readable, and the author’s passion for the subject shines through. Recommended for music fans and sci-fi fans.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jon Huff

    Very enjoyable! I was mostly here for Bowie but tons of other interesting stuff too.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Baker

    An intriguing premise that lead down many rabbit holes. Wish there had been more Bowie but I’ll take what I can get. Deeper review to follow

  15. 4 out of 5

    Trace Reddell

    A mind-exploding collection of albums inform this fascinating exploration of the intersection of music and science fiction. Too bad the writing doesn't live up to its topic and ultimately gets overwhelmed and thinned out by trying to be comprehensive as it strays far away from the central concern with David Bowie. Science fiction and music or sound is a woefully under-developed area of written analysis and history, with only a few existing essays, articles, or books (Kodwo Eshun's "More Brilliant A mind-exploding collection of albums inform this fascinating exploration of the intersection of music and science fiction. Too bad the writing doesn't live up to its topic and ultimately gets overwhelmed and thinned out by trying to be comprehensive as it strays far away from the central concern with David Bowie. Science fiction and music or sound is a woefully under-developed area of written analysis and history, with only a few existing essays, articles, or books (Kodwo Eshun's "More Brilliant than the Sun," for one, may well be the very best among them). Jason Heller's "Strange Stars" is at times thrilling, a 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 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. Unfortunately, though, the book ultimately only scratches the surface of this insight, and gets overwhelmed by the zeal of listing an increasing catalog of albums. The book is relatively short, and conversational, but my wish is that the author had delved more deeply into the implications of his discoveries and observations before moving on from one artist or album to another. The book is fun and informative but not particularly thought-provoking. It's a very light read, its focus on the '70s (with brief discussions on either side of the decade) leaving readers on their own to think about the implications of the connections between music in its many forms and the field of science fiction as something that goes beyond pop culture to get at the heart of the human drive through technoculture. The best thing about it? I ended up with a hell of an awesome space disco playlist after reading this! How had I never heard Mandré? The worst thing about it? I wish I had been given more substantial things to think about, as this is a topic that means so much to me, and I can't help but feel like an opportunity was missed here.

  16. 4 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Travis Heermann

    This book is a fascinating examination of the cross-pollination between music and culture, specifically science fiction culture. Tons of meticulous research both in the musical and literary realms, jam-packed with bands and stories I'd never heard of. As I teach a college course in SF Literature, I was surprised to read about stories I'd never heard of, which made me want to go look those stories up right away. If you love books about the history of music and you love SF, I highly recommend this b This book is a fascinating examination of the cross-pollination between music and culture, specifically science fiction culture. Tons of meticulous research both in the musical and literary realms, jam-packed with bands and stories I'd never heard of. As I teach a college course in SF Literature, I was surprised to read about stories I'd never heard of, which made me want to go look those stories up right away. If you love books about the history of music and you love SF, I highly recommend this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Ozawa

    Interesting, if not a bit superficial. Read like a list of sci-fi connected music more than an exploration of it. Yet, still entertaining.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Fahad Ahmed

    So, full disclosure, I love music (not as much as I love the person who gave me this book, though) and I'm a bit of a David Bowie obsessive. Seeing his face and name on the incredibly pretty cover of this book definitely got me interested The cover and title actually happen to be a bit misleading, because the book doesn't really have all that much to do with Bowie, certainly not enough for him to get top billing. If you're looking for a biography of David Bowie, look elsewhere (The Age of Bowie i So, full disclosure, I love music (not as much as I love the person who gave me this book, though) and I'm a bit of a David Bowie obsessive. Seeing his face and name on the incredibly pretty cover of this book definitely got me interested The cover and title actually happen to be a bit misleading, because the book doesn't really have all that much to do with Bowie, certainly not enough for him to get top billing. If you're looking for a biography of David Bowie, look elsewhere (The Age of Bowie is a good, if needlessly wordy, one). If you're looking for a book that dives into his music, there's a really great book that analyzes a great deal of his tracks whose title I wish I could remember. If you're looking for an outline of the relationship between science fiction and music throughout the 1970s, this is your book. As far as I was concerned, it was a surprise to be sure but a welcome one It all began in the late 60s, when a lot of prog rock groups took inspiration from their favorite sci-fi authors and integrated elements from their work into their music. Then came the moon landing in 1969 and with it came Space Oddity, David Bowie's seminal single that began music's dalliance with sci-fi in earnest. And then came the 70s, and Jason Heller charts the relationship between rock and sci-fi and the spread of that influence to funk and disco and then waning of sci-fi's presence in popular music as 1980 rolled around, closing with a slightly deeper dive into the remake of Space Oddity and the release of Ashes to Ashes, David Bowie's ending bookmark of the 70s This is a book about entire scenes of music that persisted through and past a decade. It would be so easy for a writer to get bogged down in the minutiae of sci-fi/prog rock or sci-fi/rock or sci-fi/funk or whatever, but Heller glides smoothly through the era, introducing us to the many individuals and bands that thrived in this era. These include acts that have become hallmarks of the genre - Bowie himself, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, etc - but it also includes bands that I'd never heard of before - Hawkwind is almost as big a player in this story as Bowie. I actually went ahead and made a big list of these acts that I want to listen to, and if you're also in search of some great sci-fi music, this book has got the goods. While you're at it, make a point to read the novels that inspired these artists as well, they must be pretty legit The lack of Bowie in this book doesn't really bother me, nor did it come as a huge surprise. Though he's the face of sci-fi music, only a handful of his 27 albums are actually sci-fi, and of them, only a few were released in the period covered by this book. I'm glad that Blackstar got a mention at the end, such a great album My only complaint with Strange Stars is that it does get a bit boring, which really shouldn't be happening in a book filled with 70s rockstars. I've read Bowie's biography and I'm familiar with all the insanity that happened in his life, but none of it shows in this book, and the same is true for all the other bands as well. The coverage of the Altamont Free Concert was so bare, considering what a defining moment that was for music as a whole. What does come across well in this book is the way so many artists wound up inspiring each other over the years. The music industry is a small world, as it happens If the subject matter interests you, Strange Stars is an engaging and interesting chronicle of an era of music that occasionally leaves out some of the juicier details. That being said, if you want a deep dive into Bowie or any of the other artists mentioned in this book, you'd be better off searching elsewhere

  21. 5 out of 5

    Barry Martin Vass

    This is a fascinating treatise on the influence of science fiction on popular music from 1968 to the early eighties. David Bowie is the titular focus, although the book ranges from rock, to funk, to disco, to techno, and so forth. Bowie read so much, thought about and occasionally borrowed what he read, and was constantly reinventing himself and influencing others in the rock and pop world, that this is a good place to start (Example: Bowie saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 and the next year rel This is a fascinating treatise on the influence of science fiction on popular music from 1968 to the early eighties. David Bowie is the titular focus, although the book ranges from rock, to funk, to disco, to techno, and so forth. Bowie read so much, thought about and occasionally borrowed what he read, and was constantly reinventing himself and influencing others in the rock and pop world, that this is a good place to start (Example: Bowie saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 and the next year released his first single, Space Oddity. Pretty similar, huh: Space Odyssey and Space Oddity?) But Author Jason Heller is interested in the influence of science fiction from ALL media: from novels by popular sci-fi authors, to TV shows of the period (the original Star Trek ran from 1966 to 1969), to of course movies (Star Wars was released in 1977 and immediately caused as much a sensation in music as it did elsewhere). Here's an example of the writing: "(Gary) Numan never undertook a direct adaptation of the works of Dick, Coney, or any other writer. "Influences, when used wisely, should be a series of little sparks that just ignite your own ideas," he said. Instead, he absorbed his favorite sci-fi books and movies, converting them into raw material to be molded into new yet hauntingly familiar shapes. In that sense, Numan exemplified pop music's relationship with sci-fi throughout the '70's: science fiction could be a direct source of subject matter, but it could also be a catalyst for one's own concepts and narratives." While this is fascinating stuff, a word of warning: Strange Stars is not light reading or something you would read on a whim. Author Jason Heller seemingly has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music during this time, and the research to formulate this must have been formidable; at times the prose is dense, almost impenetrable. But, if you're a science fiction and/or music geek (and you know who you are), you will definitely grok this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This was a fun read overall, but I had a few problems with it. One of the main issues is that it doesn't feature nearly enough David Bowie. I didn't learn many new things about Bowie (though, to be fair, I've already read several Bowie biographies...) and he was mostly mentioned in the first and last chapters. Bowie functions as a bookend for 1970's sci-fi music - and that's an interesting way to look at things, but it also makes for a misleading cover and title. Along the same lines, there is a This was a fun read overall, but I had a few problems with it. One of the main issues is that it doesn't feature nearly enough David Bowie. I didn't learn many new things about Bowie (though, to be fair, I've already read several Bowie biographies...) and he was mostly mentioned in the first and last chapters. Bowie functions as a bookend for 1970's sci-fi music - and that's an interesting way to look at things, but it also makes for a misleading cover and title. Along the same lines, there is a LOT of information in this book that doesn't involve Bowie. Each year of the 1970's has a chapter dedicated to it and these chapters are filled with information about important sci-fi music released that year. But there's SO MUCH MUSIC that's mentioned - it's difficult to follow along or care too much about each artist or album when you know a completely different artist will be focused on in the next paragraph. I think I might've appreciated this book more if there was a focus on a few of the most important or influential song/albums of each year and it was connected to Bowie. That being said, there were a few artists that were mentioned quite a bit in this book and I enjoyed learning more about them. I gained new appreciation for Jefferson Airplane, P-Funk, and X-Ray Spex - bands that I previously haven't given much thought to. This book helped me understand their connections to sci-fi music and how they influenced later groups. Overall, this is an interesting read if you want a larger context in which to appreciate David Bowie's work (and to learn about contemporary artists). However, the scope of it is too big to really have an overarching thesis or theme - beyond the fact that David Bowie released popular sci-fi songs in 1969 and 1980. I'd love to read more focused work on David Bowie's connections with science fiction - but this book didn't provide that sufficiently.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie McDaniel

    Despite the title, this isn't a biography of David Bowie, though he does figure prominently in it. (It is rather bittersweet reading at times, as the author makes plain how keenly Bowie is still missed.) It is, however, the chronicle of a decade, the 70's, bookended by Bowie's Major Tom songs, 1969's "Space Oddity" and 1980's "Ashes To Ashes." The focus here is on the marriage of rock, funk, disco, New Wave, and punk music with science fiction and fantasy. David Bowie is one of this eclectic ble Despite the title, this isn't a biography of David Bowie, though he does figure prominently in it. (It is rather bittersweet reading at times, as the author makes plain how keenly Bowie is still missed.) It is, however, the chronicle of a decade, the 70's, bookended by Bowie's Major Tom songs, 1969's "Space Oddity" and 1980's "Ashes To Ashes." The focus here is on the marriage of rock, funk, disco, New Wave, and punk music with science fiction and fantasy. David Bowie is one of this eclectic blend's foremost practitioners, but he is by no means the only one, as the author's exhaustive research demonstrates. Indeed, the progression of forgotten artists and songs across these pages is amazing. (And amusing, such as the anecdotes of Jefferson Starship, apparently post-Grace Slick, acting as the holo band in the much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special, and a pre-Doctor Who Peter Capaldi singing and playing on an SF song with his group, the Dreamboys.) The prog-rock band Hawkwind, with its SF connection being the novelist Michael Moorcock, is almost as prominent as Bowie and Paul Kantner, who, with Jefferson Airplane, released the first Hugo-nominated album, Blows Against the Empire, in 1970. There's also a very interesting discussion of the amount of music inspired by Star Wars in 1977, including the disco-fied Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk (which I remember owning once upon a time! It might've been worth something now, dammit!). This book's twelve chapters cover the marriage of SF and music from the end of the 60's to the beginning of the 80's, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the birth of MTV. What a long, strange trip it was, and I'm grateful to the author for chronicling it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Laferney

    Hugo Award–winner Jason Heller 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. Never before has anyone written a book on how sci-fi paved the way for major musical and pop culture innovations. David Bowie’s career is a constant thread througho Hugo Award–winner Jason Heller 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. Never before has anyone written a book on how sci-fi paved the way for major musical and pop culture innovations. 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, demonstrating the Bowie was at the forefront of musical innovation within this decade that often gets ridiculed for disco. Heller excavates sci-fi influences across genres including the influences that shapes Rush's classic album 2112; 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.” Heller concludes the book with a brief discussion on Bowie's last album and his elusive death. It's really all I could ever ask for in a book and possibly the most interesting music book of 2018. My only critique is that I wished he wrote an epilogue that briefly discussed the late 80s and 90s.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell Hahn-Branson

    The writing is sometimes flat, but the research is awesome. Strange Stars documents permutations of science fiction-related pop music from the late '60s to the early '80s, with David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona and his later otherworldly collaborations with Brian Eno as the locus. Parliament/Funkadelic, Hawkwind, Kraftwerk, T. Rex, and Devo make significant experiences, along with artists I hadn't previously heard of, like Klaatu, Nektar, Ray Cathode, and Joe Meek & the Blue Men. They made so The writing is sometimes flat, but the research is awesome. Strange Stars documents permutations of science fiction-related pop music from the late '60s to the early '80s, with David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona and his later otherworldly collaborations with Brian Eno as the locus. Parliament/Funkadelic, Hawkwind, Kraftwerk, T. Rex, and Devo make significant experiences, along with artists I hadn't previously heard of, like Klaatu, Nektar, Ray Cathode, and Joe Meek & the Blue Men. They made some very cool, experimental music that drew heavily on the work of Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, George Orwell, and Michael Moorcock, not to mention classic movies such as Metropolis and, eventually, Star Wars. Not every genre-adjacent song of the decade was great, but there are plenty of gems to be found in Heller's tour of this interesting era in SF—it's easy to draw threads between some of the music documented here and the more recent work of Daft Punk and Janelle Monáe, just to name two of the very best current examples. It's a fun ride through a variety of genres and styles, rendered in serviceable prose. For the interested and the adventurous, here's the days-long Spotify playlist I assembled from most of the music that received a significant mention in the book: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1Yo...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steve Erickson

    STRANGE STARS would have benefited from a sharper focus on fewer artists. Beginning with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and ending in the early '80s, it runs down the 1970s with a chapter on each year, tracing sci-fi imagery in pop music. But for every bit of thematic analysis of Bowie, Kraftwerk, P-Funk, Hawkwind or Gary Human that Heller engages in, he just lists obscure prog or disco songs that came out in the year he's writing about which referred to robots or outer s STRANGE STARS would have benefited from a sharper focus on fewer artists. Beginning with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and ending in the early '80s, it runs down the 1970s with a chapter on each year, tracing sci-fi imagery in pop music. But for every bit of thematic analysis of Bowie, Kraftwerk, P-Funk, Hawkwind or Gary Human that Heller engages in, he just lists obscure prog or disco songs that came out in the year he's writing about which referred to robots or outer space without having anything substantial to say about them. The book also could've benefited from examining the ways sci-fi changed over the decade he's covering: the differences between 2001 and Star Wars, the two most influential films he writes about, are telling, although the post-punk/New Wave artists to whom STRANGE STARS devotes most of its final 2 chapters drew far more from Ballard and Dick than any films. Heller mentions writing a chapter on the influence of Ballard on post-punk for an academic journal's issue on sci-fi and music as the spur for this book, but it seems drawn too thin.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    The cross-influence of science fiction and popular music is often overlooked, and as a big fan of both this book felt designed for my interests. Whilst it is quite well researched and some of the nuggets were quite interesting I found the organisation left something to be desired. In particular going annually meant it felt rather odd and the essays would jump around. I felt that I would have found it a lot easier to digest if it had say gone with theme, by musical artist or by authorial influenc The cross-influence of science fiction and popular music is often overlooked, and as a big fan of both this book felt designed for my interests. Whilst it is quite well researched and some of the nuggets were quite interesting I found the organisation left something to be desired. In particular going annually meant it felt rather odd and the essays would jump around. I felt that I would have found it a lot easier to digest if it had say gone with theme, by musical artist or by authorial influence (the latter would probably be my preference). Obviously there needs to be some level of control of length built into this but I felt the hard-line division between science fiction and fantasy limited the exploration, particularly given how many of the artists and authors mentioned were involved in both. Particularly when some sections of science fiction felt superfluous, such as spending a good amount of words noting the interest in Mars in 1971, only to note that the song Life on Mars has little science fictional content. For those with a love of 70s Pop and science ficiton this is still worth checking out but I found it harder to read than I would have liked.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matt Glaviano

    I was so excited when I found this book. What could be cooler? What could give me more kitsch to listen to? Unfortunately, the execution just isn't there. It basically feels like a 200 page long list of any song released in the 70s that offers even a whiff of sci-fi. It's not that the author's thesis isn't correct, or proven -- it is, over and over again -- it's that the book never rises above proving it. And yet. I guess the whole reason I read this kind of book is to discover something new. Gener I was so excited when I found this book. What could be cooler? What could give me more kitsch to listen to? Unfortunately, the execution just isn't there. It basically feels like a 200 page long list of any song released in the 70s that offers even a whiff of sci-fi. It's not that the author's thesis isn't correct, or proven -- it is, over and over again -- it's that the book never rises above proving it. And yet. I guess the whole reason I read this kind of book is to discover something new. Generally, I found this book too chock full of examples to follow them all. It was overwhelming, and the author's descriptions rarely peaked my interest. But there's this one tiny paragraph where it mentions a song from 1972 called "I Am an Astronaut." In the spirit of glam and early Bowie -- sung by an eleven year old. My desire for pop kitsch discovery was fulfilled. More than anything I love that feeling a breathless discovery, that moment of giddy experience. So. There's that then.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Teri Drake-Floyd

    "Strange Stars" is a delight. I was pleasantly surprised to see the author touch on dozens of authors - mainly rock artists, but a few funk, techno and other genres too - who were influenced and inspired by the Sci-fi craze of the late 60s-early 80s. Queen, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Parliament, Van Halen and countless others all get a mention in this fascinating narrative of how rock n' roll and sci-fi got married. Obviously the focus of the book is David Bowie, who used his love of all th "Strange Stars" is a delight. I was pleasantly surprised to see the author touch on dozens of authors - mainly rock artists, but a few funk, techno and other genres too - who were influenced and inspired by the Sci-fi craze of the late 60s-early 80s. Queen, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Parliament, Van Halen and countless others all get a mention in this fascinating narrative of how rock n' roll and sci-fi got married. Obviously the focus of the book is David Bowie, who used his love of all things space, aliens and astronauts to inform his work for decades. Beginning with his first entry onto the scene with "Space Oddity" all the way up to the unexpected and heartbreaking final visit to "Major Tom" in the last song released before his death ("Blackstar"), this book is an homage to the meteoric and well deserved rise of everyone's favorite Starman. Written in a conversational style and including lots of fascinating anecdotes, this book was an educational, nostalgic and incredibly fun read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Collin

    3.5 stars. It was so interesting in the beginning, with a decent blend of details and broad brushstrokes. But I feel like Heller got less interested in the scifi music content as the 70s went on, and later chapters became a lot more like laundry lists of bands and scifi singles. While a lot of me wanted more stuff on Bowie in particular, and some of the other bands I'm more familiar with like Yes, Blue Öyster Cult, and Jefferson Starship, I did come to appreciate the aforementioned laundry lists 3.5 stars. It was so interesting in the beginning, with a decent blend of details and broad brushstrokes. But I feel like Heller got less interested in the scifi music content as the 70s went on, and later chapters became a lot more like laundry lists of bands and scifi singles. While a lot of me wanted more stuff on Bowie in particular, and some of the other bands I'm more familiar with like Yes, Blue Öyster Cult, and Jefferson Starship, I did come to appreciate the aforementioned laundry lists of smaller and even obscure bands who contributed to scifi music. And while there wasn't quite as much "diversity" as I might have liked to see, I enjoyed the sections dedicated to funk and disco. I've got some musical homework to do. Can you believe I never knew there was a whole funk album based on the Star Wars soundtrack? Also, I greatly enjoyed finding out about the Dreamboys and especially their song "Outer Limit," ft 1980s-era Peter Capaldi in a punk band.

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