Quick: when someone says “science fiction and pop music”, who do you think of?
These days, depending on your tastes and avidity for what’s new out there, it would not be entirely surprising if your mind jumped to Janelle Monáe. But a lot of people are going to immediately think of David Bowie—to whom Monáe herself would acknowledge a debt. Fittingly, he is the organizing principle of Jason Heller’s Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded. Heller—a Hugo-winning music writer who has contributed to Pitchfork, the AV Club, the Atlantic, and the New Yorker—starts with “Space Oddity” and ends with “Ashes to Ashes”, and in between he provides a whirlwind survey course of how science fiction shaped popular music and pop culture from 1970 to 1980. He weaves a chronological narrative of science fiction-influenced music—some world-changingly significant, some probably best forgotten—and science fiction’s rise in popular culture, occasioned by everything from Star Trek to the novels of J.G. Ballard and Samuel Delany, to—of course—Star Wars.