Strange Stars

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

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, 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 Comic Con culture 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.

JASON HELLER is a Hugo Award-winning writer whose work has appeared in the New YorkerRolling StonePitchfork, and the Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. His latest novel is Taft 2012. He lives in Denver.

“An impressive guide for anyone who wants to explore the ear-tingling sci-fi pop of the turbulent 1970s.” —Starburst

“Fun and authoritative… Makes a compelling case for how science fiction defined a decade in music.” —Shelf Awareness

“There’s never been anything like Strange Stars before — a fantastic voyage through rock & roll history, decoding the sci-fi inspiration that’s always lurked at the heart of it. Jason Heller finds the interstellar connections between visionaries from Sun Ra to Kraftwerk to P-Funk to Bowie, from The Left Hand of Darkness to The Dark Side of the Moon. This brilliant book makes you hear whole new strains of weirdness in music you thought you already knew.”—Rob Sheffield, author of On Bowie

Strange Stars is an ultra-engaging dive into science fiction’s impact on the rock and pop music we know and love. Heller’s exploration of where these fandoms intersect and become one is a gloriously nerdy delight that expands far beyond Bowie. It connects the essential dots between the transportive work of J.G. Ballard, Jimi Hendrix, P-Funk, British New Wave, and Philip K. Dick.” —Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

Strange Stars is full of cosmic wisdom that will open your mind to alien melodies, and also make you hear your favorite classic rock and funk in a whole new way. This book taught me so much about the science fiction influences of some of my favorite albums, but also a ton of surprising stuff about how music shaped the worlds of science fiction. A totally indispensible guide.” —Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky

“[A] thorough cultural history … An adventurous guide through 1970s music zeitgeists, Heller’s work will pique the interests of those in search of something a little more cosmic.” — Publishers Weekly

“Entertaining and instructive. His explorations sound just the right note.” — Kirkus

“Indeed, Heller can champion any nerd who needs redemption. Strange Stars finds common ground and a parallel trajectory between rock and the cosmos.” – Salt Lake City Weekly

“His style and narrative drive will compel even the most skeptical reader to investigate the music.” – PopMatters

“An authoritative look at the intersection of science fiction and music in the 1970s.” – Vulture

“Fans of popular music and sf alike will thoroughly enjoy this journey through the center of the 1970s.” —Library Journal (starred)

“Heller explores the music of the 1970s and uncovers sf influences and themes in surprising places… sci-fi buffs and music aficionados will find much to enjoy in this meticulously researched, entertaining book.” —Booklist

“Heller does an admirable job…incredible… Strange Stars is a marvelous guide to a little-explored corner of the musical universe…[a] mindblowing work.” – Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction


Praise for Taft 2012:

“Debut novelist Heller sets up his satire so well that one might doubt one’s grasp of presidential history!…[a] strong and thoughtful political exploration.” —Library Journal

Mentioned in the New York Times Book Review’s 10/9/11 “Inside the List” column

“Heller tells his imaginative story with tweets and TV transcripts as well as conventional expository prose, adding to the amusement of a cross-generational look at politics.” Booklist

“A stellar debut… This surprisingly poignant novel will find an eager audience in the months leading up to the 2012 election, but it deserves a longer shelf life.” —*STARRED* Publishers Weekly