Ever since picking up a copy of William Gibson’s non-fiction collection Distrust that Particular Flavor, I have been foaming for more of the same—science fiction authors writing about writing, the world, Japan, whatever. Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds satisfied the itch for a few hours, and I’m looking forward to the arrival of London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction (Michael Moorecock), Dancing on the Edge of the World (Le Guin), and Some Remarks (Neal Stephenson). But in the meantime, the book blogs told me that Tangent Books had just released Let’s All Go to the Science Fiction Disco (2013), and that it was a collection of essays (with a few short stories thrown in at the end) about the connections between science fiction and music and pop culture. I ordered it immediately.
The benefits to reading this book are as follows: You will come out of it with a “to look into” list of music and books a meter long. You will enjoy contemplating the many interesting intellectual facets of music in science fiction and science fiction in music (example: is music, in fact, magic?). You will get to (all too briefly) hear from China Mieville. You will read an essay by N.K. Jemisin about her favorite sci-fi-steeped singer and race in the genre (my favorite essay in the book), and you will be taken along to a place in Africa where an mp3 market is an actual, physical location in the real world, yet feels more cyberpunk than any virtual reality you’ve imagined. You will also learn about the thousands of J.G. Ballard references in post-punk (though I beg to differ with the author that the association implies that Ballard’s shelf-life has passed). Then you will arrive at the fiction, unannounced as it is, and read a story and a half before you realize this dude did not actually meet David Bowie. You will feel chagrined, and possibly annoyed at the inclusion of fiction at all because Mind Blowing Essays! (I stalled at this point in the collection, though did force myself to read every word. I would have preferred the collection stick to non-fiction myself.)
But there is a small downside. Let’s All Go to the Science Fiction Disco covers the 60s and 70s, but skips most modern music creating science fiction worlds: the indie bands writing dystopias and science fiction, the post apocalyptic anti-folks, the rappers pretending to be from another planet, shit, they didn’t even mention any fantasy metal. That is the music of science fiction that I love. I apologize to any Rush fans, but, pod damn it, I am sick and fucking tired of hearing about how Rush is the quintessential science fiction band. (I’m looking at you, Ernest Cline.) Sure, their songs are practically all little mystical science fiction shorts (excuse me, I mean novels, those fuckers are long), but I cannot stand the sound of their music, and I wish discussions of sci fi in music would go a little further, a little more often.
As for all the electronic music that is supposed to sound like outer space and sci fi and the future, I can’t stand most of that either. Bleeps and bloops do have a futuristic sound, but that shouldn’t give them a bigger share of mentions when science fictional music gets laid on the table. It is a question of taste as well, but there are huge gaping holes in genre coverage any time somebody puts together a science fiction music list, and, in part, Science Fiction Disco falls in that hole and stays there. Some of these holes are stopped up by the further listening list at the end of the book, which includes Muse and Dr Octagon among the “classics,” but I would have loved a few essays covering something more modern. (As far as I am concerned MF Doom is the poster child of modern science fictional music. He even has a science fictional alter ego who releases entire albums. Seriously. It is wonderful. How he did not make it in here?) On the other hand, you can only fit so much in one book. I suppose what I’m really saying is this: when do we get part two?
Sixteen out of seventeen platinum records.
Where I got it: The Tangent Books website