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, $26.99; see our review below).
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. Links seem obvious between David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the song was hardly an anthem to a single film. The BBC's Quatermass series, which young Bowie watched in secret behind his parents' sofa, is where Heller points for further influence, together with Ray Bradbury's short story "Kaleidoscope," Clifford D. Simak's "You'll Never Go Home Again" and popular magazines like New Worlds and Impulse, which fed glossy doses of both human potential and doom to Bowie's postwar Britain.
Heller writes that Hendrix, like Bowie, devoured sci-fi novels, reading with a pace and hunger for imaginative worlds that seemed suited to the uncertainty of the time. He moves chronologically from the end of 1960s to the start of the 1980s, noting shifts in musical styles and trends in science fiction. As the pastoral hippie movement clashed with the space race, the counterculture with the cold war, the fears and freedoms of fantastical stories proved a rich vein for musicians. Varied as the music of David Crosby, Sun Ra and Joy Division may be, Heller shows similar speculative fiction themes throughout as they strove to make music to reflect possibilities as dually foreboding and enthralling as the world they lived in. --Kristianne Huntsberger, Shelf Awareness partnership marketing manager and co-host of Bowie Book Club