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A Different Flavour of SF

A while back I got a bee in my bonnet whilst I was listening to music on the train home from work.  It boiled down thusly:

I am a fan of SF (meaning science fiction, speculative fiction or whatever else you may think along those lines).  I am a fan of music – including (but not at all limited to) progressive rock.

There is a fair chunk of well known crossover between SF and prog rock, and to music in general.  So I started to think a bit more… and an couple of ideas popped into my head.

Idea #1: Host an SF music listening party.  This is a bit further off, and involves a bit more planning and whatnot, but is still something I’d like to do.

Idea #2: Create a collection of original SF in musical form. This now exists, albeit in a limited form.

Following up on Idea #2

I started out by unpacking a few terms and setting some rules, and by pinging my assorted online contacts and mining their brains for examples.  It’s their brains as much as my own which have populated the playlist so far.

Rules & Definitions

Definition: “Original SF” – Speculative Fiction which is not an adaptation of pre-existing speculative fiction from another medium.

Definition: “in musical form” – A distinct chunk of music that can be identified in some way.  A single track, a suite of pieces, an album, an EP, a performance, etc…  but in this case, standing as music alone.  Soundtracks, cast recordings and things which require you do anything other than listen to get the SFness don’t count.  There are occasions where a theme song can fit (there’s at least one in the playlist, after a fashion), but they need to stand in their own right, without the show.

Rule: No soundtracks – Stuff that exists solely as an attachment to other media doesn’t count

Rule: Scope Limit 1 – Exclude sword & sandal / sword & sorcery fantasy.  Not because it’s necessarily bad, but because there was a glut of it in the 1980s (even more than there was SF stuff in the 70s and 80s) and it’d swamp the playlist.  Creating a playlist of original fantasy in music would be a different exercise.

Rule: Scope Limit 2 – Exclude horror (unless explicitly SF horror). See above.

 

The Playlist

So you can listen along…

I’ve put this together on Spotify so you can do more than just read about the music.  The playlist is collaborative, so stuff can be added, but please don’t spam it with crap – If that happens I’ll just delete it and create a new one that’s locked down.

Spotify Playlist – HTTP Link: Original SF music
Spotify Playlist – Spotify Link: Original SF music

The Music

Rush – 2112 suite

Type: Multi-part album track
SFness: Following a galactic war, all planets are ruled by the Red Star of the Solar Federation, lead by the priests of the temples of Syrinx. They control all media & every facet of life. Protagonist discovers an ancient guitar & starts to be creative. Oppressive civilization is oppressive.

Rush – Cygnus X-1 (books 1 & 2)

Type: Multi-part album tracks from two albums (“A Farewell to Kings” & “Hemispheres”)
SFness: Space explorer is sucked into a black hole and emerges in Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are dividing the human mind, leading to conflict.  The explorer gradually takes on a role as a god of balance, bringing heart and mind together.

Rush – Red Barchetta

Type: Track
SFness: This is “inspired by” the SF story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard Foster (acknowledged by both band and author, and the author is aware & fine with it), but I’ve read that it’s quite distinct from it, so I’m going to include it anyway.  If somebody who’s read the story disagrees… comments are welcome.

Sontaag – Sontaag

Type: Concept Album
SFness: From the artist’s album notes:  “The Ancients, through a long process of trial and error, had discovered the secret of synthesizing essential energy from harmonic sound, giving them the power to reanimate extinct planets by utilising giant orbiting sonic generators. But life came at a price. The newly supplanted inhabitants of MP-5 were compelled to provide the musical fuel for The Great Harmodulator simply to stay alive.”

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Dystopian, near future SF set in an increasingly aggressive post 9-11 united states as events unfold towards (and beyond) nuclear war with Iran.

Janelle Monáe – Metropolis suite(s)

Type: Multiple albums / EPs / tracks (Metropolis: Chase Suite EP, Archandroid & Electric Lady albums)
SFness: Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android, is sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Near future / current day dystopian SF. An amnesiac drug addict starts to recover memories of his time as a drug fuelled, mind controlled assassin.

Keldian – Heaven’s Gate / Journey of Souls / Outbound

Type: Multiple Albums
SFness: They’re specifically an SF themed power metal band

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great)

  • Heaven’s Gate – Album of SF songs
  • Journey of Souls – Album – ideas around souls travelling through time & space (as opposed to bodies). Mostly original SF, except:
    • Hyperion (based on Dan Simmons’ Hyperion)
    • The Last Frontier (based on Battlestar Galactica)
  • Outbound – Mostly original SF songs, except:
    • “A Place Above the Air” (based on Dan Simmons’ Endymion)
    • The Silfen Paths (based on Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books)

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great) is turning out to be based on other works, so I might have to move some more out of this list.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Type: Album / Tracks on album
SFness: …less than is immediately apparent, but still fitting

  • Not actually about battling robots.
  • The “pink robots” of the title (and title track) are apparently a metaphor for cancer, and the story of the title track is an analogy to the fight against illness, presented in an SFnal way.  Still SF, because it doesn’t have to be about robots to be SF.
  • “Do You Realize” – about precariousness of existence.
  • Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have themes that can be considered SFnal – particularly “soft SF” (SF based on the “soft sciences”).

Queen – 39

Type: Album track
SFness:  Space explorers depart for a year long voyage, but relativity means that upon their return 100 years have passed.

Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient

Type: Concept album
SFness:  Ziltoid (an alien warlord) travels to earth in search of something described as “the ultimate cup of coffee”.  He finds it foul, and brings his battlefleet to wage war on earth in disgust.

The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon

Type: Single
SFness: A woman tries to contact her husband who’s fighting on mars.  A connection is made, and so she has a few minutes to leave a message telling him that she misses him before the connection is lost.

Kate Bush – Experiment IV

Type: Single / Album Track
SFness: Military scientists looking to create a sonic weapon… and (unfortunately for them) succeeding beyond expectations.

Zager & Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

Type: Single / album track
SFness: Dystopian SF depicting humanity’s decline as a result of the growth of dehumanizing technology.  A modified cover version was used as the theme to the somewhat awful (yet bizarrely, regrettably watchable) “Cleopatra 2525” TV show.

Norman Greenbaum – The Eggplant That Ate Chicago

Type: Single
SFness: The invasion of Chicago by carnivorous, plant-like alien.

The person who suggested this to me was joking, but they shouldn’t have been – it fits.  SF can be silly, too.

Threshold – Clone

Type: Concept(ish) Album
SFness: Genetic manipulation of humans leads to the development of telepathy. Enhanced humans leave the earth to colonize other planets, eventually returning to Earth centuries later.

Electric Light Orchestra – Time

Type: Concept album
SFness: A man from the 1980s finds himself in the year 2095, tries to come to terms with being unable to return and adjust to his new surroundings.

Tandy & Morgon – Earthrise

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Space explorer longs to return to his one love on Earth, only to eventually find that true love has always been with him… inside. (from description on wikipedia)

David Bowie – Space Oddity

Type: Single
SFness: Features a space launch where things don’t go entirely to plan…  You mostly know the song, I’m sure.

David Bowie – Starman

Type: Single
SFness: It’s either about an alien or a deity.  Who knows?

Landscape – Einstein a Go-Go

Type: Single
SFness: Oddly cheery dystopian vision of a nuclear apocalypse.

Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Type: Concept Album
Notes: Particularly Sunrise / Have you seen the stars tonight (which are on spotify, whilst the main album isn’t)
SFness: The story tells of a counter-culture revolution against the oppressions of “Uncle Samuel”.  This leads to a plan to steal a starship from orbit and journey into space in search of a new home. Loosely based on / inspired by Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children”, but apparently different enough to be considered original SF in its own right.

Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

Type: Album
SFness: Lots of “space and time” themed songs – characters taken out of their time / place in SFnal ways.  Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have SFnal themes.

Styx – Kilroy was here

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Rock music is outlawed by a fascist government and the “Majority for Musical Morality”. Kilroy (a former rock star who has been imprisoned) escapes using a disguise (“Mr. Roboto”) and becomes aware that a young musician, Jonathan Chance, is on a mission to bring rock music back.

Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow

Type: Concept album
SFness: An alien race journeys to a new world following a volcanic catastrophe

What next?

This is not an exhaustive list.  The playlist will grow and change.  In writing it up, the playlist grew one album (a mistyped search found a result I’d never heard of, but which fitted better!) and was reduced by four or five songs as I researched them and found they didn’t fit the “Original” part of “Original SF”.

If you have suggestions, either go to the spotify playlist and add them (preferably pinging me a message somewhere explaining the SFness) or leave a comment somewhere I’ll see it and hope I can track it down to add it myself.  Either way, I’m interested in hearing more.

Contributors

Responses to my pleas for music references came from the following folks (even if their responses didn’t make the cut for some reason):

  • Ann (who was trying to be facetious but accidentally made the list anyway!)
  • Beth
  • Caz
  • Chris T.
  • @dakkar
  • Dave W.
  • Dean M.
  • Francis M.
  • Gav
  • Gurdy S.
  • Neil J.
  • Simon R.
  • Victoria S.

1 Comment

  1. Extra stuff not in the original post:

    – Ayreon and a selection of other Arjen Lucassen projects.

    – Mind.In.a.box

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