Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"...a labyrinth of capillaries."

Farrago's Wainscot--one of the most progressive and adventurous weird-fiction publications in recent memory--is back. And I'm lucky enough to have a short story in their new issue. The story is titled "Of Homes Gone," and it imagines an impoverished world where people are no longer allowed (or no longer allow themselves?) to go inside buildings. It also has boys without noses, hints of Guy Debord, and architecture that resembles "a labyrinth of capillaries." If you dare to read it, I hope you like it.

From Motherships to Dazzle Ships: An Author-Selected Sampler of Great Science Fiction Music

Adventure Rocketship! #1
A couple years ago I asked a few writers I love to list their favorite science-fiction-themed music. The goal was to print those lists in a future issue of a new SF journal out of England, Adventure Rocketship!, that I'd begun writing for.

That second issue of AR! has yet to materialize (although I'd love to see it surface at some point), which left me holding a handful of great lists of SF music. Below are those lists, a stellar sampler of albums, songs, and insights about the intersection of speculation and sound. Thanks to all involved. Time to queue up some Parliament.

My favorite SF-themed music is the stuff that heads straight for the
 concept of alienation and then turns it all the way inside out, sothat the sparks fly--no, soar--in every direction, and reach all ofus. I don't know how to rank these, so I won't; they're inchronological order.

1. Sun Ra, Interstellar Low Ways

2. Parliament, Mothership Connection

3. OutKast, ATLiens

4. Radiohead, Kid A

5. Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid

1. UFO: Strangers in the Night
The live rendition of "Lights Out" is the best soundtrack to an SF adventure film never made. Ever. 

2. Montrose: Self-Titled Debut
In any intergalactic pit fight, someone will come to the match with "Rock the Nation" or "Space Station No. 5" as their theme song. 

3. Rush: 2112
Inspired by SF works from Isaac Asimov to Samuel R. Delaney, Neil Peart's space opera is smarter than anything Hawkind ever wrote, if not as cool. 

4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
When a new planet is born, the main theme is played. When a planet dies, the last song is played. 

5. Queen: Soundtrack to Flash Gordon
When a soundtrack is this awesome, No explanation is required.

My tracks, which purposefully don't include "The Final Countdown," though I did really want to somehow feature a Yes video:

1: "Rocket Man," Elton John
The loneliness up there, man. It's like Don DeLillo's "Human Moments in World War III" story. Also, Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. At least not yet. But I've always wondered if that line was in response to Stranger in a Strange Land.

2: "Highwayman," Highwaymen
Willie liberating jewelry, Kris doing his best Bobby McGee out on the high seas, Waylon building Hoover, Johnny Cash playing Fear Agent out there between the planets. It all confirms some suspicions I'd had all along, about time and space, life and death.

3: "Band on the Run," Wings
I've always heard this song as if sung by a spaceship crew. Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever. That could be Ripley and Bishop and them, yes? HAL and Dave. And there's even an M-class planet in there, a 'desert world.' This song's pure Silent Running, pure Sunshine. And then of course they fall into that sunshine.

4: "Life on Mars?" David Bowie
Not the usual spidery pick from his catalog, I know. But how can that girl be watching that movie? And how can this 'Bowie' have written it? The story of the song wraps around on itself in a very Calvino way, and then's out the door only two verses in, so you don't even have time to question what just happened. Real aliens are clever like that.

5: "The Voice," Moody Blues, from Long Distance Traveler
I title I keep trying to use, for science fiction. You know how The Dark Side of the Moon's supposed to go with The Wizard of Oz? I've always thought Long Distance Traveler was meant as accompaniment for Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker. Just listen to that first distant, obviously galactic sound that opens up "The Voice." It's haunting, it's bigger than any of us. Your mind has no choice but to fold open.

First runner-up: "Everything You Know Is Wrong," Weird Al. Obviously. 

Also, I vote Ace Frehley as the most science fiction of any guitar player ever, even counting interplanetery history and the Dominion.

Powers by Andy Partridge should be on the list. His eerie soundscape tribute album to sci-fi master artist Richard M. Powers is great.

Top 5 SF albums:

Really, nothing more need be said.

Queensryche--Operation: Mindcrime
Dystopia, mind control, assassination. Doesn't get much more SF than that.

King Crimson--In the Court of the Crimson King
My go-to psychedelia.

An underrated work. "The Gates of Delirium" is suitably epic.

Iron Maiden--Somewhere in Time
Another underrated album. One of the band's best. And hey, "Stranger in a Strange Land."

Top 5 SF singles:

Billy Thorpe, "Children of the Sun"
A one-hit wonder, but what a hit.

Blue Oyster Cult, "Veteran of the Psychic Wars"
A nightmare vision of the future, done without a hint of irony.

Rush, "The Body Electric"
Featuring one of my favorite Rush lyrics ever: "Bytes break into bits."

Zager and Evans, "In the Year 2525"
Cheesy? Sure. But never let it be said that rock 'n' roll doesn't take the long view.

Pink Floyd, "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
No idea what the song's about, but the title demands to be included here.

The ELO half of the soundtrack to Xanadu.

Deltron 3030: Deltron 3030
This record is to science fiction what Enter the Wu-Tang was for kung fu. A dense, mythology-heavy concept record with more sfnal ideas than you can shake a blaster at, it's also a damn good listen from start to finish.

David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
I mean, c'mon.

Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Y'all can keep your Zeppelin-y ruminations on the Shire; I'll take the crushing, post-apocalyptic tunes of classic Sabbath any day.

Parliament: Mothership Connection
Like Douglas Adams, Parliament punctures the myth of the self-serious science fiction nerd with one of the ass-shakin'est records of all time.

Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!
De-evolution never sounded so good.

1) "Replicas" by Gary Numan and Tubeway Army
Full of robot friends ("Are Friends Electric?") and night clubs were humans are tortured for the entertainment of robots ("Down in the Park"), this album to me fully encapsulates the cyberpunk verve of the early 80s.

2) "Visage" by Visage
Glitz and glam new wave with a decidedly futuristic edge, this was the sound we imagined would be playing in the night clubs of the 21st century, back when 2000 seemed so far away. The video for the title track "Visage" might have been a cut scene from Blade Runner. And I could see their most popular hit, "Fade to Grey", as the theme song to Chris Marker's brilliant French time-travel film La Jetée.

3) "Flaunt It" and "Dress for Excess" by Sigue Sigue Sputnik
I include both albums here because it's hard for me to separate them. SSS mocked the corporate excess and over-consumption that showed its moisturized face in the early 80s. SSS went so far as to put ads for hair products (Loreal) and fashion rags (ID Magazine) and others between each song. "Love Missile F1-11" made an appearance in the opening act of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the upbeat track turns Cold War paranoia into one long sexual metaphor.  Layering their music with samples from Blade Runner, Scarface, Dirty Harry, and Japanese advertisements, it's easy to enter the future techno-pop world that Sigue Sigue Sputnik imagined for us. Favorite tracks are "21-st Century Boy," "Teenage Thunder," "Rio Rocks," and "M.A.D." The albums are worth it just for their cover art.

4) "Dazzle Ships" by OMD
Known for their pop songs like "If You Leave," "Dazzle Ships" was a sharp departure from their previous oeuvre. "Genetic Engineering" warns about the dangers of experimenting with human DNA and has my favorite use of a Speak-and-Spell (an 80s toy) which creepily chants in a Stephen-Hawking-esque voice, "Babies, mother, hospital, scissors. Creature, judgment, butcher, Engineer." "Dazzle Ships Pts. 1-3" might be the sound of a spaceship docking gone wrong, while "Time Zones" layers recordings of individuals from around the world announcing the time. With tracks called "The Romance of the Telescope," "Radio Waves," and "Telegraph" this album veers sharply toward the science-fictional landscape and safely lands on its own unique planet.

5) Blade Runner Soundtrack by Vangelis
Blade Runner, that iconic film that has influenced everything from fashion to architecture, would only be half a film if not for the surreal aural landscape painted by Vangelis. Due to rights issues, the original film score wasn't available for public release until 1994, and so for years we had to listen to the cheap methadone substitute of an orchestral version. Who can forget the atmospheric sounds of "Main Titles" when the film opens to Los Angeles' smog-choked streets? And the haunting saxophone of the "Love Theme" is forever seared into my mind as the sound of future city blues.  With "Memories of Green" we can almost hear Rachael's tears as she realizes she's a replicant. "Tales of the Future" takes us down into Animoid Row, where artificial animals are sold on thronging streets.  And the "End Titles" might be the orchestral accompaniment to Philip K. Dick's dreams. May you rest in peace, fair prophet!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Vermillion Revisited

In this month's issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, I took a look back at Vermillion: the doomed, erratically brilliant DC/Helix comic book written by the late Lucius Shepard. Vermillion ran for 12 issues in 1996 and '97 before being unceremoniously canceled along with most of the Helix line, noble experiment that it was.

I love Shepard's work -- I reviewed his posthumous novel Beautiful Blood, the culmination of his masterful Dragon Griaule cycle, last year for NPR -- and it was an honor to dwell in his abandoned city-universe for a little while longer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Morrissey Solo Albums: Ranked

For no real reason other than the fact that I'm trying to find reasons not to do actual work to today, I thought I'd rank all of Morrissey's solo albums. A little background: Morrissey's debut solo album, Viva Hate, came out in 1988 (on my 16th birthday, no less!), and as huge Smiths fan I bought it immediately. I've been faithfully buying his solo albums, for better or worse, ever since. I still spend SO MUCH FUCKING TIME listening to these albums, far more time than I spend listening to most other music, new or old. I have something wrong with me.

Please note: For the sake of simplicity I'm excluding most of Morrissey's many compilation albums, save for Bona Drag, which stands alone well enough despite its overlap with Viva Hate (and also because we all had no idea back then that Morrissey was going to turn into such on obsessive self-cannibalizer, discography-wise). I'm also leaving out the live album Beethoven's Deaf, despite how awesome it is. Oh, and in all cases, I'm using the most recent reissue of said album--especially in the case of my #1 pick, which particularly benefits from its reissue bonus tracks. And yes, this is all 100% subjective. Do I really even need to say that?

1. Southpaw Grammar (1995)

2. Vauxhall and I (1994)

3. Your Arsenal (1992)

4. Bona Drag (1990)

5. Viva Hate (1988)

6. You Are the Quarry (2004)

7. Maladjusted (1997)

8. Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)

9. Years of Refusal (2009)

10. Kill Uncle (1991)

11. World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014)

Now go listen to Southpaw Grammar five hundred times in a row and try to tell me I'm wrong.