Reading Let’s All Go To The Science Fiction Disco, edited by Jonathan Wright

Let’s All Go To The Science Fiction Disco, edited by Jonathan Wright (Adventure Rocketship!, 2013)

Let’s All Go to the Science Fiction Disco, the first volume in a new anthology series, Adventure Rocketship!, is ‘devoted to the intersection between SF, music and the counterculture.’ With a remit that broad, it is not surprising that it lacks a clear focus. Are we talking about science fiction involving music or about music using sf themes? The answer is apparently ‘both’, though in practice we’re dealing with the relationship between rock, pop and sf in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century. And though the table of contents suggests a historical survey one has little sense that the pieces were specifically commissioned with this in mind, which would account for the bittiness of coverage, particularly between 1980–2000.

Contemporary classical and experimental electronic music are mentioned only because of Delia Derbyshire, inevitably included here for her realisation of Ron Grainer’s Dr Who theme rather than for her other groundbreaking work as a composer and musician. Her presence also underlines the paucity of women subjects or contributors, though N.K. Jemisin offers a storming piece on her identification with the work of Janelle Monáe. There is only one significant female protagonist in the fiction, in Tim Maughan’s excellent ‘Flight Path Estate’, and only one story written by a woman, Liz Williams. Odd when you consider that punk provided opportunities for women musicians to get their music heard as never before.

Most of the best articles concern the 1970s, with David Quantick’s well-observed piece on Bill Nelson and BeBop Deluxe, Minister Faust’s thoughtful discussion of the relationship between George Clinton’s Mothership and the Nation of Islam’s Mother Plane, and Mark Sinker on the electrifying weirdness of Boney M. Going back to the ’60s, Sam Jordison’s encounter in early 2013 with Mick Farren (who constantly assured Jordison that ‘I’m not dying’) stands now as an epitaph. But too many of the articles feel like unformed anecdote, or stop just as they start to get interesting. Christopher Kirkley’s piece on mp3 markets in Mauretania is a prime example of the latter.

The fiction is also a very mixed bag. Apart from Maughan’s story, Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Between the Notes’ stands out, not only for acknowledging the existence of music pre-1960 but for its account of a time-travelling serial killer specialising in musicians confronted with a moment of great personal uncertainty. The poignancy of Martin Millar’s brief encounter between Hendrix, Joplin and other ’60s musician resists accusations of sf cliché but other stories demonstrate how difficult it can be to achieve a satisfying balance in mixing sf and music while avoiding banality.

Nor does Science Fiction Disco achieve an entirely satisfying balance between fiction and non-fiction, not while the magazine style – short articles, half a dozen short stories, ‘20 Mind-bending Ways to Start Your SF Album Collection’ (no, really) – seems ill-at-ease with the book format. Adventure Rocketship! clearly has potential but could look less like a grab bag and more as though it has a clear editorial direction with each issue.

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