Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fantasy Killed the SF Star

Yesterday I wrote about the continuing question Is science fiction dying? While I was writing, I was also listening to music and watching videos from the 1970s and '80s. I started with "In a Big Country" by Big Country, a song of hope and of soaring, passionate feeling ("I'm not expecting to grow flowers in the desert/But I can live and breathe/And see the sun in wintertime"). It returned to me that so much of the music from that time was full of great hope and expectation, energy and passion. The music and the people who sang it and listened to it were looking to a brighter future.

After awhile, I watched the video for "Cars" by Gary Numan, and it occurred to me that this was science fiction. Next came "Are 'Friends' Electric?", a song with a science-fictional title (and a question that has since been answered in the affirmative by Mark Zuckerberg). Song after song and video after video from the 1980s is science-fictional or futuristic in content or technique. The music itself--reliant upon electronics and technological experimentation--is also science-fictional or futuristic, as are the names of the movements, New Wave and Technopop, and even some of the groups, such as Level 42 and T'Pau. It is clear that the music and the musicians were moving towards something new.

In considering Gary Numan, my thoughts went to the song "Breathe" by another British electronic music act, The Prodigy. Whereas Gary Numan's videos seem science-fictional, the video for "Breathe" is nightmarish, full of images of horror and decay. (1) So if "Cars" is representative of British music from 1979 and "Breathe" from 1996, what happened in the intervening seventeen years? A larger question: If science fiction was still alive and kicking in the 1970s and '80s and is now on its deathbed, just what has happened to make it so?

(1) A little more than three and a half minutes long, the video version of "Breathe" seems longer, epic in fact, like "Eight Miles High" by The Byrds, which clocks in at 3:33. "Breathe" is a fascinating and scary video. Have a look when you get a chance.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley


  1. I think the SF of Kim Stanley Robinson is very optimistic about the future of the human race.

    He's probably my all-time favorite author. His books are huge, visionary, bursting with ideas on every page. He believes we'll make it through the current crap.

    I sure hope so, but personally, I am not so sure.

    1. Dear Howard,

      I read Red Mars and enjoyed it. Terraforming another planet is a big project and requires hope, faith, and vision. Instead we have a current space program that relies on Russian rockets to get our astronauts into space.

      Like Mr. Robinson, I believe we'll make it through our current situation, as I believe we have within us a desire to be free, to explore, and to make a better world for ourselves and our children. How we'll get through it is another story, but we have to have faith.

      Thanks for writing.