We’re reading LET’S ALL GO TO THE SCIENCE FICTION DISCO edited by Jonathan Wright

13 Jun

Madeline Ashby wishes the DJ wouldn’t keep changing the record

Let’s All Go to the Science Fiction Disco
Jonathan Wright
Adventure Rocketship! PPB £9.99

Let’s All Go to the Science Fiction Disco is the first collection of interviews, essays, and short fiction curated by the team at Adventure Rocketship! and edited by Jonathan Wright. Wright’s goal with this particular collection, he says, is “to give a sense of how music and speculative fiction have played off each other down the years”, and he starts the collection off with the 1960s. Wright is honest about his nostalgia for a lost future, specifically his “disappointment over the lack of silver suits, domestic robots and flying cars in late-20th-century Britain”. This same disappointment is echoed by writer, editor, and Deviants member Mick Farren, who is quoted as saying, “Just about everything we hoped for has failed. Kubrick said we’d be on Mars by now. The Jetsons told me I’d have a private plane. Dan Dare said nuclear weapons would be outlawed in 1965. But we didn’t get any of this shit!”

So it should come as no surprise that the collection’s focus on music begins roughly fifty years ago, when those visions of the future reached their cultural zenith. I had hoped for a bit more scope: mention of Stockhausen’s science fiction operas, or Philip Glass’s work with Doris Lessing, or even Howard Shore’s musical adaptation of The Fly. How can you write about science fiction and music and not mention Yoko Kanno? For that matter, how can you avoid writing about Macross? Or Phantom of the Paradise? Or Rocky Horror? Or Queen?

This isn’t a collection about music and science fiction, so much as it’s a collection about the way music and science fiction inspired each other to create utopian visions in the latter half of the twentieth century. If you feel that you’re owed a jetpack simply for living in the twenty-first century, you may have more sympathy for this perspective.

Although that perspective is somewhat narrow, there are some quite good pieces of criticism and analysis here. Minister Faust’s piece on George Clinton and the Nation of Islam is the most rigorous essay in the collection, and its unflinching tone mirrors its intellectual incisiveness: “Dreadlocks used to be the marker of devotion to Haile Selassie I, the incarnation of God who was soon to destroy the global White Empire, rather than the marker of white hipsterism, marijuana ‘non-addiction’, bad hygiene, and total absence of African friends they are today.” Similarly, N.K. Jemesin’s essay on Janelle Monae cuts right to the heart of all that nostalgia: “I’m watching The Jetsons, and it’s creeping me right the fuck out.” If Faust’s piece is the most rigorous, Jemisin’s is surely the most compelling, the most honest, the most authentic. Jemisin is a writer in full control of her voice and her message. Her piece is one of the few that actually forms a coherent critique of the nostalgia that frames the collection.

The short fictions are only a tad longer than the essays, which make most of them very short indeed. Curiously, only two or three out of the six have any real dialogue between the characters. The rest are recollections of past encounters in a confessional or journalistic style, the ultimate in telling and not showing. My guess is that the required word counts were kept strategically low, which granted the characters granted little room to breathe. Some stories, notably Lavie Tidhar’s, manage to work within the limits of brevity, and Tim Maughan’s manages to pack in an impressive laundry list of futuristic elements that are by now signature to his work, and his dearth of dialogue could be interpreted as a comment on the limits of memoir.

But really, I’d like to see longer pieces next time. Longer stories, and longer essays, with actual footnotes. What Wright is attempting with Adventure Rocketship! is quite exciting, sitting somewhere between a periodical and an anthology, and featuring voices we’re less likely to hear from. It’s also an ideal use of the standard spinner-rack paperback format, and the cover art is refreshingly contemporary, if rather disconnected from the subject matter. It’s promising. What it needs is some editorial focus, some breathing space, and a putting aside of the compulsion to feature everyone the editor knows in one volume.

Madeline Ashby loses her identity in INNER SPACE: Escape from LA. Read her in Arc 1.4: Forever alone drone, out now for screens, tablets, phones and in a collectible print edition.

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