Episode 71 with Music and Book Reviewer Extraordinaire and Author of the Dynamic, Educational, and Deeply-Researched Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded


Show Notes and Links to Jason Heller’s Work and Allusions/Texts from Episode


        On Episode 71, Pete talks with Jason Heller about his early influences, turning points in his writing life, his book Taft 2012 and its legacy, his deep dive into sci-fi music with Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded, his view on writing reviews of subjective art forms, and exciting upcoming projects (a 90s punk-rock story mixed with magic and ideas of belonging!). 

Jason Heller is the author of STRANGE STARS, a book about science fiction's influence on ’70s music (David Bowie, P-Funk, Hawkwind, Rush, Kraftwerk, Devo, and everything in between). It was published in hardcover and paperback by Melville House Publishing and is available everywhere books are sold. Jason is also the author of the alternate history novel TAFT 2012 (Quirk), the Goosebumps book SLAPPY'S REVENGE (Scholastic), the Pirates of the Caribbean book THE CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW HANDBOOK (Quirk), and numerous short stories in magazines and anthologies. He’s the former nonfiction editor of CLARKESWORLD and won a Hugo Award in 2013 as part of that editing team, and he also penned a chapter of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s THE TIME TRAVELER'S ALMANAC (Tor). He’s written about pop culture for THE NEW YORKER, THE ATLANTIC, ROLLING STONE, PITCHFORK, NPR, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, THE A.V. CLUB, and many others. His next novel REPEATER, an urban fantasy set in the '90s punk scene, will be published in 2021 by Saga Press/Simon & Schuster; his memoir EXTRATERRESTRIAL SUMMER will be published in 2022 by Melville House. His most recent band was the internationally-touring post-punk outfit WEATHERED STATUES (Svart Records). He is represented by Eddie Schneider, Vice President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, and he lives in Denver with his wife.


Buy Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded (Amazon)


Buy Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded (Bookshop)


NPR Review of Holly George Warren’s Janis, about Janis Joplin     


Jason Heller's Pitchfork Writer Page


At about 3:00, Jason talks about J.G. Ballard and the idea of being a “geek” and “a 

At about 5:10, Jason discusses his childhood relationship with the written word and reading and writing as ways of combating anxiety; he also references his huge fandom for Star Wars and Star Trek and other science fiction and fantasy 

At about 9:05, Jason outlines the pop culture boom in his later childhood and his dive into unorthodox music (Queen, etc.) as“survival mechanisms”

At about 12:00, Jason describes the pull of David Bowie for him and like minded friends

At about 12:55, Jason lists writers who have given, and continue to give him, “chills at will”-including J.G. Ballard and the band The Buzzcocks

At about 18:10, Jason describes the particular ethos of Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks

At about 20:45, Jason talks about inspiration from music critics and reviews that sent him more and more into the world of writing as a profession, including his start with the world of “zines.”

At about 23:20, Jason talks about a “Eureka moment” in his budding writing career in which forged a connection with Westword Magazine in Denver, getting notice due to a review of a favorite of Jason’s, Jonathan Richman

At about 27:40, Jason talks about music writers like Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus and others who “energized” him as a young writer

At about 30:30, Jason talks about his book Taft 2012-its genesis and subject matter, as well as his classification of it as “alternate history”

At about 40:15, Jason and Pete discuss the “butterfly effect” and its many iterations in pop culture and how he turned the trope on its face in Taft 2012

At about 41:30, Jason talks about his use, or lack thereof or “magical realism” and how he used folklore and folktales in his book on Taft

At about 44:40, Jason talks about salient themes in the book, especially the lionizing of our US leaders

At about 50:00, Jason talks about the beginning of his book, Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded and its emphasis on the 1970s music scene and how the sci-fi-inflected music inspired the book

At about 53:35, Jason talks about the book’s circular nature, “bookend[ed]” by David Bowie songs

At about 55:20, Jason and Pete discuss the 1969 moon landing and its influence on the music of the age

At about 59:00, Jason and Pete trace the connections in Jason’s book to the changing American landscape/technology and the changes in sci-fi music, from 

At about 1:01:30, Jason and Pete talk about Star Wars and Star Trek and their consistent pull on Jason and their parts in the sci-fi pop culture zeitgeist

At about 1:06:10, Jason discusses the ways in which sci-fi music evolved with the evolution 

At about 1:07:25, Jason is asked if he thinks sci-fi music has gotten a bad rap in the tiers of “high art” in pop culture; he references strong sci-fi writers like Charlie Jane Anders and also talks about how standouts like Sun-Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic and David Bowie often had their music examined through any genre but sci-fi

At about 1:14:20, Pete compliments Jason’s portrayal of David Bowie and how Jason traces the “family tree” of sci-fi music in a nonlinear, interesting way

At about 1:15:20, Jason discusses his writing of reviews and Pete asks him what it is like to judge someone’s art, as art is so subjective; he gives an interesting take on how he approaches writing and reading reviews

At about 1:18:40, Jason explains the changing mores in terms of writing cruel and “savage” music reviews, including by Pitchfork Magazine

At about 1:24:15, Jason talks about his upcoming book projects, including an evolving book idea and Repeater, a novel set in the 1990s punk rock scene


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I’m excited to share Episode 72 on August 17. The episode is with Clifford Brooks, poet, writer of, most recently,  Athena Departs: Gospel of a Man Apart, founder of The Southern Collective Experience, a cooperative of writers, musicians and visual artists, which publishes the journal of culture The Blue Mountain Review and hosts the NPR show Dante’s Old South

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