Thursday, March 15, 2018

NERD MUSIC: Science Fiction/Synthwave Pairings


Way back in 2013, in the midst of a serious heavy metal binge, I posted this piece. The idea was to match metal albums to grimdark fantasy novels, the way you'd match wine or beer with food. So now, in the midst of an even more serious synthwave binge, I figured it was high time for a sequel. And why not? Synthwave is futuristic, or rather, retrofuturistic--and a large subset is explicitly SF-themed.


Selection Criteria

I've selected 6 science fiction novels--not necessarily the best, or even my favorites. But 6 novels that people who read science fiction generally know, or at least know of. Next, I paired these with synthwave albums that best capture what these books mean to me. So without further ado, I present to you six science fiction/synthwave pairings. Oh, and if you like what you see/hear, click on the book title link or on the musician's Bandcamp embed to purchase.

Don't forget to swish and spit after you taste...


The Pairings

1. Neuromancer by William Gibson/Wilderness by Makeup and Vanity Set


To start things off, I'm pairing the greatest cyberpunk novel with the greatest cyberpunk-inspired synthwave album. Neuromancer is a complex, multilayered and challenging novel--it is remembered for being mesmerizingly original and conceptually breathtaking, though it is Neuromancer's strong emotional core that convinces me to re-read it every few years. Wilderness is much the same, but in musical form. Featuring compositional complexity, high concept and deep emotional resonance, it is probably my favorite electronic album of any kind ever made.


2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin/Return to Alvograth by Futurecop!


LeGuin's Hainish cycle radically transformed our understanding of what science fiction could do. It is, at base, a work of speculative anthropology. With its focus on culture and ritual, The Left Hand of Darkness is a warmer and more earthy (for lack of a better term) book than most of its colder and more clinical contemporaries. This is not a common aesthetic in synthwave, but is well represented by Futurecop's brilliant 2017 album, which integrates New Age and mystical elements into their dreamy, pop-inflected synthwave. A lovely book paired with a lovely album.


3. Warchild by Karin Lowachee/Bionic Chrysalis by DEADLIFE


DEADLIFE is one of the best new darksynth artists around, and his music is basically hard-charging action music that draws heavily on science fiction themes. That reminds me of Karin Lowachee's Warchild, a riveting, action-packed but thoughtful military SF novel whose protagonist can only survive by becoming a living weapon. In other words, by undergoing a bionic chrysalis.

4. Saturn's Children by Charles Stross/Galactic Melt by Com Truise


Science fiction isn't the most romantic or sexiest of genres, but every once in a while there's a novel that explores romance and sexuality in more than a cursory way. Saturn's Children is one of those books, and is full of sex and romance. It centers on a femmebot courtesan, designed to serve human desires, and her adventures long after humanity has gone extinct. Galactic Melt by Com Truise is similarly one of the few synthwave albums that is not only science fictional, but also explores sex and romance thematically.

5. The Apollo Quartet by Ian Sales/The Space Tapes by Syntax


When I listen to Syntax's music, it makes me feel like a kid again--looking up at the stars and imagining what's out there. Similarly, Sales' Apollo Quartet captures everything about classic science fiction that attracted me as a kid, but with a modern sensibility and direct engagement with all the stuff that makes classic science fiction feel dated and regressive in 2018 (e.g. the sexism, militarism, uncritical positivism, etc.). Both, moreover, evoke that "sensawunda" we all remember from childhood but can rarely recapture as adults.

6. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson/Cosmopolis by The G



Apologies for the shameless self-promo here, but I made Cosmopolis with books like Red Mars in mind. The album is about the journey to a domed city off-world, and explores both the romance of space travel and anxiety that life under a hermetically sealed dome would engender. Red Mars is, I think, the best novel written about building these kinds of settlements. So while the two aren't an exact fit (Cosmopolis is retro '80s, whereas Red Mars is distinctly progressive), it's books like Red Mars that give me inspiration for my music.

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POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator, since 2012. 

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