The best essay ever written about the politics of academic specialization—“Beyond the Rite of Passage in the Academy”— appeared in a 1973 issue of College English, written by Jerry Griswold, at the time a young PhD student, who would grow up to be the director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and an eminent scholar of Mark Twain. In the spirit of that hoary-headed, mustachioed satirist, Griswold skewered the imagined fiefdoms of academic possession by casting them as dragon hoards protected by fire-breath, the treasures of intellectual capital defended against neophyte serfs (graduate students) and scheming rivals (colleagues). The pressures on young scholars to amass a hoard of their own led to, in his entertaining conceit, the curious case of the intellectual junk-dragon, the proud protector of undesired knowledge: “Dunwith of Golgotha’s De Rerum Natura (the Basel Manuscript, Coda II),” would make for an easy topic to defend, he wrote, “since the jewels were Woolworth’s trinkets” and thus inspired no encroachment.
The question of whether the subject of rock music in SF literature has any scholarly exchange value may soon be decided according to such rituals of academic gamesmanship. Indeed, if the recent scholarly attention to the role of music in SF film is any indication, I’d say we are in for something of a battle royale. Following the publication of Philip Hayward’s Off the Planet: Music, Sound, and Science Fiction Cinema in 2004, there has been steady stream of academic titles dedicated to exploring the links between the two areas — William Whittington’s Sound Design and Science Fiction, Mathew Bartkowiak’s Sounds of the Future: Essays on Music in Science Fiction Film — not to mention the most recent subspecialized offshoots, such as Music in Science Fiction Television: Tuned to the Future, edited by K.J. Donnelly and, once again, Philip Hayward. SF scholar Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. perhaps best expressed this critical zeitgeist in his 2008 book The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction by suggesting that “the most orphaned of sf media is music. Little has appeared in print discussing the relationship between music and sf, a connection that is much richer than may at first appear.” While scholars have clearly answered the call to address music’s role in SF film and television, the question of its relationship to SF literature has thus far been met by radio silence.
The publication of Paula Guran’s Rock On: The Greatest Hits of Science Fiction and Fantasy marks the first major opportunity to examine the richness of musical tropes in SF literature. The first edited collection of its kind, it entreats the reader to “Kick out the jams with hot licks and fantastic riffs on Rock & Roll from the only kind of fiction that feeds the soul.” If that sounds a little wanting in the “richness” department, the cover image of a young female rocker — crouched in black leather pants and camisole, cradling a Gibson flying-V inside of what looks like a cross between a flooded basement and the crab nebula — does little to suggest otherwise. The book signals an audience of adolescents and stories chosen for maximum entertainment value rather than literary merit.
But looks can be deceiving, and those goals need not be mutually ex...read more