Robots. Spaceships. Aliens. Intrepid explorers traveling to the farthest reaches of the galaxy in pursuit of knowledge and adventure. If that’s what you want to write, the following five songs are sure to provide the inspiration you need.
Before I get started, let’s mention two space-related songs you might have expected to see on this list, but won’t: Elton John’s Rocket Man and David Bowie’s Major Tom (Space Oddity). Those are astronaut songs, and astronauts really exist now, so they’re not science fiction. (I rejected Rush’s Countdown for the same reason.) We will see David Bowie and Rush pop again, though!
5. Star War, Raven (1982)
This song was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the early 1980s, and is so raw and fast I really debated including it. I think in the end what put it on the list is the imagery. This song depicts an alien invader attacking a planet of “ten billion people” from the point of view of the inhabitants. The unvarnished sound just contributes to the atmosphere of a populace under attack from a foe they can’t understand. In the end, there is a hope they can fend off the invaders, though: “There is a race to be won… the future is in your hands.”
If you’re writing something like Starship Troopers or Ender’s Game and need to write a high-speed space battle scene, this is the song to put on.
4. Mothership Connection (Star Child), Parliament (1975)
Sometimes though, the aliens aren’t hostile. Maybe you’re writing a book along the lines of Childhood’s End or The Mote in God’s Eye, and the first contact between humans and aliens is a special, joyous occasion. The aliens we meet might be willing to provide us with knowledge, resources, even enlightenment. Or, in Parliament’s conception, maybe they’re just bringing a really great party to the “citizens of the universe.” Whatever the case, listening to this song is sure to inspire something funky in your writing.
3. One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21, Flaming Lips (2002)
But maybe your SF novel focuses more on robots, a la Asimov’s I, Robot. In that case, you can’t go wrong with listening to this song by the Flaming Lips for inspiration. Actually, the entire album it’s from, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (or for that matter, the Flaming Lips whole catalog), is great atmospheric science fiction. But One More Robot in particular tells a really interesting story about a robot who “tries to comfort your sadness” and succeeds so well that with its “synthetic kind of love” that it eventually “learns to be something more.” The background sound effects really sell the idea, with the slightly echo-ey synthesizer washes effectively demonstrating what robot emotions would sound like.
2. Red Barchetta, Rush (1980)
This one’s a real classic, at least for Rush fans. It’s consistently one of the top-ranked Rush songs, though it was never released as a single. The song is set in a future after the passage of the “Motor Law” restricted the use of personal vehicles. But the narrator’s uncle keeps a red sports car hidden in a barn, and on Sundays the narrator likes to take it out to speed on the highways. On this particular occasion, he’s spotted by a pair of “gleaming alloy air car[s]” that give chase to the motoring lawbreaker. Happily, our narrator makes his escape when he crosses a one-way bridge the air cars can’t fit over. A beautifully picturesque tale that might serve to drive your own writing imagination.
1. Moonage Daydream, David Bowie (1972)
David Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is about a martian who comes to Earth and starts a rock and roll band, trying to warn mankind of our coming extinction. It’s got more than hints of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which had come out a few years before (and blew my mind when I read it in the seventh grade). Moonage Daydream from that album is a soaring, spacey anthem that somehow combines its cheesy, 50s B-movie lyrical snippets (“put your raygun to my head”) into a lyrical whole that feels strange and uplifting. I’m not the only who thinks so–the song played in the background of Guardians of the Galaxy as Peter Quill’s spaceship approached the distant outpost of Knowhere. Put it on your stereo yourself (or more likely nowadays, your smart speaker) when you need help finding your science fiction muse.