Five SFF Books That Celebrate Classic Rock


If there’s one thing history teaches us, it’s that art forms that appeal to one generation will surely appeal to succeeding generations. I shouldn’t need to explain to my younger colleagues who Copperpenny, Helix and Major Hoople’s pension were. No doubt they are all as well known today as they were fifty years ago. (Although I provide the links anyway, because I’m just being considerate.)

SF writers of a certain vintage embraced this exuberant confidence in the long-term viability of their favorite musical genres. Take these five works, for example.

City Come A-Walkin’ by John Shirley (1980)

Stuart Cole’s nightclub, Club Anesthesia, is a stalwart redoubt of San Francisco’s chaotic counterculture, a haven for rockers and other eccentrics who don’t fit into mainstream society. Keeping the club open is an ongoing struggle.

Cole worries about predatory gangsters and the crooked city government. He doesn’t care for a living manifestation of the City…until one day the man-shaped avatar of the City pays him a visit. If Cole was careful, he might wonder if the avatar had Stu’s best interests in mind when proposing a partnership on some shrewd scheme…but then, a sane person wouldn’t run Club Anesthesia.

The Armageddon Cloth by George R. R. Martin (1983)

The career of disillusioned counterculture novelist Sandy Blair has sunk. He finds a new role as an amateur detective when his friend, rock promoter Jamie Lynch, is murdered.

The murder was a ritual murder. It may have been bad news for Jamie Lynch, but it’s good news for legendary rock band Nazgûl. They broke up about ten years ago. The day Lynch was murdered? It’s the tenth anniversary of the breakup. After the murder, the band announces a reunion tour. It’s almost as if the whole thing was planned to revive the Nazgûl.

Blair discovers Lynch’s killer had a much darker goal in mind.

Rack&Roll by Bradley Denton (1986)

In a world where World War II played out very differently, postwar Americans celebrated imported German craftsmanship and American engineering by sending rock superstar Bitch Alice to the moon. Abandoned by a fuel pump failure, Bitch Alice’s doomed last words to her fans were “trash Dallas.” Fans listened, the American space center caught fire, and Anglo-Chinese dominance in space was assured.

A generation later, President Fitzgerald regards the superiority of the Anglo-Chinese alliance as an affront. He has a big plan to put America back on top. Key to her bold vision is Bitch Alice’s illegitimate orphan, Lieza “The Bastard Child” Galilei. Lieza might be reluctant to do what he wants, but the president will surely do what he wants. After all, what can a small musician do in the face of presidential power?

little heroes by Norman Spinrad (1987)

Muzik Inc has plans for aging rockstar Glorianna O’Toole. They will use it as a model for a computer-generated, algorithm-modified synthetic superstar, a robot. Needless to say, she won’t receive any royalties, just a one-time royalty.

Gloriana is sincerely devoted to rock and roll. She is sure that Muzik Inc’s robotic creation would be a soulless abomination. But Muzik offers a Faustian sweetener: modern technology can restore the crazy old lady of rock and roll to its former glory (by proxy). A tempting offer, but is it tempting enough to buy Glorianna’s soul?

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (1987)

Minneapolis rock singer Eddi McCandry would no doubt say she deals with more than enough trauma. She left her band and broke up with her boyfriend. Now she is being stalked by a mysterious figure. It was nowhere on his to-do list! However, fate has a way of entrusting people with unexpected and unwelcome challenges.

Among the new residents of Minneapolis: the Fair Folk, who brought with them their exuberant love of factions and mano-a-mano politics. Minneapolis will be the next battleground between the Seelie and Unseelie courts; Eddi will be their newest human recruit.


There are many works adjacent to rock’n’roll that I could have mentioned. No doubt some of your favorites have been forgotten. Comments are, as always, below.

In the words of fanfiction author Musty181prolific and lively literary critic Darwin Award Nominee James Davis Nicoll “looks like a default mii with glasses”. His work has been published in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, Reviews of James Nicoll (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis) and the Aurora Awards 2021 and 2022 finalist Young people read the old SFF (where he is assisted by web person Adrienne L. Travis). He’s a four-time Hugo Award finalist for Best Fan Writer and is surprisingly flammable.

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