Prog: A Sci-Fi Soundtrack

Sometimes the oddest of pairings make for great combinations.  Basketball and trampolines.  Diet Coke and Mentos.  Attractive girls behaving nerdily.

Science fiction and progressive rock might seem like an odd match at first, but you have to look no further than some of the album covers.  All it takes is a sprawling landscape off a Roger Dean painting from one of Yes’ albums to bring you across the galaxy to a foreign world.

I can imagine several other prog album images being given greater depth when examined in a sci-fi context.

I can envision a bleak future where senior citizens are forced to work in sweatshops, pumping out souvenirs due to the boom of alien tourists.

How about a post-apocalyptic tale of a king left to cope with the loss of his loyal followers (Spoiler: He is, in fact, just some loony high on paint fumes at a dump on the outskirts of Toronto).

And then there’s this, which must have a story behind it because I can’t explain a man dragging some sort of mechanical, angelic, oddly testicular contraption above the Earth with his feet.

I believe a reverse of this concept is equally valid.  You can take a book cover from a science fiction story, and find some great musical accompaniment from one of the many great prog bands.  Consider this like pairing a wine with an amazing entrée.  Or if you aren’t to keen on science fiction or progressive rock, take it as a soda-chip combo.  Not something you’d take pride in consuming, but a nice guilty pleasure to have every now and then.


Book/Cover: A Jungle of Stars by Jack L. Chalker


Song: Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” by Pink Floyd


I’ll let the upper description aid my decision:

Aruman Vard had to get off-planet fast.  The end of the most incredible space war ever was at hand… and he wanted to be on the winning side!

Sounds like traitor talk to me.  Observe how he looks back with distain at the burning city for which he is most likely responsible.  He’s like a sports fan that jumps on a team’s bandwagon when they’re already on the verge of a championship.

I’m not sure about you, but if I was from his home planet I wouldn’t tolerate such cowardice.  I’d send out a search party for this defector, putting the notorious Zapp Brannigan in charge (hmmm… he sort of looks like Kif, so he may not be hard to track down).  I’m not sure if Vard has a kill limit like the kill-bots Brannigan defeated, but I’d be all for sending wave after wave of my own men to their certain demise just to teach this scumbag a lesson.  I’ve given the punishment some thought, and no, he will not receive Death By Snu Snu.

Once captured, I’m sending him straight to the sun.  The punishment may sound a bit cruel, especially since I’m jumping to conclusions with this guy.  Give me a break to wanting if a guy would ever achieve a Raiders of the Lost Ark level of face-melting epic-ness or just be totally incinerated outright.  I don’t think Mythbusters has the budget, or the lack of morals, required to test that one out.


Book/Cover: Ein Doppelleben Im Kosmos (Double Star) by Robert A. Heinlein


Song: “Luzifers Ghilom” by Amon Düül II


If your bloodstream isn’t chalk full of these little Heston cells, don’t bother applying for N.R.A. membership.

To date, I’m only read 2 Heinlein novels (Stranger In A Strange Land and For Us, The Living).  I couldn’t begin to tell you what this one’s about based off the cover.  Given the copious amount of Charlton Heston on the cover, you might wrongly assume he starred in a film adaptation of the story.  I didn’t fall for it.   Save it for the kooky Germans to try to use a famous actor to push the sales of a novel written by an already famous author.  It makes me wonder what their versions of Harry Potter books would look like had they been released a few decades earlier.


I figured this would pair up with a native German band nicely.  This song actually has some English lyrics in the mix.  The main lines that can be made out are “Which way to the fear?” and “Give me a lamp. It’s going to be weird”.  The fear part I have a hard time explaining.  Who’d fear this man, an Omega Man at that (Michael Moore possibly)?    The visual itself is obviously weird, and you might use a lamp to read this novel in the dark.

A bit of a reach on this one?  Shut up and enjoy the damned tune.


Book/Cover: The Square Root of Man by William Tenn


Song: “Mekanik Kommandoh” by Magma

Why?: To be honest, I could have selected just about any song by Magma.  While they are a French band, many of Magma’s lyrics are written in Kobaïan, a language invented by the band’s drummer and vocalist Christian Vander.

So what does this have to do with the cover?  You’ll need a translator to make any sense out of either.


Book/Cover:  Timepivot by Brian N. Ball


Song: “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?”  by The Mothers of Invention

Why?: I’m not sure who’s mind would be uglier, the person who illustrated the cover (Tom Adams) or the person who’d proudly hang this surreal image in their living room (me).

Tom Adams looks to be carrying on the time-tested Dali tradition of giving us acid trips minus the acid.  Plus this art has been used for other novels, so that scratches him off the list.

So is it me then?  You assume because of those breasts on the cover that I’m some sort of pervert?  Have you ever thought that those are not breasts, but  instead may be unsightly pimples forming on the nostril and earlobe (which, by the way, look ripe for popping)?

Fine.  I guess the jig was up with my earlier Cosplay reference.


Book/Cover: The Best of Murray Leinster


Song: “A Passion Play by Jethro Tull


Looks like this man’s renaissance festival buddies / Shakespeare theater troupe abandoned him at the worst/best time possible.  As a last resort to save his ass, he re-enacts his version of a passion play by using the universal language of smoke signals.  This morality tale had no impact on the approaching beast since several key terms of description look strikingly similar in this medium (cloud-ish).

He’s tried everything else.  He’s drawn his lines in the sand, but this alien does not acknowledge metaphors nor cliché sitcom plot devices used for feuding roommates.

When it came to fashion, Jethro Tull we’re the forefathers of the hipsters we know them today.  Take a hat from one era, some pants from another, and finish it off with what you can cobble together from thrift stores and your mother’s wardrobe.  Stand this man up on one leg and hand him a flute and you’ve basically got Ian Anderson.  Stand him on two leg’s and you’d still have Ian Anderson, but he wouldn’t look as cool.


Book/Cover: The Final Encyclopedia by Gordon R. Dickson


Song: “Moonchild / The Dream / The Illusion” by King Crimson


They call progressive rock thinking man’s music, and this man looks very deep in thought indeed.  So deep that nothing seems to impress this guy.  Not the magnificent tower that stares him in the face or the fact he levitates in space along with it.

Not many bands define the spirit of what it truly means to be a progressive band quite like King Crimson.  This may be due to the fact group mainstay Robert Fripp seems to grow bored rather frequently.  He’d change Crimson’s lineup so often that during band auditions, he should’ve asked  if they could recommend any good replacements.    He even got bored with conventional guitar playing so he invented “New Standard Tuning”  to shake things up.

Put Fripp in this floating man’s place, and what would he be thinking?

Who am I kidding?  He wouldn’t go anywhere without his stool.


Book/Cover:  In the Problem Pit by Frederik Pohl (as featured in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction


Song: “Misunderstood” by Dream Theater


The above story must be about the day in the life of a prog fan.  I’ve been to two Dream Theater concerts in my life, and have seen tons of coverage from shows in other media.  At worst, every fourth person in the crowd looks like this guy.  I say every forth person and not male because I know the audience.  If you do see a woman at a prog gig, she’s either lost or was brainwashed as an infant by a father who roadied for Mike Oldfield.

He represents the worst of the worst when it comes to discussing music.  Who needs to listen to any other forms of music when prog has it all?

“Conventional” rock?  “I remember my first guitar lesson.”

Metal?  “I’d like to keep my brain cells in tact, thank you.”

Jazz?  “If I want to be put to sleep, I prefer the calming hum of a Mellotron.”

Classical?  “I get the gist of it through Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman.”

Hip-hop?  “Big deal!!  Anybody can rap in 4/4 time.”

Electronic?  “I can get better sounds on my old Speak and Spell.”

Punk? “BLASPHEMY!!! That stupid trend that killed the prog movement in the 70’s?? Blasphemy!!  That excuse for music where they can’t even play the only chord they know?  Blasphemy!!  They sing about not selling out, yet they have short hair?  If only I wasn’t so wound up right now, I could think of another word for BLASPHEMY!!!.”

And so on…  but how else to describe him..

  • He refuses to acknowledge songs under six minutes as credible (unless it’s part of a concept album), which is why a part of him dies inside whenever a prog band release a radio edit.
  • He continually goes to Halloween parties without a costume, but claims to be dressed as Steven Wilson.
  • If a girl doesn’t laugh at his tattoo, he knows she’s the one.

He climbs this hill ritually every Sunday for some personal reflection and soul searching.  During these sojourns, he asks himself whether or not he should expand his musical horizons at all.  This quest is quickly abandoned when he attempts to mimic Thijs Van Leer’s yodelling in “Hocus Pocus“.


Book/Cover: Redemption by Robert F. Young


Song: “Los Endos” by Genesis


Great to see that if the United States ever undergoes nuclear fallout, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln will be there to avenge the country.  We see him here literally picking up the pieces of a fallen society.

Hang on a minute!  As evident by the mushroom cloud forming behind him, the attacks are still very much underway.  So one of the first things he does on the scene is gather the crumbled remnants of HIS OWN STATUE????  Honestly, Abe?  How about emancipating some better judgment and do something besides stroke your own ego.

With their album A Trick of the Tail, Genesis had to do some cleaning up of their own.  Peter Gabriel, the undisputable face of the band of their early days, had quit to embark on solo endeavors.  When doing so, he wasn’t going to go out and retread old ideas (unless you count giving your first four albums the exact same title) by falling back on his past cross-dressing, foxy ways.  Gabriel stripped his sound down to the basics, and forged a unique and highly influential music career post-Genesis.

“Los Endos” (The End) seems appropriate.  To many, this was pretty much the conclusion of a beloved prog band.  Genesis, at least for two post-Gabriel albums (their last albums with guitarist Steve Hackett), carried on a familiar progressive rock sound that wouldn’t necessarily alienate their fan base.  They’d eventually become a hit making machine starting with “Follow You, Follow Me” and expanding on this trend through the 80s and 90s.

What remains out there for the fans to cope with the loss of a once great prog band?  And what of prog in general?  You’d see some new bands emerge to wave the prog flag in the 80s (see Marillion) when the likes of Genesis and Yes opted for greater accessibility, but this approach to music was never as prevalent in mainstream like it was during the 70s.

Will prog ever return to it’s 70’s heyday?  Possibly not, but as long as this attire starts making a comeback, I can have hope for a new generation of kids to gain inspiration to step behind walls of keyboards and make eclectic tunes for eclectic people.


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