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INTERVIEW: Music & Sci-Fi with John Joseph Adams

Sci-Fi Songwriter John Anealio sits down with Editor and Anthologist John Joseph Adams to talk music and its relationship to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

John Joseph Adams-called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, and The Way of the Wizard. He is a 2011 Hugo Award-nominee for Best Editor (Short Form), and his books have been nominated for the World Fantasy Award. He is also the editor of Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed Magazine. John is also the co-host of io9’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

John Anealio: What was the first album that you bought with your own money? Do you still listen to it now?

John Joseph Adams: I think it was Nirvana’s Nevermind. I generally listen to a playlist of around 200+ recently-acquired songs. I rotate stuff out, rotate new stuff in. So while I haven’t listened to Nevermind in a while, I do still really like the album. Nirvana’s my favorite thing to sing in Rock Band, so I do listen to them fairly often in that context, and actually not too long ago I did have Nevermind and other Nirvana albums in my playlist, as I sort of had a renewed appreciation for them after playing their songs in Rock Band so often.

The first album I can actually remember owning (though I was like 7 or 8, so surely I didn’t buy it with my own money) was Metal Health by Quiet Riot. Can’t say I listen to that anymore, though I suppose it makes sense that my first album would be metal (albeit of a type I would hardly consider metal now).

Anealio: How would you describe the relationship between Music and Science Fiction & Fantasy literature?

Adams: I don’t know about music in general, but I think about the relationship between metal and sf/fantasy quite a bit. Like sf, metal is sort of the outcast of its field, the genre that people just don’t get or actively despise. Like sf, metal also requires more out of the user than other genres to really appreciate it; sf and metal are both more challenging than their more mainstream counterparts.

And, of course there’s the obvious connection: a lot of metal songs have explicitly fantastical lyrical content.

Anealio: Do you listen to music when you edit/write? If so, what?

Adams: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. When I worked at F&SF, my boss (Gordon Van Gelder) would listen to talk radio all day as we worked, and I’ve always found the sound of distinct voices really distracting to me when I’m reading. So I started listening to music while I was reading slush; as a result, I’ve logged some serious hours reading to music.

Now that I’m working from home full-time, I find that more often than not, I don’t listen to music while I’m reading, though I do frequently have it on when I’m doing other things.

As for what I listen to–I just listen to whatever playlist I’ve currently got going. Here’s a link to my current playlist. Although to be honest, I’ve been ignoring it a lot lately in favor of just listening to Scurrilous by Protest the Hero over and over. iTunes tells me I’ve listened to it more than 60 times since it came out on March 22.

Anealio: Any plans for a music-themed speculative fiction anthology or issue of Lightspeed Magazine?

Adams: I would actually love to do a metal-sf anthology–like sf/fantasy stories inspired by metal songs. I’ve even done research into such a project; that is, I’ve hunted around to see who in the genre likes metal. Unfortunately, no one seems to think it would be a commercial enough book to succeed, and, of course, I’d be extremely limited in who I could invite to participate. It would also be really tough to not compromise the purity of the setlist that inspires the stories, since I would have a vision of what bands and songs to include, but the authors would likely have other songs and bands in mind; while we may all like metal, there’s so many varieties that it would be unlikely I could find enough people who have a similar taste in metal as I do.

An issue of Lightspeed or Fantasy would be more feasible, since it’s only four stories, and there’s not as much of a worry about commerciality with the magazines. One trouble there, though, is that both magazines run two originals alongside two reprints every month. And I doubt I could find two reprints of stories explicitly inspired by metal songs.

However, there are a couple of music-themed stories coming up in Fantasy. Cat Rambo’s “The Immortality Game” (June) has a lot of music in it, as does new writer J. S. Breukelaar’s “Union Falls” (July), and the George R. R. Martin story I published in Lightspeed in July 2010, “…for a single yesterday“, deals with music as well.

Anealio: List Your Top 5 Albums of All Time.


  1. Kezia*/Fortress/Scurrilous by Protest the Hero – (Three way tie–I couldn’t possibly choose which of them is the best. All three are amazing, amazing albums, and each is equally impressive in different ways. Scurrilous is their most accomplished work instrumentally and vocally, but is fairly weak lyrically, especially compared to the epic lyrical nature of Kezia and Fortress [seriously, check out the Wikipedia entry for Kezia and see if that doesn’t make you want to check it out]).
  2. Slaughter of the Soul by At the Gates
  3. The Gallery by Dark Tranquillity
  4. Carpet by Ceremonial Oath
  5. Crack the Skye* by Mastodon

And…I’m sorry, I can’t name just five.

  1. Dichotomy by Becoming the Archetype (with the title track being clearly one of my favorite songs ever; iTunes indicates I’ve listened to it 182 times.)
  2. Eluveitie’s albums (again, really kind of impossible to choose between them, they’re all amazing)
  3. The Red Album & The Blue Record by Baroness (progressive metal at its finest–both brilliant)
  4. To the Nameless Dead by Primordial
  5. Trivium’s albums (Ember to Inferno, Ascendency, Shogun, and, to a lesser extent, The Crusade, largely because the title track is one of the most amazing metal instrumentals ever.)

* SFnal concept album.

About John Anealio (116 Articles)
John Anealio performs geeky anthems for writers, librarians, lovers of Sci-Fi, Best Buy customers & robots. His music sounds like John Mayer, Weezer & James Taylor playing Dungeons & Dragons together on their iPhones.
Contact: Website

1 Comment on INTERVIEW: Music & Sci-Fi with John Joseph Adams

  1. Now I have some more music to go investigate.  Excellent!

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