When I was younger, I was certain I should like science fiction and fantasy fiction. All the indicators were there, led by an endless affection for the wildly creative worlds found within the pages of comic books. There’s an awful lot of overlap in the Venn diagram that illustrates the people those different fandoms have in common. Besides working my way through the J.R.R. Tolkien books in my household, I actively sought out new and classic science fiction books, creating an especially nerdy history on the account associated with my library card. There was also my hometown bookstore with the ambiance of the inner reaches of a mailbox. While attempts to find major bestsellers were likely to leave patrons flustered, there was always a generous supply of vividly-covered sci-fi paperbacks that looked as though they’d been salvaged from the heart of vicious windstorm. Sampling from those offerings proved to be disheartening, so I sought out guidance wherever I could. Luckily, there was at least one source that steered me to fine works with admirable consistency.
Ridiculously devoted to making sure I received each and every issue of each comic title I collected, I spent my middle school and high school years as a member of subscription services offered by different major retailers. One of those was Denver’s Mile High Comics, which was kind enough to include a monthly promotional publication entitled Mile High Futures with every chunky package they sent my way. I believe it the regular column written by Edward Bryant that introduced me to several satisfying genre works, including a book by first-time author Bradley Denton called Wrack & Roll. Though fairly categorized as science fiction, it’s more accurately termed an alternate history, diverging first when Franklin Delano Roosevelt chokes on a chicken bone in the nineteen-thirties. In this version of the global culture, rock ‘n’ roll, slightly retermed, is inextricably linked with the political fate of humanity. The bulk of the novel follows famed Wracker Lieza Galilei–the daughter of legendary singer Bitch Alice, a performer who was martyred in a spacecraft explosion on the moon–with her actions holding the key to preventing a worldwide disaster.
I’d been hesitant to connect with the other sci-fi I’d read, put off by a level of heavy seriousness I couldn’t quite get past. Wrack & Roll was entirely different, notable for its rambunctiousness, its vibrant energy, its overwhelming sense of intellectual freedom. As far as I could tell, it adhered to no paradigm. It was its own entity, finding snarky truth in a philosophy inspired as much (or more!) by the the snotty agitation of the burgeoning indie rock scene as by any worldview steeped on literary constraints. Much of the science fiction I’d read to that point was overly constrained by literary aspirations, an almost needy attempt to be serious art. Wrack & Roll hardly inverted that–it wasn’t willfully trashy–but it operated entirely on its own terms, finding (and forging) merit entirely under its own terms. It was funny, eloquent and sharply astute entirely under its own terms.
Denton’s name was locked into my brain, so much so that I automatically scoured the robust sci-fi section of the preeminent bookstore in my college town for his name. That how, I’m fairly certain, I found my way to his follow-up, the uniquely titled Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede. I can say that the book looms large for me for an entirely bizarre reason, but even aside from that, I’d have an enormous affection for it, given the sharpness of its satire and the fullness of its characterization. Like all of Denton’s work that I’ve read, it’s constructed with a devotion to the integrity of its internal world that should be the standard of modern fiction, but is often disregarded in favor of whatever sensational aspect is most likely to grab broad attention.
I passed around Denton’s books as enthusiastically as I would have had I’d written them myself. In fact, I have a few friends who have been more thorough in their commitment to Denton than I’ve been, in part, perhaps, because of my influence. That’s got to be one of the clearest indicators of an author’s influence, doesn’t it? That the words they’ve constructed and shared become as vital to share as the most pressing daily news? Or, to traffic in the terminology used for this series of posts, when an author crossed over to being one of “my writers” to being someone who needs to be shared with as many people as possible. From almost the very beginning, that’s who Denton has been to me. I don’t even own a copy of Wrack & Roll any longer. I loaned it out long ago. If the person I gave it to got even a sliver of enjoyment out of it, then it was a worthy sacrifice.