5 Albums I'd Like to Read

3. Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid

If we're going to talk science-fiction albums, we have to talk about Janelle Monae. Essentially a fully realized SF world unto itself, her Metropolis suite is like a 96-minute tour de force through the mind of a sci-fi geek: Time travel, messianic cyborgs, oppressive regimes of the future, genorape, rebellion, robot love.

Even without delving too deeply into the world of Cindi Mayweather, it's clear that Monae has put a lot of thought into her characters and backstory. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that she's invented several fully functioning languages to accompany her cast, like Tolkein's Elvish or Trekkies' Klingon.

For the novelization, I'd like to see Heinlein and Bradbury team up to take a crack at it (remember, it's science fiction). Their deft handling of themes of repression and rebellion seem well suited to Mayweather's story. Few people deal as comfortably in themes of futurist sexuality as Heinlein, and Bradbury's gift for lyrical prose seems a great way to spin lyrics in the other direction.

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2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

I'll admit a bit of bias in this one. Houston, with its colossal sprawl, easy sense of forgotten spaces and discarded history, and position as a sort of 21st-century cultural crossroads, would make a heck of a backdrop for a certain kind of story. Win and William Butler's story seems ready-made for Houston's outer districts, and with good cause.

Boredom infuses the album, equally met with a fondness for the ingenuity that comes from it. There's a reason much of the album spins its tale from the back seat of a moving vehicle, as its characters look, quite simply, for something to do. That's part of the certain kind of life that is only possible living on the fringes of a metropolis. Not close enough to be fully a part of it, yet not far enough flung as to be a thing wholly apart. The album touches on this sense of otherness, sending its tendrils into the cracks that form between the edges of society, searching for meaning in the gaps it creates.

The most fascinating part of all of this is the voice. Told at once through the eyes of youth and experience, it's more than nostalgia. It's an acknowledgment that adults are more than refined versions of their childhood selves, that riding around in cars wasn't just something we all did before we grew into actual lives.

It's a search for meaning in both directions. It's a refusal to rest easily on the notion of the innocence of earlier days, a refusal to imbue anything with more meaning than is deserved, a refusal to strip that meaning away. It's a recognition that you, living your tedious life outside of some town somewhere, are living a life just the same, and you might as well go ahead and live it.

A tale so deeply involved in the lives of the young must be carefully considered, especially when it's equally told from the arm's-length perspective of age. Early in his career, horror-cum-science fiction author Dan Simmons showed about as deft a hand as I've ever encountered in conjuring up the minds and mentalities of bored but resourceful youth, later retelling the same tale through the fog of years.

Clearly, this album needs a more straightforward telling. It's not Simmons the genre writer I'm looking for, here. It's his ability to make me believe that his teenage characters are in fact, and that their adult counterparts are as much older versions of themselves as I am an older version of the boy who broke into abandoned suburban houses in search of adventure.

To spin both sides of that tale is a delicate act, taking the here and now, merging it with the never was, and making it utterly believable in both tenses. Arcade Fire does it admirably in song, and Simmons would do it admirably on the page.

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