Fans of Janis Ian have always appreciated the storytelling aspect of her songs.
Now 30 fans of the renowned singer/songwriter — who are also top science fiction writers — have teamed for “Stars,” a collection of original sci-fi stories based on Ian’s songs and published by Daw Books.
“Of the 30 writers, 29 already owned my work,” Ian says. She wrote the “Second Person Unmasked” entry, which derives from her song “His Hands,” from her 1993 comeback album “Breaking Silence.” “It’s a nice testament to how far your work can reach.”
Ian’s love of science fiction reaches back to her childhood. “I’ve been reading it since I could read,” she says. Her father, who was a music teacher, also read a lot of science fiction, and both parents were voracious readers.
Ian saw all of fiction “as one continuum: ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ — about a talking bear — was as much science fiction to me as [the Isaac Asimov sci-fi classic] ‘I, Robot.'”
Ian cites such albums as “Breaking Silence” and “God & the FBI” (2000) as proof of how science fiction has influenced her songwriting. “You can draw direct lines,” she says, crediting Orson Scott Card’s “Tales of Alvin Maker” with supplying the fire imagery in “This House,” from “Breaking Silence.”
Card’s “Stars” story “Inventing Lovers on the Phone” returned the favor by cribbing its title from a line in Ian’s classic “At Seventeen.”
Ian says that “Tattoo,” from “Breaking Silence,” was heavily influenced by Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” about a girl who is cast back in time to the Holocaust. Yolen’s “Ride Me Like a Wave” in “Stars” takes its entire title from another Ian song.
“The best science fiction speaks from the heart, which is what I try to do in my songwriting,” Ian continues, adding: “I’ve always thanked authors who’ve influenced my songs and sent them a copy of the CD with a note.”
Sci-fi fans will marvel at the “amazing list” of participants — and their creativity within the context of Ian’s songs.
She notes that Nancy Kress’ “Ejes” is based on her classic “Jessie” — but it turns Jessie into a brain virus. Taking great pleasure, she further notes that David Gerrold — who penned the beloved “Star Trek” episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” and patterned “Riding Janis” in “Stars” after Ian’s and Bill Lloyd’s “If We Had Wings” — named a comet after her in the story.
“It was a real labor of love for me,” Ian says of the anthology. “Obviously, most of my audience aren’t science fiction buffs: It’s like being a Delta blues buff in that it’s a niche market. But science fiction is really the jazz of prose — and the cutting-edge of prose. It’s one of the few forms still dealing with issues like war and racism.
Meanwhile, Ian has just completed a forthcoming live double-CD set, “Working Without a Net,” for Oh Boy Records. She’s particularly thrilled to report that her next studio album, also for Oh Boy, will feature a duet with Dolly Parton, “My Tennessee Hills.”
Excerpted from the Aug. 16, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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