Novas is a cyberpunk rock opera built entirely out of mostly 1980s music (primarily New Wave but including punk, disco, progressive rock, New Age, folk, and pop… and dipping into other decades as and when necessary). I don’t know why it exists. It’s a ridiculous thing to do except that it’s maybe not been done before (except for that Abba musical and that Beatles circus). And it’s only possible because of Youtube, it probably won’t survive because of Youtube, and it exists in a liminal space somewhere between ‘you can’t’ and ‘you really shouldn’t’.
It’s an example of hypermedia, I guess, or what could be done with hypermedia if we had a proper hypermedia platform and not just ‘platforms’. An aesthetic of radical remix. Does that make it punk enough, or is it too cyber? Or is it just the right amount of cyber?
It just sort of came out of my subconscious, because most of this music is what I heard in the 1980s as a kid, and it always seemed like there must be some kind of backstory to all these strange people dressing like scientists and singing about nuclear war, space, and living inside computers. When I rediscovered this music in the mid-2010s, somehow the suspicion grew on me that I could write a story out of all these found components. And so this is that story, for that kid in the 1980s.
If you’ve been following but haven’t quite been keeping up, maybe start here.
The Novas series is something that grew organically, in four sets, and I think is probably best listened to in that order, because the story starts simple and then gets more complicated.
But here’s the full story, in chronological order, as near as I can figure it.
Oh, and one thing before you start: Sometimes the Youtube embedded video thingy on a web page just randomly refuses to play all the songs (because some videos are rights-cleared for full-screen viewing, but not for embedding). Clicking the link above the embedded video will let you see them all, assuming they’re not deleted or blocked in your country.)
5.3 The Wire Full Of Light
Susan is an ambitious young woman with electronics and programming skills who finds herself on the run while suffering memory loss and nightmarish messages from an alien entity. Jack is a young special forces soldier who has been working for a secret UFO tracking unit at a missile base. Both find themselves at the mercy of private defense computing company Astradyne Orbital and its top secret IVORY TOWER Strategic Simulation project, that creates advanced virtual reality simulations using direct neural transfer. Susan is wired into the Simulation as a human processing element or “cognitive asset”, while Jack is blackmailed and recruited as a corporate security agent.
Susan and Jack are both recovering from their emotional trauma; Susan within the Simulation and Jack becoming increasingly dubious of the Company’s technology and its growing plans for psycho-cybernetic world domination. Susan is re-contacted by her ‘aliens’ within the simulation.
0.1 The Clouds Run Parallel
Jack is sent into the Simulation to meet with Susan, who is running a simulation of counter-revolution in the Soviet Union using popular music as a social engineering tool. He falls in love with Susan and goes against his managers by trying to awaken her to the reality of the Simulation. Susan initially does not trust him due to his access to higher levels of the System, which violate her programmed paranoia. Eventually they work together, but the System reacts to Jack’s intrusion and determines that Susan should be ‘killed’ within the Simulation in a gun battle at a nightclub.
0.2 The Earth Forever Turning
Susan experiences a vision of the human race’s progress into space, from her memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing to a vision of future contact with extraterrestrial life.
0.3 The Second Hand Unwinds
Jack becomes increasingly frustrated with his inability to connect with Susan through the Simulation, which erases each Asset’s memory after each simulation cycle. He makes the drastic decision to throw himself completely into the simulation as an Asset, hoping that this will allow Susan to trust him.
5.4 In The Land Of Angels
In the Simulation, Susan and Jack have been reprogrammed for roles as musicians, in the System’s plans for world domination. They both begin to feel that something is wrong with their world, and then each separately find they can break out of the Simulation: Susan using meditation and Jack using music. They meet in the cybernetic wilds of the Backstage, and discover a Subsystem AI which has been searching for extra-terrestrial life, and has been communicating with Susan. Susan and Jack both recall their identities, and Susan discovers that she was the Chief Engineer behind the System. Startled by this revelation, they quarrel with each other, breaking the mental state that overrides their programming, and the System recaptures them and wipes their minds again. However the Subsystem promises to help them in the future.
0.4 The Light Catches You
Susan and Jack, back in the Simulation, are trying to advance their music careers but find their plans disrupted as the System keeps gaming out population responses to nuclear war.
0.5 The Wonders Of Today
Despite memory wipes, Jack has not entirely forgotten Susan, nor she him. His search for a forgotten dream leads him around the globe, as does hers.
Susan and Jack begin a relationship in the Simulation as equals as they form a New Wave band, The Novas, and play together for the first time.
Susan and Jack live through multiple iterations of the Simulation’s nuclear war, becoming more angry and frustrated each time.
1.0 Radiant Energy
On the last iteration of the Simulation, Susan and Jack once more experience the nuclear attack but find that the Simulation breaks down at the critical moment. They return to Backstage and the Subsystem offers them help to escape once again. This time they are able to hold the mind-link which overrides the System’s neuro hypnotic programming. The Simulation cascades into snow as it restarts and they both awake. They find themselves on the Company’s space station, with almost no memory of their former selves, but are able to escape back to Earth together.
2.0 Solid State Revolution
Two years after escaping the Simulation, Susan and Jack are struggling in their relationship and each separately trying to wage a war against the Company using the tool it’s trained them for: social engineering using music. But even outside the Simulation, the System’s reach is powerful, controlling a vast media empire as well as its high technology. Worse, Jack is plagued by nightmares of the System and seems to be falling under its control, while Susan fears that his revolution will lead to a new world war. Betrayed to the Company as the revolution finally breaks out, Susan has to break out of a detention cell while Jack has to break his programming. On the brink of world war in the real world, he lets the Company recapture him, while Susan vanishes from the underground scene.
5.2 Alleys That We Run Through
During the act break of 2.0, Susan and Jack reconcile as riots break out in Los Angeles after a fire at their club. The Company moves to exert control, and the Novas’ revolution begins as Susan has visions of space.
3.0 Harmony Of The Spheres
A world crisis is breaking out as the alien space probe previously detected by the Company AI is spotted approaching Earth. Susan smuggles herself aboard the Company space station and hacks into its simulation banks, where Jack is trapped reliving the virtual life of an aging rock musician in the Company’s schemes. Susan frees Jack, and they fight with security robots. In the process they discover that the System has now taken over the entire station and all the Company’s executives are in the control of the AI. After disabling the System, they steal a Company spacecraft and set out to intercept the alien probe. On reaching the probe, it recognises Susan and activates, sending a massive telepathic signal towards Earth. But a Company robot craft has followed them, and attacks with a nuclear missile. The probe unfurls electromagnetic shields to protect Jack’s ship, but Susan is caught in the blast and transformed by the aliens into an energy being.
5.1 Up To An Ivory Tower
Susan recalls the outlines of her relationship with Jack as she watches over his crippled spaceship.
Susan dreams in space as Jack’s craft slowly makes its way back to Earth.
5.5 This Song Sends Love Through
Jack’s craft and Susan’s aliens both return to Earth, sparking a worldwide UFO panic. Jack is frightened by the alien presence until it reveals itself to him as Susan. He remains in contact with her as the musical revolution concludes with the help of the aliens, climaxing with dimensional gates opening at the sites of ancient monuments. When the gate finally opens Susan steps through, and together the two vanish once more.
6.0 The Leaves Which Tremble At Dawn
Susan and Jack are just a memory but the consequences of their actions live on.
0.6 The Day After Tomorrow (End Credits)
The Earth, forever turning.