To celebrate the publication of novel Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free through Titan Books, author Randy Henderson has kindly wrote a piece for us looking at the appeal of 80’s nostalgia.
What is the appeal of 80s nostalgia in fiction?
Well, for me, there’s the Finny answer, and the thinky answer.
My character Finn is the same age as me, and in Finn Fancy Necromancy he’s returning to our world after being exiled to a Fey Other Realm since 1986. Then in Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, he’s slowly catching up on pop culture, covering up to 1989 by the end of the book. Why? Honestly, just so I had an excuse for him to reference the 80s movies and music I love, and do things like solve problems using his trusty Commodore 64.
Or more to the point, because there is much from the 80s that’s totally awesome, and sometimes, writers just wanna have fun.
Don’t get me wrong, Reaganomics or Thatcherism, “Greed is Good” and the need for Comic Relief are not exactly nostalgia-worthy for a lot of us. But as a fantasy and scifi geek, the 80s feel like a golden era. If we consider just the genre movies alone (not even classics like Die Hard or Karate Kid), you have:
Star Wars V and VI, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Conan, Aliens, The Evil Dead, Time Bandits, Gremlins, Friday the 13th, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Nightmare on Elm Street, Brazil, The Last Starfighter, Hellraiser, The NeverEnding Story, Tron, Ghostbusters, The Lost Boys, Re-Animator, The Thing, Stephen King’s film heyday, Robocop, Predator, Princess Bride, Beetlejuice, Willow, My Neighbor Totoro, Akira, Batman (Burton style), The Abyss, the Star Trek movies with KHAAAAAANN and whales — not to mention a new Star Trek generation on TV.
Meanwhile, computers started to become common in homes, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rocked the tabletop and we evolved from Atari to Nintendo and Genesis.
And then of course there’s the music: Post-Punk, New Wave, New Romantics, the emergence of Rap and 80s Hip Hop. An amazing musical decade (at least until 1988).
In short, the 80s are a great time for a geek to Quantum Leap back to, with an incredible soundtrack for your vacation there. Or I suppose you could use Total Recall and just believe you took that trip. Either way, a most Excellent Adventure.
As for the thinky answer, well, our memory is tricky and selective enough that we probably remember many of the “good” things from the past as being much better than they actually were.
And I assume, perhaps wrongly, that nostalgia for the music and experiences of our youth are strong because they are tied to the heightened emotions and limited perspective of the time. To fifteen-year-old me, my music, my handful of friends, and even the books and games I consumed, they were my whole world, each with an intensity and sense of concentrated importance that few things hold today between all of the options, responsibilities, and distractions of adult life.
Certainly, there can be bad forms of nostalgia. For example, nostalgia for some idyllic past version of our society that never actually existed, ignoring the very real problems, imbalances and lack of freedoms that existed in that past time.
But nostalgia for those things that brought us joy in the past makes us feel connected to that past, which gives us a sense of continuity and well-being in the present. And when bored or blue, it helps us remember that we are not always so, that there are brighter moments.
Nostalgia, in short, can make us feel a little better for a time, tapping into past happiness.
And now, I’m writing book 3, Smells Like Finn Spirit, and I — er, I mean Finn — is moving forward into nostalgia for the 90s. It will be interesting to see what Finn latches onto in the decade of Nirvana and Blur, 28.8k modems and the Simpsons. Whatever it is, I’m sure writing it will be an Absolutely Fabulous experience.
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Randy Henderson is an author, milkshake connoisseur, Writers of the Future grand prize winner, relapsed sarcasm addict, and Clarion West graduate.