Stranger Things is the nostalgic, 80’s Sci-Fi, ‘Spielbergian’ adventure– set in 1983 – it revolves around a group of young geeky misfits, in the small Indiana town of Hawkins, who embark on a determined search for their friend Will, who mysteriously disappears as he cycles home one night. It is a thrilling Sci-Fi adventure reminiscent of Spielberg’s work, with ominous figures in hazmat suits, walkie-talkie managed missions, height-elevating hairstyles, venturesome boys on their bikes and a strange alien-like friend, all it lacks are glowing fingertips and flying bicycles! Interweaved amongst the nerdy escapades and bicycle-bound adventures is a disquieting and jittery tale, with sinister shadowy dimensions and looming monsters, which is redolent to works by the master of 1980s horror, Stephen King.
Stranger Things 2 is returning in time for Halloween – the official trailer stylishly orchestrated to Michael Jacksons, Thriller – promises us colossal new monsters, a treasure trove of nostalgic 80’s pop culture references and Ghostbuster suits! In anticipation of its upcoming release and for all those who feel like they’re turning their world ‘Upside Down’, in a do-or-die search for material that quenches their Stranger Things cravings, here are five books that may keep you ‘above ground’ whilst we wait.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Ready Player One is Cline’s enthralling debut science-fiction novel. Set in the year 2044 – the world is a dismal and ugly place – we’ve devastated the climate, ran out of oil and the populace is riven by poverty and disease – to escape their increasingly dire and depressing reality, nearly everyone spends their waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a global virtual reality, where they ‘exist’ as avatars of their own design, living like hermits and never meeting in the flesh. James Halliday is the founder of this sprawling virtual utopia, before he dies, he creates the ultimate treasure hunt – a Willy Wonka-esque quest – whoever can solve the riddles he has slyly planted within his geekoid reality, will inherit control of the OASIS and his massive fortune. For years, millions have struggled in vain to get their hands on the prize, then suddenly Wade Watts the stories lovable, geeky and socially awkward protagonist stumbles onto the key to the first riddle – thereafter Wade is thrown into a desperate chase which results in sinister real-world consequences.
At first glance, aside from its nerdy nature, Ready Player One seems to have little in common with Stranger Things. However, there is one bulgingly-obvious similarity, from start to finish this techy tale is brimming with 80s pop culture trivia – Cline meticulously interweaves references to 80s TV, film and games with his action-packed plotline – there are coin-operated arcade games, neighboring Star Wars and Star Trek realms, 3D Dungeons & Dragons quests, Voigtht-Kampff machines (Bladerunner) and to top it off the narrative oozes with wonderful 80s-retro movie banter like ‘Don’t call me Shirley.’ (‘Airplane!’).
Jon Scalzi, bestselling author of Old Man’s War, commented: ‘Imagine Dungeons and Dragons and an 80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth. If you’re not already experiencing a nerdgasm at the thought, I don’t want to know you.’ We think the 80s references and ‘nerdgasm’ effect alone make this a worthy read for any Stranger Things fans but were also excited that this fantastic novel has been developed into a film, set to release in March 2018, which quite fittingly is directed by – guess who – Spielberg!
Paper Girls – Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls is the Eisner Award-winning Image Comics series by New York Times bestselling writer of SAGA, Brian K. Vaughan, and celebrated artist of Wonder Woman, Cliff Chiang. Much alike Stranger Things, Paper Girls is a nostalgia-rich, coming of age tale set in the 1980s. Thus, its pages are brimming with fun vibrant ‘knick-knacks’ from the era, from brick-sized walkie talkies and cinematic bike riding scenes to wacky hair-dos. For those that enjoyed the blend of 80s references, heart-warming teamwork and Sci-Fi horror in Stranger Things, this first-class comic is a must read, Vaughan and Chiang manage to artistically and gracefully unite suburban drama with alien invasions and otherworldly nightmares in a plot they described as ‘Stand by Me’ meets ‘War of the Worlds.’
There is one crucial difference – one that we adore – typically 80s adventures, from Stand by Me and ET to The Goonies and Stranger Things itself – are dominated by heroic troops of boys – but Paper Girls stars a formidable band of 12-year old girls – Erin, KJ, Tiffany, and Mac, armed with totemic makeshift weapons, from field hockey sticks to penknives form a ferocious girl posse.
Vaughan commented “I’ve always enjoyed writing female characters, but sometimes it feels like even when they’re protagonists, they’re still defined by their relationships with male characters. I wanted to write about girls who could just be characters on their own, who weren’t defined by their interactions with men.”
These four teens are the newspaper delivery girls – Paper Girls – we join them on their paper run, in the early hours after Halloween as they begin to uncover the most important story of all time – a story oozing with mysterious Sci-Fi twists from time-warped realities and disappearing parents to monsters in the sky. All in all, Paper Girls is a fun read for all ages and a must for fans of Stranger Things.
IT – Stephen King
IT – is the terrifying tale by Stephen King, an author, that throughout the 70s worked his way to becoming the world’s principal writer of horror fiction – and thereafter the master of 1980s horror. His novel, IT, is a nostalgia-rich story about a group of preteen friends – nicknamed the Losers’ Club – who gradually over the year, begin noticing that there’s a cyclic pattern to deaths in their small hometown – Derry – with kids dying in malicious events recurring every 27 years or so – thereafter the Losers Club are hauled unceremoniously into a spine-chilling investigation of the sinister force behind the terrors that haunt their small town – an investigation that stalks them into adulthood – when they must confront IT once again as it calls them back to their past nightmares and into a fearsome present reality.
It’s clear that IT shares many parallels with Stranger Things – from a gang of misfits and Stand-By-Me-esque teenage friendships to mysterious monsters and sinister realities – that’s why we think it’s a fitting read for Stranger Things fans. Further, James Smythe, in his Guardian review, remarks that IT isn’t just a ‘novel about scary clowns and giant spiders’ but one about the ‘depths of pain that teenagers suffer’ and recapturing the goodness of childhood in adulthood, something that we feel Stranger Things also strives to do. However, unlike Stranger Things, King doesn’t explore the frightening depths of the ‘Upside Down’, instead he ventures deep into our psyches and lets our darkest fears gush in torrents of black ink from his writers ‘pen’ – thereafter to come to vivid life upon the page – from the visual horrors of clowns and giant spiders to lurking deeper fears, that seep assiduously into adulthood, such as loneliness and being forgotten- this is not a tale for the faint-hearted.
Hopefully, fans of Stranger Things have already been to see the newest film adaptation which has come out this month and funnily enough stars Finn Wolfhard, who acts Mike in Stranger Things, if not, and you can stand being scared witless, it’s a worthwhile companion to the novel.
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
Published in 1962 – A Wrinkle in Time – is the fantastical children’s classic written by Madeleine L’Engle. A brief plot synopsis makes it immediately clear why L’Engle’s work should appeal to Stranger Things fans – in this imaginative tale, we embark on a Sci-Fi adventure with a band of young misfits, who are travelling through time and space to rescue a kidnapped relative from the shadowy clutches of a dark otherworldly ‘monster’ – sound familiar? Aside from the parallelism in the plot, A Wrinkle in Time also hosts a wonderful cast of characters that are as heroic, loveable and endearing as the Stranger Things troop. Although, there are no bicycle dashes or walkie talkies, this adventure-devouring coming of age novel is full of geeky quips, alien planets, ‘tesseracts’ and dark things that threaten to overcome the universe. It is a book that can be enjoyed by both children and adults, and much alike Ready Player One, it will be released as a film in March 2018, so there seems no better a time to give it a read.
To read another take on the novel – see ‘An Introduction to Feminist Sci-Fi’.
Notes from the Upside Down: An Unofficial Guide to Stranger Things – Guy Adams
For those desperate to learn more about Stranger Things this ‘unofficial guide’ is a good place to start, it discusses plot-inspiring people and events including both Spielberg and King and the mysterious Montauk Project conspiracy theory – whilst simultaneously offering eighties music playlists and an endless stream of quirky trivia.