Monday, May 7, 2018

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (author), Heath Miller (narrator)

Highbridge, April 2018

Eurovision in space.

No, really.

This is humorous sf, strongly influenced by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Not everyone will love it. Some people will find it hopelessly over the top, especially if that's how they felt about Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

I loved it.

Earth has discovered that we are not alone in the big, beautiful universe, or even in the galaxy. There's a galactic confederation that, since the Sentience Wars a hundred years ago, have worked at system to decide who gets to join the sentience club, and who gets eliminated permanently, with their planet getting a chance to try again when another species has evolved far enough to be contemplating space travel.

The system is a totally over-the-top musical competition. It's an interstellar, inter-species Eurovision, and performance on stage matters at least as much as the song itself. New species competing for the first time don't have to win; they do have to not lose. Established species who finish dead last are confined to their own planet for a long time to contemplate their mistakes. New species competing for the first time, if they finish dead last, are eliminated permanently, their species exterminated, with as little damage to their planet as reasonably possible so that the biosphere can try again to produce a sentient species.

The aliens have been monitoring Earth's transmissions since the beginning of radio, and they have a list of possible representatives to compete on Earth's behalf in the Galactivision competition. Unfortunately, most of them are dead.

The trio Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes are chosen, not quite by default.

Unfortunately, only two of the three, Decibel himself and Oort (I listened to the audiobook and didn't, alas, get his last name well enough to reproduce it here), are left, Mira Wonder Star having died in a car crash. Neither of the m thinks they can really do it without Mira, but since the alternative is that Earth finishes dead last by default and everyone dies, they are shortly on their way to the contest site, 7,000 lightyears away. They're accompanied by a couple of friendly aliens, one of whom is apparently a big, blue flamingo. Oh, and Oort's children's cat, Kaypro, is with them, and newly endowed with the ability to talk.

This is a completely madcap, insane rollercoaster ride, so far over the top you can't even see the top anymore, and it's a lot of fun. It's also sharp and insightful and warm and decent. The characters learn and grow and are well worth spending the time with, especially, but not exclusively, Decibel and Oort. Valente uses the language beautifully, and it was a lot of fun to listen to Heath Miller reading it.

Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.