Summarized from the publisher: The Hitchhiker’s Guide meets Eurovision in an over-the-top galactic spectacle where sentient races compete for glory in a universe-wide musical contest – where the stakes are as high as the fate of planet Earth. Once every cycle, the civilizations of the galaxy gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix – part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. This year, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny – they must sing. Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have been chosen to represent their planet on the greatest state in the galaxy. And the fate of Earth lies in their ability to rock.
HARDCOVER, 294 PAGES
2018, SAGA PRESS
I’ve never watched Eurovision (though I have a rough idea of what it is) and I’m not a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (sorry!) and upon hearing that you’re probably wondering why I picked this up in the first place. Well, I have a couple of Catherynne M. Valente’s books on my shelves that I haven’t managed to get around to. I’ve been on a sci-fi kick recently too, and despite the Hitchhiker’s reference, I thought this one sounded exciting and unique.
While it didn’t excite me, it’s certainly unique. I understand the Hitchhiker’s reference in terms of the overall tone of the book and the whole, humans-discovering-the-larger-universe-while-their-home-planet-is-in-peril thing. That’s where Valente lost me, though I still find the concept interesting and I did laugh several times while reading.
In a nutshell, this book was too hard for me to follow. There is a lot going on in each sentence. The tone was frantic and hyperactive and each sentence is crammed with colorful adjectives. It felt like I was reading at high-speed or trying to follow a story told by a friend who digresses mid-sentence and then digresses from their digression, over and over.
Many of the paragraphs are roughly a page long and it felt like the literary equivalent of being unable to catch my breath. The sentences weave between past and present and in general, it felt like an imagery overload. As a result, not only was the plot hard to follow, but I couldn’t picture much.
From what little I gathered, washed-up rock star, Decibel Jones, is called upon by the alien race (somewhat like a blue flamingo crossed with an anglerfish, I guess) sponsoring Earth in the Grand Prix to sing for the human race. He needs to reunite the band and come up with an epic song in order to save humans from being wiped off the face of Earth and its resources parceled out to the other species. No pressure.
I felt like I learned more about Decibel’s fashion than I did his actual character, despite being given a pretty comprehensive run-down of his past. Perhaps if this book was tonally different, I could have retained more of the plot. There are several interludes that detail the previous Grand Prix’s, but by that point, I was already checked out. When Decibel and company got to space, my brain was too tired to piece together any images and I just had to stop reading. That being said, I don’t hate this book and I wanted to talk about it, because I think many of you out there will find it a lot more enjoyable than I did!
But, as I said, this book wasn’t without its funny moments. Here are a few highlights:
Rule 3 for the Grand Prix – “All species applying for recognition as intelligent, self-aware (not a huge barrel of dicks), and generally worth the time it takes to get to their shi**y planet, wherever that may be, must compete.”
“He’d only said what he meant, which was, when you thought about it, a minor superpower, because so few people ever did.”
“I would just focus on defense. Humans have no special physical attributes whatsoever, it’s really quite remarkable.”
Even though Space Opera wasn’t for me, I still plan on reading more of Valente’s work. I think many of you will still enjoy this if you can handle the style of writing. I’ve heard from some who enjoyed Hitchhiker’s that they’ve enjoyed this too – so it would seem the comparison is an accurate one (we all know books are often compared to others in blurbs and it turns out to be a letdown, but that’s a topic for another day.) If you’re interested in a crazy, adjective-filled journey through space and song, check out Space Opera!
Thank you to Saga Press and Wunderkind for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.