Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented-something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.
Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix – part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.
This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny – they must sing.
A one-hit-wonder band of human musicians, dancers and roadies from London – Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes – have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.
If I had realized this novel was British I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I knew it was a comedy, but for whatever reason British humor doesn’t work for me written down. Maybe it’s the accent missing, or something, I don’t know. But this was definitely in the tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so however you feel about that book, you are likely to have similar feelings about Space Opera.
In general, there was too much exposition for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was FUNNY exposition. If you think British humor is funny. Which apparently I don’t… Anyway, it was terribly funny, and my Instagram story quickly filled up with one-liners I just had to share. But after 150 pages and nothing seemed to have actually HAPPENED yet, I started wishing for more plot and less humor.
I also did not at all like any of the characters. Possibly because we didn’t get to know them too well due to so much time being spent introducing every species in the known universe. But also possibly because they are all jerks. Hard to say, really. I think they are definitely supposed to be jerks, but that’s just not my favorite.
A pleasant surprise was that this novel is actually kind of about anti-immigrant sentiment, especially anti-Indian/Pakistani sentiment in the UK, but you could definitely apply those ideas to any immigrant group. It was well handled and thought-provoking.
I also loved how the whole thing features the VERY important question “What makes a person a person?” Like, why are humans people, but chimps aren’t? And this is done in an incredibly humorous way throughout the novel, but Valente was also quite serious about the question. I think her inevitable conclusion was that it’s all subjective anyway, so whatever measure we decide on is what’s it going to be, but we need to at least decide already.
If you are looking for a rocking, glittery, queer Hitchhiker’s Guide, then look no further! This is 100% the book for you! If you are NOT, keep walking.