“SPACE OPERA” by CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE is a book so up my alley that I put off reading it for years because I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to its incredible sound. I can tell you now that I was wrong.
But before telling you about the book, let me ask you: have you heard of Eurovision? It’s an annual song contest that the nations of Europe have held since 1956. Each country contributes a song and performs it live, and the whole thing is broadcast on television for viewers at home. Kind of like the Pop Music Olympics.
“Space Opera” is Eurovision, but in space.
Decibel Jones – former supergroup frontman Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros – is asleep in his small London flat when he is visited by an electric blue flamingo claiming to be from another planet.
The creature is called an Esca and it came to Earth with a somewhat menacing invitation.
She explains that all known sentient species in the universe come together every year for a song contest. They play whatever instruments they have and sing with whatever they use to produce speech – be it a mouth, a trunk, or a hollow melodic rib cage.
All species that have developed the ability to travel in space are required to send a representative to the contest. Which means Earth must now participate. And as a race demanding intergalactic recognition of their sentience, they must rank better than dead last.
If they come last, they will have proven themselves insentient, unable to co-exist with the other species, and their entire race will be wiped out – in order to protect the other races from the threat of a non-sentient species that makes havoc on everyone. other.
The Esca explains the stakes to Decibel and all the other humans on the planet simultaneously. She then presents humanity with a list of artists who have the best chance of succeeding in the Metagalactic Grand Prix. Bottom of the list: Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros.
The next thing he knows, Dess finds himself with his ex-boyfriend, Oort St. Ultraviolet, aboard a spaceship heading for the Metagalactic Grand Prix, with the fate of the world on their shoulders.
The two must write and perform a new song that will even appeal to an intergalactic panel of judges a bit, while rubbing shoulders with unusual beings from across the universe.
“Space Opera” is so much fun to read. Valente mixes a lot of humor and heart into its story of impending global destruction. Readers get a glimpse of what people on earth experience watching the Grand Prix and a glimpse into Dess’ childhood, as a child dancing in her grandmother’s scarves and a teenager designing her first racing outfit. scene from the trash cans of the thrift store.
From their conception, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros were decidedly glamorous. He was a mid-2000s British pop sensation that burned briefly, but brilliantly.
The three band members, Dess, Oort and Mira Wonderful Star, were a world apart. Until Mira tragically died years ago. Without her, and with the band already fading from the spotlight, Dess and Oort had no reason to continue. Dess embarked on a solo career, and Oort married and had two children.
Decibel Jones is Arthur Dent meets Lady Gaga; he’s an outsider in the galaxy, but he tries to handle everything with the practiced disinterest you expect from a rockstar. And if you don’t like Dess, then you’ll like Oort, which is the embodiment of stability – the rock that held the absolute zeros together for their duration.
Valente presented a great example of my favorite sci-fi genre, the genre that went to space for fun. She was inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is the quintessential fun sci-fi book.
Valente devotes paragraphs to the history of an extraterrestrial species or the peculiarities of its homeworld – a convention that Douglas Adams used extensively in Hitchhiker’s. Her story is brief, but the world she built is populated by so many interesting characters that “Space Opera” barely scratched the surface.
ALYSSA BERRY is the Technical Services Librarian at the Joplin Public Library.