The description of Space Opera looked entertaining: the fate of humanity hanging on how we do in a Eurovision-type performance. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the book living up to the promise of its description. Then again, I’m middle-age, have never seen a Eurovision competition, and don’t enjoy absurdity or surrealism. Finally, the writing style sounds too much like Douglas Adams, of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, and even Adams can grate on my nerves after a while.
The novel consists of two stories that weave together into the third main story. First, it is an exploration of the history of and behind the Metagalactic Grand Prix, and all of the different races that have participated in it. Valente shows that she is comfortable in the science fiction genre, there are multiple races, all of them wildly different, all of them extraordinarily strange, and none of them predisposed to like, or hate, Earth and humanity. It’s a strange, strange universe that Valente gives us.
The second story is that of Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, three musicians who had one hit many years ago. The band has broken up: Dess tries to continue as a solo artist, Mira dies, and Oort goes “straight”. The stories of their lives could come straight out of the gossip magazines. But when, through the standard absurdity, the band is called to represent Earth, they rise, or try to rise, to the challenge.
The main question of the book is, as Valente asks, “Do you have enough empathy and yearning and desperation to connect to others outside yourself and scream into the void in four-part harmony? … Do you have soul?”
Without giving away how Dess and Oort, and the aliens who try to help and hinder them do, and while admitting that I didn’t much care for the book, won’t be rereading it, and only finished it to write this review, I will tell you this. Valente does have soul, a lot of it.
Valente, Catherynne M. Space Opera. New York, MY: Saga Press, 2018. Kindle edition. Amazon.