“In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” – Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
Great lines are always difficult and tricky little bastards to peg down. I think this is especially true of comedic works, where you are balancing setting your tone of voice with your setting and the style of humor. While Adams’ first book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, is more well-know, I think the line from Restaurant is funnier, though not by much. And it’s this style of humor that Cat Valente captures so charmingly in her new novel, Space Opera.
In other words, if you enjoy Adams, you’re going to enjoy Valente.
Valente first came to my attention on twitter, although I can’t recall how now. My wife picked up one of her previous books which had gotten some really good press. Then I started seeing all her tweets about her upcoming space opera, entitled “Space Opera”, and was excited enough to pre-order it based on some early great reviews (NPR did a knock down one that really convinced me to purchase it).
I was not disappointed. At. All.
SPOILERS FROM HERE OUT:
This is the book you want if you love David Bowie, Eurovision Contest, and sequins on tight clothing. This is the story of Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, and isn’t that just the fucking PERFECT name for a glam-rock-punk-insert-about-a-hundred-other-weird-categories-here band? This is not the story of their rise and fall, though it is that, too. This is the story of how a washed up lead singer and the remaining member of his trio of mushy mushy friends try to save earth from obliteration by singing in the intergalactic equivalent of the Eurovision music show, and do so while surrounded by talking rainbow flamingoes, exploded hippo heads, and a species of gaseous ballons called Ursula.
And I haven’t even begun to scratch the hilarious weirdness of this beautiful, delicious novel.
The writing is stellar. If I have any criticism at all of this book, its that you can easily get lost in the black hole of a paragraph, with sentences so long they begun to construct mansions for themselves, and more commas than a speach written by Christopher Walken and performed by William Shatner. It’s a mild criticism though, because through all those twists and turns, you wind up coming out the other end of these long sentences with a hilarious punch to the funny bone. The sarcasm, snark, and brilliance of her humor more than makes up for how my eyes once in a while glossed over as I wound my way through the spirals of words.
World – universe? – building is pure heaven. The alien races are simply amazing, with life forming in so many complex ways that Star Trek should retire in shame at this point, with its “ten thousand different variations on two arms, two legs, and a bumpy forehead.” I was particular fond of the creatures of absolute blackness, who live on a planet that is a giant combination library and secret storage place for all universal secrets where no light can ever illuminate the hidden truths. Which makes them the smartest species of all since the know all the stuff everyone else has hidden. Ms. Valente put serious work into creating species, without worrying overmuch if they made any evolutionary sense. Which was perfect, in fact, because who doesn’t want a crystal telepathic rainbow colored flamingo talking to you in the voice of one of your favorite elementary school teachers. The same goes for the technology of the universe, including the FTL drive that powers our “heroes” to their destiny (and this I won’t give away, it’s too wonderful).
The characters themselves are well done, with their own special arcs, their own unique feels. Cat nails the two leads, and the talking cat that joins them on the trip (yes, talking cat… talking cat… and it was every cat that ever lived! Thank god they love to nap too much!). She does characters brilliantly, richly, and dialogue is perfect. When they talk about character-driven stories, this book is what they mean, so use it as your example.
On the Reynolds Wrap scale from 1, “It Came From Outerspace, to 10 “Bladerunner (director’s cut of original version without voice over)”, this is a 10, 10, fucking 10, that actually goes to 11. I laughed out loud, I loved the story, I loved the characters, and now I’m going to run and put on the few David Bowie songs I have, because I miss him so much. Read it, read it NOW!