When I first read the synopsis for this book, I just knew that I had to read it. As a huge Eurovision fan, this book called to me in neon flashing lights. I’d also heard some pretty great things about the author’s writing but I had yet to read anything from her (even though I own a couple of her books..oops!). And yes, Catherynne M. Valente’s, Space Opera, was just as glittery as I expected it to be.
IN SPACE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU SING
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.
I had heard that Valente’s writing style can be a little ‘out there’. However, I wasn’t quite as thrilled with it as I was hoping that I would be. I’m not sure if this was quite her typical style or if the inspiration from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that she mentioned was less inspiring and more, That’s exactly how I should write my story! And honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Hitchhiker’s because of the writing. If you enjoy random multiple page-long tangents that are only for extra information and don’t pertain to the overall plot, then you’ll probably like this writing style more than I do. I just prefer the plot in stories to encompass at least 3/4 of the book, rather than 1/4… And no, I’m not exaggerating about that either. However, I did really like the humor and laughed aloud quite a few times.
As for our main characters… Seeing as they are former world-famous pop stars, they weren’t the most likeable people. Decibel, or Dess, is basically a has-been 70’s era Bowie wannabe. The amount of people that he’s actually cared about are limited to his bandmates and his Nani. He doesn’t limit himself to just one person and dressing in anything that isn’t covered in sequins or some bright pattern is the worst kind of tragedy. Honestly, I want to raid his closet. And then you have Oort, who is the practical one of the group. His only aspiration in life is to be the typical English bloke, complete with tweed jacket and spectacles. I loved how the two bandmembers played off of each other, as their opposing personalities really butted against each other now that they’re in their 40’s and not the 20 year-old popstars that they once were. Also, I thought it was so adorable how Oort was constantly mentioning his two kids.
I think the biggest issue that I had with this book is the fact that I was soooo excited about the Eurovision set in space plot, and yet that part of the story was maybe 10 pages long. Seriously. This story was less plot and more like 300 pages of random information about different alien species. Almost like Valente was more excited about getting to create a bunch of aliens and providing their entire history, than focusing on actually writing a story. I totally get that world-building is important but this wasn’t world-building, just a bunch of random chapters over nothing but info dumps.
Overall, this book was a bit of a letdown. I felt like the plot was pushed aside in favor of random info dumps. We didn’t get enough time to really get to know our characters or become invested in them. I really enjoyed the parts that actually focused on the competition, but those were few and far between. There was a lot of potential for this story but it unfortunately ended up being very meh. Maybe someone else can come in and rewrite this story with an actual plot? That would be nice.
Final Verdict: 3/5 Stars
Have you read Space Opera? If so, what did you think of it? Do you like books written in the same style as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Do you prefer substance over style when it comes to books?