Adrienne Martini reviews Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Space Opera, Catherynne M. Valente (Saga Press 978-1-4814-9749-7, $19.99, 304pp, hc) April 2018.

Strap in, kiddos. Cat Valente wants to take you on a wild, glitter-filled ride. You’ll know if you’re ready for it after you read the first sentence of Space Opera:

Once upon a time on a small, watery, excitable planet called Earth, in a small, watery excitable country called Italy, a soft-spoken, rather nice-looking gentleman by the name of Enrico Fermi was born into a family so overprotective that he felt compelled to invent the atomic bomb.

In fact, nearly every sentence is like this one. Words tumble over other words like so many puppies crammed into a too small basket. They are a delight. They are exhausting. And then they are a delight again.

The same can be said of the book’s protagonist. Decibel Jones, née Danesh Jalo, is a glam rock star in the Bowie mold who lost his mojo when his band, the Absolute Zeros, broke up. One day, alien emissaries visit Earth and invite humanity to send a representative to the galaxy’s Eurovision-style song competition. There’s no pressure, really. Only the certainty that placing last will result in our species’ complete annihilation.

Decibel Jones decides to get the band back together, despite half the band being dead. The other half, Oort, is pulled along for the ride. There are simmering issues. There is despair. And, like all good Eurovisions, there are fantastic costumes. Valente’s storytelling in Space Opera is an homage to Douglas Adams’s work in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. There are droll aliens and passive-aggressive Englishness. There is a lightness, here, that keeps the darkness from smothering you. But her voice with this book feels more like a 21st-century Vonnegut’s. She’s more satirical and political than Adams ever was. Which isn’t to say it’s a wholly satirical or political book, just that those elements are in there. What it really is is a great, big, pumping-heart love letter to the glam rock spirit and those who continue to keep it alive.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the June 2018 issue of Locus.

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