Man, I hope Valente enjoyed writing this as much as I enjoyed reading it. I loved every manic, over-complicated, absurd sentence; every ludicrously adorable/terrifying/incomprehensible (delete as appropriate) alien species; every pun, gag, metaphor, reference and made up word. In this sparkly, rainbow-coloured meditation on humanity’s possible sentience Valente salutes Douglas Adams, tips a wink to Sir Terry Pratchett and blows David Bowie a kiss as she steams on by. It is an unapologetically glorious, over-the-top extravaganza.
Briefly (for anyone who’s had their head buried even deeper in their own personal imagination cloud than me and hasn’t heard about Space Opera yet), it’s about a washed-up glam-trash band called Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros being whisked to another planet to compete in an intergalactic version of the Eurovision Song Contest to prove humanity’s sentience and right to exist. Failure will result in the human race’s demise. I finished reading it the day before the Hugo Awards were going to be announced and, knowing it was on the shortlist, was convinced that it would win. Prayed fervently, wholeheartedly and without pause that it would win, because a book that can argue so successfully that humanity does not have the right to be classed as sentient (something I have suspected for a long time) and then win me over to the other side without providing any real evidence for humanity’s continued existence, and still have me cheer at the end, is a book that should win all the things.
(With hindsight I appreciate that the humour is not everyone’s cup of tea, that it is, in fact, an incredibly Marmite affair; and that while I love it unreservedly and have already bought several copies for friends, am recommending it to anyone who pauses long enough to say hello, and have put it in my Happy Box – everyone should have one *wink* – this book is not ever going to be universally acknowledged as the beautiful glitter-encrusted ball of joy that I feel it is.
And that is OK).
“But in the end, all wars are more or less the same. If you dig down through the layers of caramel corn and peanuts and choking, burning death, you’ll find the prize at the bottom and the prize is a question and the question is this: Which of us are people, and which of us are meat?”
Anyway, there is no way I can keep up this long sentence stuff, and I’m not going to be able to remain coherent for much longer (I can actually feel the excitement building in my chest as I write this and I just want to run around the room screaming ‘squeeeeeeeee’ instead of making a balanced presentation of Space Opera’s pros and cons … and I wish I was being hyperbolic, but I’m really not …), so here, in no particular order, are some of the things I loved most:
- The Esca – seven-foot tall, ultramarine anglerfish-flamingo aliens with Disney princess eyes and spun-glass legs. Their evolutionary approach to survival is kickass!
- Goguenar Gorecannon’s increasingly silly Unkillable Facts – my favourite being: “Though any species on any dumb gobworld may develop sentience (the poor bastards), no government ever does”.
- The similarities between pandas and Quantum-Tufted Domesticated Wormholes.
- The throw away mention of a “functional-to-fabulous” score – by which I want to grade everything I own, simply so that I can drop it into conversation on a much-too-regular basis: ‘Oh, this old thing? I only keep it around because it has a functional-to-fabulous score of 109!’
- The question: “What do you mean nothing on your planet excretes spaceships?”
- The Frockade – a Portaloo that dresses your outsides to perfectly match your insides?!! Oh man, I wanna go in one of those!!
- Chapter 4 – I want this whole thing tattooed across my body.
- The Voorpret – may I have a spin-off book all about life as part of a sentient zombie virus please, Ms Valente?
- Decibel Jones. He doesn’t remember anything about you, whether he slept with you once back in 2002 or has known you his whole adult life, and he’s as self-centred as they come, but he can turn on a sheepish smile at any time of the day or night and win the room over. (If he doesn’t look like Luke Spiller from The Struts when I meet him, I’ll eat my hat).
- Everything else I’ve failed to mention.
I want to say if you love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you’ll love this. You may well do. Then again, you might not. The only way you’ll know is to read it for yourself. I have no idea if the people I’ve gifted this to so far are going to love it as much as I do, or are going to spit it back out half-digested. I have hope … but right now, that’s all I’ve got. That, and a much-anticipated future in which I get to reread this again and again and again and again and again …