Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Space Opera

So I decided to give Catherynne Valente another go, given that I really disliked Radiance.

For those of you familiar with Eurovision, the plot is basically a galactic version of the terrible/wonderful spectacle that is the Eurovision song contest. Instead of deciding what beings are sentient, newly found species have to compete in the contest or have their entire species eradicated from existence. Pretty ridiculous.

This is what happens to Earth and the chosen champions are a washed up band, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes. However, Decibel Jones and Oort St. Ultraviolet haven’t talked to each other in ages and the third member of the band Mira Wonderful Star died in a car accident. Decibel and Oort are the perfect caricatures of washed up pop-star and reformed sell-out.

So. I liked it more than Radiance (it would be hard not to) but it’s still verging on the more ridiculous than interesting. There’s A LOT OF WORDS THAT HAPPEN VERY FAST. However, there’s not a whole lot of plot that happens. The entirety of the book is: aliens landing, spaceship journey, party and then the song contest (which is mere pages long). 90% of what happens is description and absurdist descriptions of spaceships, of clothes, of musics, of aliens. Just relentless catalogues of nouns and adjectives, but nothing substantial to work with as a story.

When it works, its really funny. When it doesn’t, it just feels like more time could have spent on a constructing a real plot instead of 100 mile-an-hour descriptions. At its worst it reminded me of Space Unicorn Blues or The Book of Joan which wasn’t good.

Where the meagre plot is really let down is near the end, when both Oort and Decibel are essentially offered get-out-of-jail free cards (either for Earth or for one of them). But honestly, we know next to nothing about their characters to justify the decisions they make. So these few scenes really fell flat for me, as the revelations feel so entirely unearned.

Anyway, its kind of fun? It’s very irreverent in a lot of ways, which was enjoyable. I liked Eurovision writ on a universal scale. There were some great positive messages about cultures and sexuality and all that jazz. But it also felt like that meme “this is the future that liberals want” but novel length. That only works for so long before becoming a little tiresome and I’d rather have a plot and character development over just relentless word vomit.

2 thoughts on “Book review: Space Opera

  1. I’ve been on the fence about buying this one. I love a lot of Valente’s older books – The Habitation of the Blessed, Deathless, etc, but I bounced off Radiance pretty hard. The works of her that I loved, I loved them because it was beautiful writing and compelling plots and characters I cared about. Sounds like Space Opera is lots of fun writing but not much else? eh, i think this will be a library book for me.

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