For once, a book is exactly what it says on the package: Douglas Adams meets Eurovision Song Contest. It's a rollicking adventure with no shortage of glam and glitter.
A hundred years after the Sentience Wars have almost ripped the galaxy apart, humanity has finality attracted the attention of aliens. Now we have to prove ourselves: are we people or are we meat? To settle the question of sentience, the Metagalactic Grand Prix was born. Humanity has to perform, and it's up to Decibel Jones and the last of the Absolute Zero(e)s to save us from annihilation.
The concept sounds completely bonkers and amazeballs, and the execution doesn't disappoint. Valente mixes Adams' trademark humour with a very American show of big emotions and social commentary. I have to admit that the humour, all the emo feelz, and the messages were a bit more on the nose than I usually like them. But the ESC is not exactly a subtle endeavour, and Valente writes with enthusiasm and exuberance, with unironic sincerity, and visceral love for her characters - something not easy to admire for someone like me, who grew up to be post-modernities bitch and has learned to filter everything through layers and layers of irony, until she's left with nothing but a pitch-black ball of contempt. No such filtering's happening here. The big, friendly disco ball keeps bouncing and glittering and just sweeps you along.
At it's core, Space Opera is a very humanist book, tackling the big question of whom we see as people and whom we perceive as lesser. The never ending shitshow of „us against them“. The story deals with the issue of sentience, but instead of joining the nihilist battle cry - „Oh Imaginary, Uncaring Entity Ignoring a Deterministic Universe, the evolution of humanity was such a mistake, and anyhow, who cares!“ - Valente offers a more positive outlook, and, ultimately, hope. After all, human sentience invented Glam Rock. Doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all.
Space Opera is not a very plot heavy book. A lot of time is spent on exposition. Chapters explaining about the Sentience War and the history of the Metagalactic Grand Prix alternate with chapters set in the current timeline of events, bringing our unwilling heroes Decibel Jones, Oort St. Ultraviolet, and his rather unbothered, but slightly judgemental, cat closer and closer to the big showdown. I enjoyed the expositionary chapters even a bit more than the rest, not only because Valente has hidden some fun easter-eggs like using words from the languages of ESC participants for planet- and species names. I liked her run-on sentences, her attention to detail, the enthusiastic and colourful descriptions. It took me a bit longer to warm to the protagonists. Spending so much page-time away from them means we don't get to know them till rather late in the game, and it takes them quite a while to grow from accumulations of adjectives and regret to more fleshed-out personalities.
But till that happens, we have many other characters to marvel at. Frankly, the bird mostly annoyed me, but I guess anyone can find some species to like here. Similarities to existing European countries are completely coincidental, I'm sure. I think my favourites were the ever so practical, if a bit bloodthirsty, Yurtmak. And that I have kind of a soft spot for the Alunizar – hey, it's not their fault they're better than anyone else, alright? - probably goes to show that I've been living in Germany for a tad too long.
Maybe I would've liked a bit more focus on character and plot. Maybe. But I will be getting back to my character-driven, plot-heavy, nihilist neo-noir SF soon enough (and I guess the guys who write this kind of SF never watched so much as a single minute of ESC, poor fuckers). I needed the change in tune.
Now, grab yourself a drink...
(Flamingo Smoothie - contains 0,0% pulped flamingo)
...if handy, a slightly judgemental cat...
dress in something nice...
...and remember: There's never a reason not to glitter.
And save the date:
63rd Eurovision Song Contest 2018, 8. - 12. May, Lisbon, Portugal