Boy, someone REALLY wants to be Douglas Addams. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, you could do significantly worse than Douglas Addams (Elron Hubbard comes to mind almost immediately), but there’s showing influence, and then there’s outright ripping off.
The concept of influenced by Vs. ripping off has been a topic of debate on the internet forever. There was a time when making game reviews on the internet meant thousands of idiots would accuse you of ripping off The Angry Video Game Nerd, even if your style was nowhere near the loud, profane, fecalphiliac style of AVGN. If you wanted to be a ranting raving lunatic with his own website designed in the most basic HTML, you were accused by thousands of ripping off The Best Page in the Universe, even if you didn’t copy his misogynistic, egocentric style. Those are just two examples of this debate that I’m VERY familiar with. I’m sure it goes on to other platforms, other mediums, and other creaters.
And a book like Space Opera gets me thinking more or less two chapters in that the comparisons to Douglas Addams are inescapable at best. So is Space Opera a ripoff, or is it just heavily inspired.
Honestly, I’d go with the heavily inspired route. Largely because while Catherynne M. Valente clearly goes out of her way to incorporate Douglas Addams esque narration about outer space and its various residents, the plot doesn’t even come close.
Space Opera has been described in one of two ways to me:
A. Eurovision in space.
B. That episode of Rick and Morty with the giant head demanding “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!”.
I’m not especially familiar with Eurovision, but I’m assured by friends within my book club that it’s a glorious trainwreck. B was what ended up selling me on it.
Aliens gather far and wide to perform on the grandest stage of them all. A stage so grand, Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania looks like a Podunk house show in a stinky old armory out in rural Kansas by comparison. A stage so grand, various species have been known to convert entire planets into musical instruments just to stand a chance. And every grand prix, new species are brought to the stage to determine whether or not they’re worth keeping around or not. New contestants don’t have to win in order to avoid absolute annihilation, but survival depends entirely on avoiding last place.
Naturally, Earth eventually gets discovered, and is invited. And after learning that all of Earth’s greatest musicians are dead (my favorite being The Insane Clown Possy ending up killing themselves as a result of something to do with magnets), Earth’s only hope ends up being Decibell Jones and The Absolute Zeroes.
Comparisons to Douglas Addams aside, this is an interesting challenge. How the hell does one write about music? Music is purely an audible experience, while reading is visual. I’m going to take a wild guess and say Valente didn’t include sheet music in the print copy.
The story mentions several hybrid genres like barber shop quartet death metal, and symphonic dubstep just to name a possible few. I would legitimately like to hear how all of these sound. Even if dubstep is for pussies, integrating it into several other genres would be interesting to see. The whole concept of mishmashing genres was really what made nu-metal so appealing to me. True, every third band in the subgenre ended up being a collective of whiney bitches in hindsight, but that aside, combinations and mashups have always fascinated me, and I’d love to hear some of these genres. It’s too bad that this is a BOOK, or else someone would probably try.
And no, there’s no attempt at replicating what these genres MIGHT sound like in the audiobook. in fact, Valente really kind of just glances over the genres, or just mentions them off-handedly more than anything else. Sure, they’re good for shits and giggles, but I’m that guy who has to actually ask out loud, “I wonder what that would sound like?”
Speaking of the audiobook, the audiobook is read by Heath Miller. He does a pretty good job with the source material, reading it in that sort of dry style that makes British humor so great.
Any downsides to the story has less to do with the performance, and more to do with the source material itself. I understand that it’s important to get a history of The Glactic Grand Prix, but this seemed to be the part of the book that got exceptionally old in a hurry for me. There had to be a better way of emplamenting all this instead of making every even numbered chapter a brief history of this alien race or that alien race. Surely! It reached a point where these chapters felt like the single most elaborate form of padding I’d ever seen. For all the impact the “knifeosaurus” people, or the 321, or ninety percent of the other aliens had on the overall story, I found myself wondering at the end just how necessary this information was. Then I came to the conclusion that the book would’ve been, like, ten chapters if they weren’t in there. Nothing necessarily wrong with ten chapter long books (Simon R. Green’s Nightside novellas almost never make it past ten from what I remember of them), but I remember trying to get for-real published means having to meet a very specific wordcount.
The book overall… Is okay. It had parts I liked, it had parts I could’ve done without. The worst I can say about it is that it’s harmless. The best thing I can say is that I’m glad I read it… But I don’t see myself picking it up again in the distant future. It killed about a week’s worth of boredom, but that’s about it.
That being said, I’d still recommend checking it out.