Space Opera may qualify as Catherynne Valente's magnum opus, the work that defines her career, or it could turn out to be a turning point marking the beginning of a new period in that career. Either way it definitely marks a milestone.
I'll avoid spoilers, although after the first couple of chapters there aren't really any surprise twists for the remainder of the book. The ending is almost inevitable, with the only other possibility being "and then humanity was wiped out" and it's not that sort of book. "What sort of book is it then?" you may wonder, since if you are reading a review there's a good chance that you're deciding whether to purchase it. So, cut to the chase...
Aliens arrive, neighbours turning up to inquire about the (radio) noise and make us an offer we can't refuse - send representatives to prove our worth by competing in Eurovision (or a galactic variety thereof) and not come last, because that results in extinction. Representing us is Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, as selected by the aliens... they were on the bottom of the alien-compiled list and they were available. Top of the list was Yoko Ono, unfortunately deceased by this time. Alien musical taste is alien?
Decibel Jones (born Danesh Jalo and basically Freddy Mercury if only Freddy hadn't been so quiet and conventional) is by this time a former musician running on fumes. Oort St. Ultraviolet (Omar Caliskan), second member of the trio, is slightly more successful as a session musician but basically just surviving. Mira Wonderful Star, the final member, is not surviving given her death was what finally broke up the band years ago. So Decibel and Oort have to come up with something that aliens will vote for in the aforementioned Galactic Eurovision. Of course, as with Eurovision, voting is largely by reciprocal arrangement, otherwise politically aligned, and odds are stacked against the friendless newcomers. Plus the runup to the competition is broadcast and eagerly watched by trillions given that the rules allow contestants to knock each other out of the running before the curtain goes up. These aliens are not cute - they're the few species that haven't been wiped out during the constant warfare that devastated the galaxy not that long ago - and the contest is less "coming together in a spirit of brotherhood" than it is a desperate attempt to avoid going back to war again to finish the job along with a mechanism for weeding out the newcomer with a tendency to turn up, look around, and start measuring up Poland for a backyard extension.
So why read it? Space Opera is on the shortlist for the 2019 Hugo for best novel. I wouldn't be surprised if it won, but I also wouldn't be too surprised if it didn't. The main attraction of the book is that it's beautifully, lovingly, written. It's the sort of book that attracts writers more than the majority of fans. The sort of book that might have Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett considering arranging a Second Coming because it's "given them ideas". If you're after something light and frothy with lots of lasers going pew-pew-pew then this isn't for you. But if you're after a completely amazing book in which, it seems, each sentence has been hand-crafted and polished to perfection then I can't recommend it highly enough.
This is one of those books I grabbed because people I respect raved like lunatics about it on Twitter. I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED! Well, I was...but only when it ended, leaving me alone in the universe. This was a book I wished lasted so much longer.
Furious in pace, insane in content and written in a deliciously desciptive fashion, Space Opera kept me hooked. The characters loom large on the page, extravagant and damaged, they are beautiful and terrible.
If I could sing, I'd shout out a punk rock ballad to celebrate how much I loved this book...alas I'd likely bring about the destruction of the planet with my efforts.
Drop everything & read this book. The absurdist humor fires off like a machine gun on cocaine. Like the best of Douglas Adams, I feel compelled to re-read this book several times because I'm sure I have missed some funny bits because I was too busy laughing at the previous funny bit. The cat, however, disturbs me. I can not look at my cats ever again without fear and trepidation.
Whoa, if Douglas Adams wrote on speed I think you’d get a sense of this madcap scifi space opera extravaganza. If the scifi world was built on a scifi base of crumpets you could picture the random rocky wavering towers that might be built from it. This is all that and more. Space Opera is a story of what a school Rock Eisteddfod concert smashed against Eurovision might become in book form. It’s a wild and colourful story with alien species galore (Icky and gross, gooey and violent depending on who you talk to).
Poor humans on Earth, finally put forward to prove our sentience and the way it is done is to sing for your life – quite literally. And naturally… what one species finds as brilliant another finds as abhorrent. Which is not surprising when the aliens you are completing against don’t have ears… or mouths… or bodies for that matter. How do you perform? How do you win?
And in this competition… to lose is to die – taking your entire planet’s population with you… well… except the cats. (Is that a surprise?)
Be prepared to concentrate or you might struggle with the bright color cacophony of sound and words that is this book. Conversely, you might skim through and absorb the story through your pores.