Space Opera
May 6, 2019 7:02 AM - by Catherynne M. Valente - Subscribe

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets the joy and glamour of Eurovision in Catherynne M. Valente's science fiction spectacle, where sentient races compete for glory in a galactic musical contest…and the stakes are as high as the fate of planet Earth.
posted by dinty_moore (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I liked Space Opera and think it started off really strong, but in the end the joke ran a little thin. It might have worked better as a novella.

I listened to the audiobook version of it (this definitely seemed like a book you should listen to), and thought they did a really good job.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:05 AM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I could not get into this, but I always prefer tragedy to comedy in my literature. I've also never watched Eurovision...
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:56 AM on May 6, 2019

Wow, it seems like only a few years ago Valente was finishing her Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland series. I turn around and she's written, like, four more books.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2019

I loved this for entirely obvious and selfish reasons. Agreed that the joke wears a bit at the end, but I think I have about 1/4th of the book clipped as quotes.

I'm almost certain at least one of the described performances was inspired by Lordi.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

The one real complaint I had was that it needed more Mira.

The movie rights have been picked up, which might never go anywhere.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Two words: earnest, and exhausting.

I wish this one had been a short story or novelette instead. The style is pretty bonkers (not a bad thing) and very difficult to do, but it got a little old after the first couple chapters. Things went more smoothly if I just read straight through without going back and trying to re-parse the complex sentences. I could see audio being better. The aliens were interesting too, but beyond the backstories and worldbuilding there wasn't that much plot.

I'm also not big on Hitchhiker's Guide, though, so Space Opera was probably not meant for me.
posted by j.r at 9:31 AM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel bad for sci fi writers whose plot hooks are being churned through by TV shows at a terrifying rate of speed. How does this compare to the Rick & Morty episode with the exact same premise?
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:47 AM on May 6, 2019

On one level, I hope this book 30 years from now is dated and considered a sign of its times. I came to this alongside the meatpunk manifesto "subtlety is for fuckers," and Jemisin has a couple of tweets recently about how science fiction's tendency to cloak everything behind allegory often obscures as much as it reveals. Or worse, creators sometimes use that allegory in ways that people find harmful (warn: discussion of coded transphobia).

So, humanity has one chance to be saved...

... and it is an openly queer trio, whose parents immigrated to the U.K. from less than desirable non-European countries, and each is dealing with their own emotional damage in the process.

It's wildly self-indulgent, and blatant, and preachy in passages. But I'm living in a darkest timeline where the POTUS blamed the results of a horse race on political correctness. So fuck subtlety and give me Decibel who's superpower is bottomless regret and and capacity for love. Give me Oort St. Violet with his Everyblokeman semi-invisibility and ability to play through the toughest of gigs beyond hist last hope because he's a professional. Give me a little more Mira for the screaming bits. And give me a tiny bit of hope that there's a solution to our coming armageddon that involves regret, love, perseverance, and screamy bits.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:35 AM on May 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

How does this compare to the Rick & Morty episode with the exact same premise?

I haven't seen the Rick & Morty episode in question, but Space Opera is a lot more positive (or at least more loving) than the premise of Rick & Morty allows. The underlying theme of the book is 'life is beautiful and life is stupid', and it's sure to tell us that multiple times.

There's definitely at least one Lordi reference in there, yeah, plus all of the quotes/chapter names from previous Eurovision winners. I also liked the Velvet Goldmine reference in there.

Upon thinking about it a lot more, I have to say that I actually did like the ending - the final performance weirdness. It's really the part on the spaceship that really seemed to drag, which meant that by the time we got to the semifinals I was kind of ready for it to be done.

I think a movie version of Space Opera would actually work pretty well - which kind of surprises me, considering how Douglas Adams-ish it is.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:48 AM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I thought it was great. Fun, silly, and inventive, but with a more-than-occasional bite that gives the humor some sharp teeth. I thought that if the story was a bit messy at times, it was forgivable for the sake of the sheer exuberance of the text. There are some characters I would have liked to have seen more of and gotten a better sense of, given their importance to the plot -- particularly Mira, but also the Roadrunner and Öö -- but overall, it was a pleasure to read.
posted by kyrademon at 2:32 AM on May 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel bad because I don't loooooove this author and was kinda all "this was just okay." A sillier Hitchhiker's with super long elaborate sentences (which to be honest, isn't my favorite writing style).
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:59 AM on May 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how you write a sci-fi farce without channeling Douglas Adams but it's definitely not like this. Granted, I think the author was very much trying to channel Douglas Adams, so in that regard it was a smashing success. Mira was characterized better than she needed to be, but she was still almost exactly half Manic Pixie Dream Girl and half Female Character Fridged to Promote Male Character Growth. I think I would have rather read a book with Mira as the protagonist instead of Decibel Jones.

Still, it's one of the best books I've read in the past year, and easily the best Douglas Adams book I've read since Dimension of Miracles.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2019

I deliberately haven't read the other comments. I just got this from the library after having it on hold for months, and it is A Lot. I can only read a couple chapters a day of this prose. I'm reminded of excerpts of Francesca Lia Block that I read. This is not Valente's fault at all; it's mine for not having the cardio endurance for her style. But when she's channeling Douglas Adams she does a very good job so far, at least for my tastes. Not subtle, but good. Maybe I would have an easier time of it if I liked music scenes. Decibel Jones' entire deal sounds insufferable to me, although I get that the music is supposed to be as transcendent as a David Bowie or a Prince. Anyway, onward --
posted by Countess Elena at 6:40 PM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really wanted to like this, but found it exhausting. I could only read a few pages at a time, so it eventually made it's way back to the library, only a quarter in to it. (I often read books in a day or two, so that was pretty surprising to me.) Is it weird to say that I like the characters more than the book?
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:56 PM on May 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Finally finished it, sadly after Eurovision.

I agree with pretty much everyone. This book was extra personified (bookified?), and there were times when I definitely thought We get it, Cat, you don’t need to give us three humorous examples of everything..., but mostly it was good, over-the-top-and-knows-it fun.

12 points
posted by Etrigan at 3:49 PM on May 25, 2019

In the words of the composer who'd totally win Eurovision if he could manage to write a song under three minutes long, "If you don't go over the top, you can't see what's on the other side."
posted by asperity at 1:11 PM on July 22, 2019

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