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Space Opera

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A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented—something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick, and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny—they must sing.

A band of human musicians, dancers, and roadies have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.

294 pages, Hardcover

First published April 10, 2018

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About the author

Catherynne M. Valente

255 books7,216 followers
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and camphor wilds of Japan.

She currently lives in Maine with her partner, two dogs, and three cats, having drifted back to America and the mythic frontier of the Midwest.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,137 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
July 5, 2018
2.5 stars. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with my co-reviewer Jana's review). It took me nearly two months to read this Eurovision in space/Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mashup, start to finish. My journey began with Anticipation, shifted to Befuddlement and Boredom, passed through Dismay, flirted with DNF, picked up again a few weeks later with Resolution, and ended with an overdose of Whimsy and Zaniness.

Oort St. Ultraviolet and his old bandmate Decibel Jones, the two remaining members of a defunct glam rock band called Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, are tapped on the shoulders by a seven-foot-tall ultramarine roadrunner-type alien to represent humanity in the periodic Metagalactic Grand Prix, a musical contest that the various races of the galaxy have settled on as an alternative to their massively destructive Sentience Wars. Newly space-faring races ― like humanity ― are required to participate in the Grand Prix to prove their sentience. If they come in last place in the contest, the entire race will be promptly and summarily executed, perhaps by a passing Vogon ship.

Even though all they have to do is not come in last, the odds are against humanity and the Absolute Zeroes. Jungle rules apply to the Grand Prix contest and, frankly, the Absolute Zeroes are out of practice, out of inspiration, and missing the third member of their group, Mira Wonderful Star, who was the glue that held the group together and made it function. Still, there’s nothing for Decibel to do but try to write a new song, and perhaps enjoy a little partying and alien strange along the way.

Space Opera had its moments, and parts of it really did tickle my funny bone. Catherynne M. Valente slings a lot of humor around, and some of it is bound to stick. I think my favorite bits were about Capo, Oort’s cat who for no particular reason (the way most events in this novel occur) accompanies the two humans on their trip through space on an interstellar ship called Cake in the Rain, to the planet where the Grand Prix event will be held. The roadrunner alien gives Capo the power of speech (“Just a little strobe lighting in the hippocampus”) to prove to the humans that speech isn’t the determining factor in proving sentience. But Capo still thinks and acts pretty much like most cats do.
Nico and Siouxsie Caliskan’s enormous four-year-old Maine Coon-Angora-somebody’s-barn-cat-possibly-a-stray-albino-panther mix was entirely unbothered by suddenly achieving the ability to speak rather posh English. Oh, certainly it had been alarming at first. But adjusting to sudden changes in your circumstances was easy when you didn’t really care about anything. As far as she was concerned, she’d always talked. By some miracle, everyone else had recently achieved the ability to listen properly. She was over the novelty within half an hour…

The key to a happy life, Capo devoutly believed, was never giving much of a damn what happened in any given day so long as you got in a nap, a kill, and a snuggle, and the snuggle was optional.
I frequently came across parts like this that made me snicker or even laugh out loud. But the slight plot of Space Opera is surrounded by just SO MUCH glitter and wordplay and absurd humor and wandering off on tangents and then meandering casually back again, that it’s hard not to get lost in the forest of fanciful details. Pretty much every single sentence includes some kind of in-joke or off-beat humor or just plain silliness. After a while it just became mentally exhausting to wade through.

I’m a lifelong fan of the HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series, and Space Opera has a marked similarity to Douglas Adams’s work, both in the abundance of screwball, often deadpan humor and in the slightness of the plot. But Space Opera just didn’t create the same magic for me. In particular, its length works against it, especially with all of the distracting, at most semi-relevant, digressions. But this is clearly one of those “your mileage may vary” books. If you adore Douglas Adams, Eurovision and/or glam rock, there’s a fairly good chance you’ll like Space Opera.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review. Thank you!!

Content notes: A lot of F-bombs. Also, um, alien sex, but it's so esoteric that it's hard to imagine it offending anyone.

Update #1: I dunno, people. I’m having a tough time getting through this book. Its Hitchhiker-type of humor can be very funny, but too often I find it just silly and exhausting. It’s going on hiatus for a week or so; I’m on vacation* and I’ve got lots of other things to read and do rather than force myself to power through to the end of this book.

* I have three large, tough sons - two in their early twenties and one an older teen - holding down the home fort against any intruders. No lie. So I don’t feel like I’m being reckless in sharing my vacation status here. :) Meanwhile, my husband and I are having a nice time celebrating our 25th anniversary in Cabo San Lucas!

Original post: The hardcover ARC just appeared on my doorstep yesterday, and this looks like so much fun! Sort of a glam rock twist on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-type humor.
Life is beautiful and life is stupid. This is, in fact, widely regarded as a universal rule not less inviolable than the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Uncertainty Principle, and No Post on Sundays. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of all-annihilating flames to help you follow along.
Stay tuned!
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,824 followers
October 10, 2018
If I were to give this book a one word review, it would be:


This book, in my opinion tries WAY too hard. What it tries way too hard to do, I am not quite sure, but I was starting to get a headache trying to keep up with all the stuff it was throwing my way. It seemed like every sentence had to have a punchline. Every description came with a built in footnote story. It was delivered under what seemed like the influence of 1000 energy drinks. The fact that the content was so out there and bizarre did not help.

In reading some other reviews, I see several mentions of this book trying to be like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – and that is exactly right. But, it takes the spirit and delivery of that book and raises it to the millionth degree. All I felt with every sentence was the author winking at me and saying “Goodness me, aren’t I creative and witty!?”

I do give it some props for creativity. It is a very unique and original concept and the author spent a lot of time fleshing out the details. While this came out as stream of consciousness drivel, it still had some pretty interesting ideas.

I am not quite sure who I recommend it to. If you like the works of Douglas Adams, you may like this or be appalled at the attempt to be like Adams. If you like your sci-fi straight forward, this is not for you. If you like your comedy extremely outlandish and have the patience to deal with hundreds of pages of non-sensical dialogue, this might just be the book for you!
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
703 reviews3,275 followers
July 13, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Space Opera is Eurovision in space! The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of the washed up lead singer of a band notorious for inventing "the entire electro-funk glamgrind genre."

With puns, pop-culture references, and some unapologetic observations about the human race, Valente escorts readers through the cosmos to the glittering, psychedelic, bizarre Metagalactic Grand Prix where alien races compete for notoriety, resources, and to avoid having their planet incinerated.

Fair warning: This book will only appeal to a niche audience. Be sure to read the opening pages, to ensure its singular structure appeals to you, before making a purchase.
Life is the ultimate narcissist, and it loves nothing more than showing off. Give it the jankiest glob of fungus on the tiniest flake of dried comet-vomit wheeling drunkenly around the most underachieving star in the middle of the most depressing urban blight the cosmos has to offer, and in a few billion years, give or take, you'll have a teeming society of telekinetic mushroom people worshipping the Great Chanterelle and zipping around their local points of interest in the tastiest of lightly browned rocket ships.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,966 followers
April 12, 2018
Life is beautiful. Life is stupid.

This book was all kinds of freaking wonderful, packed to the gills with glam and snark and a buttload of heart-wrenching brutal honesty wrapped up with a bow of sex, aliens, and rock and roll.

A lot of people are equating this with Hitchhiker's Guide, but in a lot of ways, it's better. And worse. The sheer amount of delightful rock-and-roll trivia and snark made me think of Rob Reid's Year Zero, but this was better. Think about all the aging Glam Rock stars who have had their best days long ago being catapulted into galactic society in a sing-off with the stakes being the fate of the race.

You know, time lag. Can't use the recent stuff and most of the old stuff is either hopeless or dead. Who's left? The Absolute Zeroes. :) One is dead and the others are impoverished, and yet they have to sing for their lives against all the biggest stars in the galaxy. Because, after all, Life is Beautiful, Life is Stupid.

It just happens to be better than most of the alternatives. :)

Great concept, even BETTER execution. Every page is full of awesomeness, glam, and utter despair. Meeting all these poor alien saps and their quirky f***ed up lives and kinks is half the fun, but I happen to LOVE Decibel Jones. He's so early Bowie and aging rock star and a whole ball of f***ed up, himself. :) I swear I can hear all the songs playing in my head, adding several soundtracks to this novel as I read it. :)

And the end? MY GOD that's a lightshow-and-a-half. :) Ziggy Stardust has NOTHING on this. :)

I think I may have found my absolute favorite Valente novel out of a TON of favorite Valente novels. I mean, I'm always super excited to read Valente, but this has got to be the one that tops them all. :)
Profile Image for Trish.
1,927 reviews3,402 followers
July 8, 2018
Life is beautiful. And life is stupid.

Once upon a time on a small, watery, exciteable planet called Earth ... we find out that we are indeed not alone in the universe. On the contrary. The universe is teeming with all kinds of life (including the most improbable forms of FTL transportation) and after a horrible intergalactic war, every sentient species has agreed on a form of contest with which to entertain but also combat one another. And it is a way of discerning if a species is sentient or shall be annihilated. The contest? Well ... basically it is like the Eurovision Song Contest. The performance on stage is at least as important as how well you can sing. The different standards for beauty and talent the different galactic races have aren't helping any more than the bloodthirstiness of most of them.
After humanity has been brought up to speed about not being alone and having to participate in this year's contest if we want to survive, we are given a list of potential contestants ... the problem being that all but one are either dead or incapacitated. *lol*

Thus, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroe(s) travel through space (with a freshly talking cat and at least two well-meaning aliens) and try to prevent humanity from being wiped out by at least not coming in last in Galactovision. Because while we might be indredibly stupid, we've also done some pretty cool things one should not forget about.

Magic is real. As is evident every time Valente uses it to bind words onto the page, arranging those words so perfectly, I want to weep. Seriously, while this book is as silly as any of Douglas Adams' work (I really think he and Sir Pratchett would be proud to welcome this author in their midst), the author never fails to convey profound truths about life, being human and everything else wrapped up in glitter and laughs.
There is trivia, there are some side-stabs at certain performers *coughs*TaylorSwift*coughs* and enough snark to fill three books.
The concept had already been wonderful but the execution is simply brilliant.

Also noteworthy is the narrator of the audio version and how he brings to life so much of the humour by the different voices he gives the aliens (and the man can sing!). The book will always be perfect but I truly believe that the audio version gives it an additional level of greatness.
Profile Image for Samantha.
417 reviews16.7k followers
July 20, 2019
DNF at 52%

I tried this book on audio and physical copy, and although I wasn’t hating it, I found I wasn’t caring either. The tangents away from the plot and characters onto stories of aliens I will never remember, and glazed over during, felt like a sign that I should set this aside. This book seems to focus more on the writing, jokes, and over the top world than the characters or plot.

This is magical and odd in a way only Valente can do. But after having read a few of her books, I don’t think her writing is for me.
Profile Image for Jenne.
1,086 reviews663 followers
March 16, 2018
So, one time I bought a bottle of Miracle-Gro for my houseplants. I used it once or twice and then stuck it in the back of a cupboard and forgot about it.
Years later, when I was moving house, I cleared out the cupboard and found the bottle, which had leaked somehow and the Miracle-Gro had actually *made the bottle itself grow*! There were all these baroque sort of globules growing fractally off the side of it. It was magical and also a bit disturbing.
This book reminded me of my miraculous Miracle-Gro bottle, except that it was more like if you took a Douglas Adams novel and spilled some David Bowie on it (use your imagination) and left it in a dark cupboard for an astronomical time unit or several, this is what you would get.
I would say any random five or ten pages of this book is quite enjoyable, but taken all together I’m not sure it really adds up to anything.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,262 reviews222 followers
April 25, 2018
Humorous writing is not for everyone; senses of humor just tend to be too different and/or incompatible. This one hits my sense of humor square on: absurdist, wry and with a core of profundity that works very well with the lush writing that the author has on display elsewhere.

After the Sentience Wars interstellar civilization has implemented the Metagalactic Grand Prix song contest which all prospective sentient species must compete in and not come last. A new species that comes last is deemed to be not-sentient, a danger to interstellar civilization and is exterminated. It's Earth's turn, and representing us we have washed-up glampunk band Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

The author explicitly calls out the link to Douglas Adams in the afterword as being the godfather of all SF humor writing, and she doesn't attempt to dodge that here, instead leaning in to the classic Hitchhikers-like bizarre digressions into humorous exposition. The comparison to Hitchhikers is very apt. Still, this book is definitely Valente's own, as Decibel Jones's regret for what happened to the band and his willingness to aggressively embrace the alien and bizarre help strengthen humanity's case. Oort's journey is no less interesting as the ostensible sellout punk musician reaching for the youth that he's left behind. And there's plenty of humor and comment on the the current state of humanity by the various and well-characterized alien species.

Superb, but maybe not for everyone, much like the Hitchhikers Guide novels.
Profile Image for Maria.
581 reviews128 followers
August 19, 2018
Profile Image for Dennis.
659 reviews269 followers
May 19, 2020
Once upon a time on a small, watery, excitable planet called Earth, in a small, watery, excitable country called Italy, a soft-spoken, rather nice-looking gentleman by the name of Enrico Fermi was born into a family so overprotective that he felt compelled to invent the atomic bomb. Somewhere in between discovering various heretofore cripplingly socially anxious particles and transuranic elements and digging through plutonium to find the treat at the bottom of the nuclear box, he found the time to consider what would come to be known as the Fermi Paradox. If you’ve never heard this catchy little jingle before, here’s how it goes: given that there are billions of stars in the galaxy quite similar to our good old familiar standby sun, and that many of them are quite a bit further on in years than the big yellow lady, and the probability that some of these stars will have planets quite similar to our good old familiar knockabout Earth, and that such planets, if they can support life, have a high likelihood of getting around to it sooner or later, then someone out there should have sorted out interstellar travel by now, and therefore, even at the absurdly primitive crawl of early-1940s propulsion, the entire Milky Way could be colonized in only a few million years.

So where is everybody?

Well, they were entangled in an intergalactic war that was basically about the question who should be considered a sentient species and who can't be considered as such and therefore isn't worthy of survival. Opinions may vary.

Which of us are people and which of us are meat?
Of course we are people, don’t be ridiculous. But thee? We just can’t be sure.

A hundred thousand worlds were involved in The Sentience Wars and it was bloody and deadly and terrible and all around not very nice and did not end until about . . . wait just a moment . . . exactly one hundred years ago the Saturday after next.

When it was all done and said and shot and ignited and vaporized and swept up and put away and both sincerely and insincerely apologized for, everyone left standing knew that the galaxy could not bear a second go at this sort of thing. Something had to be done. Something mad and real and bright. Something that would bring all the shattered worlds together as one civilization. Something significant. Something elevating. Something grand. Something beautiful and stupid. Something terribly, gloriously, brilliantly, undeniably people.

And thus the Metagalactic Grand Prix was born.

And hey, humankind qualified. Woohoo!
There's just one teensy-tiny thing. We did not actually apply. We simply have to participate in order to prove that we are a sentient species. And the only way to do that is to not finish last. Otherwise it's total annihilation.
This will be fun! :D

No problemo, right?! We're good at music. Yeah ... well ... nope. We're not. Not when you've seen the Alunizar, or the Voorpret, or the 321 perform. Or the Yurtmak with their powerful ballad In the end we're actually sorry we missed the war, you guys have all the fun.

No. We have to come up with something special. And since Yoko Ono and the Spice Girls are dead, we send Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, a British glam punk rock band. Only problem is that the Absolute Zeroes are actually reduced to only one Absolute Zero and Decibel Jones hasn't had a hit in forever. Actually, they ever only had one hit and are now pretty washed-up and long forgotten. Still, they're our best hope. Our only hope. What could possibly go wrong?!

Catherynne Valente had been publicly dared by one of her twitter followers to write a science fiction / fantasy version of the Eurovision Song Contest. And she came up with something that's just as glittering and absurd and pompous and ridiculous, but actually funny on purpose.

It's also brutally honest in its depiction of humanity and the music industry and generally so rife with snark, it is a true delight.

Honestly, I was laughing so much, it was hard not to love the book.

BUT, I was frequently asking myself where's the story? And the answer is, there is almost none.

The book is full of fantastic worldbuilding, and hilarious interactions between our kinda sorta unprepared heroes and some very alien and very hilarious alien species.
But ultimately we're just following the somewhat amateurish preparations of our own entry, get a few tidbits on the other entries, and then at some point when we're all properly hyped up, and properly drunk, we are ready for the silly show that is the Metagalactic Grand Prix.
I suppose it's kinda fitting.

Is it enough for a five star rating, though? Not quite. Not in my book anyway.

Still, it's not often that a book has me laughing so much. And then there's also the narration by Simon Jäger (the German voice of Josh Hartnett). And the guy is not only brilliant but so perfectly suited for this book, he fits like der Arsch auf 'n Eimer, as we like to say. Sorry to all my non-German-speaking friends, not only for that idiom, but I think it's very likely that there will never be another audiobook where the narrator fits as perfect as Jäger does here. Dry wit, overenthusiasm, sarcasm, presenting the absurd and hilarious with a proverbial straight face, it's all perfect, flawless, delicious. 10 stars. I don't think any German should actually read this book when they also have the opportunity to listen to the audiobook. Not even if you usually prefer to read books in their original language. The translation is very good, by the way.

I will still in all likelihood buy the hardcover, for the quotes and the cover. Yes, I like that Disco Ball and the colors. What can I say?! We Germans have good taste like that.*

So, great author, great humor, great narrator. Reader almost died laughing.
My 12 Points go to Space Opera. But my five stars still go to The Beatles.

*Here's our 1998 ESC entry:
I'm sorry!

Hugo 2019 finalist (Space Opera, not Guildo Horn).

2019 Hugo Award Finalists

Best Novel
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Best Novella
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Best Novelette
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho (Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog)
The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly (Tor.com)
Nine Last Days on Planet Earth by Daryl Gregory (Tor.com)
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com)
The Thing About Ghost Stories by Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny Magazine)
When We Were Starless by Simone Heller (Clarkesworld Magazine)

Best Short Story
The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed Magazine)
The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine)
The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine)
STET by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine)
The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine)
A Witch’s Guide To Escape: A Practical Compendium Of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine)

Best Series
• The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older
• The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
• Machineries of Empire by Yoon Ha Lee
• The October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire
• The Universe of Xuya by Aliette de Bodard
Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

Best Related Work
Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works
Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee
• The Hobbit Duology (a documentary in three parts), written and edited by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan
An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards 1953-2000 by Jo Walton
• The Mexicanx Initiative Experience at Worldcon 76 by Julia Rios, Libia Brenda, Pablo Defendini, and John Picacio
Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon

Best Graphic Story
Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colors by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell
Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino, and Tana Ford
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Paper Girls, Volume 4 , written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Saga, Volume 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples

Best Art Book
The Book of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin
Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon by Julie Dillon
Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer
Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, editor John Fleskes
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The Art of the Movie by Ramin Zahed
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, editor Catherine McIlwaine

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan Children’s Books)
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz)
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books)
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic)
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen)
Profile Image for Philip.
500 reviews672 followers
April 10, 2019
2ish stars.

Funny in the way Mad Libs is funny. Random, nonsensical, fill-in-the-blank humor that is occasionally amusing because it's bound to be at some point by sheer volume of silliness. Valente is obviously pleased with herself, which draws another comparison to Mad Libs. It’s apparently much funnier to the person actually filling in the blanks with erratic strings of adjectives, adverbs, and made-up words than to the ones reading it.
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 151 books3,724 followers
April 14, 2018
This is another book that I blurbed, so I'm just expanding on what I already said. This book is SO MUCH FUN. The bountiful silliness, and the space setting, will automatically inspire comparisons to Douglas Adams --- but this is really something different and outrageous, all its own. I found the story of a washed up pop group trying to save the world quite moving and sweet, and just lovely.
Profile Image for Lena.
1,144 reviews241 followers
January 21, 2019
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This book is what comes from combining refined sugar, cocaine, and a word processor. The comma to period ratio was about 100:1. They were frenzied, rabid sentences.

Never in this life would I have thought I’d be complaining about the writing from the author of The Refrigerator Monologues.

As far as the subject matter, if you liked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet you’ll like this: hard agenda covered in soft confectionary science fiction.

DNF 41%
Profile Image for Lata.
3,591 reviews191 followers
April 26, 2018
While I love Catherynne M. Valente's sentences for their cleverness, biting humour and commentary, I find that my reaction to her work really depends on whether I'm listening to it or reading it. I tend to struggle with her long and convoluted senteneces when I read her text, but just adore her work when I listen to it as I really like her wordplay.
I was concerned reading reviews for this book as people kept making glowing comments and references to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Even the author did for this book.) Humour can be pretty subjective, and I am one of the few people who found "Hitchhiker's Guide" and its subsequent books only very occasionally funny.
Back to this book. I was tickled by the idea of Earth having to prove its worth and sentience at an intergalactic song competition, with a poor performance guaranteeing Earth's eradication. So I did enjoy the beginning of "Space Opera", but soon found myself struggling my way through the text. I was infrequently amused, and kept wishing this book were only a novella. I thought the aliens and their diversity were inventive and great, but didn't need entire chapters devoted to all the alien politics and previous competitors' performances. I really wanted to love this book, but I'm going to have to go with a grudging 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,231 reviews169 followers
April 25, 2018

When I heard that Valente was creating a ‘Eurovision Song Contest’ in space with alien civilisations battling by song, I was totally sold, especially since I’d wanted to read something of hers for ages. The problem you see is that the author had to write it in a humouristic, tongue-in-cheek, tone and I don’t do well with that style. I still read it, enjoyed it to a certain extent, smiled a few times, recognised the writing skill, but never truly connected with the story or characters - and this is ultimately my bad, hence my score. If you like this style, then by all means, dive in. You won’t regret it :0)
155 reviews260 followers
July 18, 2018
Life is beautiful and life is stupid. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy, the history of a planet, the history of a person is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of glittering, occasionally peaceful light to help you follow along.
Cue the music. Cue the dancers.
Cue tomorrow
I have alot of reasons to not to like this book. It took me over a month to finish it, it had so many commas and not enough periods, it doesn't really have that much of a good story-all of it is summed up in the blurb, some people might say that characters are cardboard cut out, but you know what, I fucking loved it. I loved it for its amazing writing, long sentences, over the top humor, extravagant settings and it's solemn analysis of homo sapiens sapiens sentinent. Space Opera is a tiresomely over the top, extremely bizzare, at places veryyy confusing, with very self-depricating and snarky humor, with loads of bizarre, powerful, intelligent aliens.

On a tuesday in April,Esca, a giant flamingo-fish alien, invaded the earth and told all 7 billion people that they are going to die-if they come last in Meta Galactic Prix, a singing competition where all sentient species participate to prove their worth. The specie that comes last is mournnfully annihilated and its planet is left for any other specie to take over the front place in evolution and be better then their previous counterparts. And the reason they give is
I'll put this in words you can understand: humans are hideous, pain-guzzling, pollution-spouting space monsters who might threaten our way of life. Now, how does that usually pan out in the movies, kitten? At least we let you try to convince us we're wrong. I doubt you asked the dodo birds what they thought about it before you blasted the last one in the face with a blunderbuss.
Which os totally fine, I suppose, given the fact that I havent't opened news for a week now because my country's media is so fucked up. So now, Decible Jones, a former Bowie-like rock star had been chosen to prove the humanity's worth to bunch of glitter punk aliens who also happen to love a good show with lots of assasinations.

I don't like humor in my books mostly. My reaction on comedy in novels vary from an eyerole to a raised eyebrow and a snort. This book, however, made me laugh out loud atleast seven times. There's alot of fun in this book; if it's not commentary on human's sentient then it's extremely nonsensicle aliens and their extremely nonsensicle behaviours. This book goes in depth discussing all the blunders made by humans; racism, homophobia, transphobia, misgony, climate change and everything else in between. And when aliens are not discussing humanity's fucked-up-ness, they are trying to soothe them and then fail disastrously
“Even knowing that I am a discarded Popsicle stick on the sidewalk of intellectual discourse and thus wholly incapable of higher-order thinking, I beg you to tolerate the shrill and childlike whine of my asking: How about rhinoceroses? Dodos? Giraffes? Those are herbivores, so they presented no danger to the continuation of your species, but you wiped them out all the same. To a one. And then there are the more immediately pertinent examples of the Lakota, the Cree, the Aboriginal Tasmanians. Now, please tell this execrable excuse for a sentient being who is not worthy to receive your diseased secondhand blankets, before you cut the throat of the last lion or rhinoceros or dodo or Mayan farmer, did you let them sing a song? Did you let them lay down a beat? Did you let them dance for their lives? Did you let them try to prove to you that there was more in them than just a longing to eat and breed and lie in the sun and die with a full belly?”
Oort thought he was going to be sick. “N-no.”
“Mmm,” said Nessuno Uuf. The moons of Litost shone in through the sky bar windows, illuminating the beautiful bone knives of her face. “Barbaric. Of course, what can someone like me know?”
^^^This convo took place between Decible and an alein who consider demeaning themselves as an art and get turned on when someone insults them.

The best part of this book is, perhaps, the amazing aliens. They vary from everything to anything. These aliens seems to come from a 5 year old child's mind whose imagination knows no bounds. From sentient gas to sentient algae to sentient murderers who look like a rhineceros and chain saw offspring to metallic spanish lookin armor to sentient virus, this book has everything. My favourite was this
Litost is the kind of world a child would design if that child had never been harmed by the world in even the smallest way and wanted to be a rainbow when it grew up and only ever read books about unicorns, wildflowers, and everything working out very nicely, not only in the end, but in the beginning and the middle, too. It has two small white suns, three pink moons, several lavender oceans with the same sugar content as Earth’s oceans have salt, a single huge continent full of rich green antidepressant grasses watered by refreshing diamond showers, healing rivers, and forests where no one can ever get too lost, on account of the night-light lichen. While this continent is home to a number of gentle variations on the basic bear-cow-fish-bird playset living in peaceful symbiotic harmony, Litost’s crowning evolutionary achievement is the Klavaret, a species of large, intellectually gifted patches of seafaring pastel flowers, something of a three-way hybrid of roses, tulips, and doilies. They have all the natural defenses of a pillow in a tiger enclosure. At least twice, the planet escaped being overrun by the aforementioned neighbors after the invaders grew exhausted with having to explain, slowly, patiently, and using large, friendly diagrams, charts, and illustrations, the concept of war to a field of flowers, giving up halfway through a run of supplementary comic books starring Sebastian, the Conflict Marshmallow.
I mean, come on, who cannot love some happy rosebush?

Between the history of galaxy and Matagalactic Grand Pix and all the aliens, the characters get very little time of thier own. But I loved the glimpse we got here and there.
Decible Jones He's multiracial(!!!!), omnisexual gendersplat rockstar who's now evaluating and regretting each and everyone of his life choices and on whose shoulders fate on humanity rest.
Oort St. Ultravoilet Former member of Alsolute Zeroes. He want nothing else other then be a normal englishblokeman so that when world goes wrongway, no one can lift a finger on him and no one can harass him or his daughters. But normal doesn't really happen in his life.
Capo She's Oort's cat who had been granted speech by aliens so to prove that ability to talk doesn't make someone sentient. Even when she gains power to talk, Capo remained very much a cat. She spend her days sleeping and waiting for things to die so she can eat them.

This seems a lot like that aliens spend all of their time roasting humans. Though this is true, it's not all about it. It's about positives humans have done too. While it dicuss mankind's stupidy, it shed light on love and empathy that each human possess too. And in the end, it tells us that what matter most is to accept everyone just as they are.
Everything just gets so fucked up sometimes and the natural resting state of reality is not to make any goddamned sense if it can help it and you’ve just got to accept that because it’s not going to get any better from here on in.
Most of the 1 or 2 stars reviews says that this will appeal only to hardcore Catherynne Valente fan, and considering my love for this, I think I'm going to love all of her works now. I can't wait to be suprised by her work.
Profile Image for Catinmybrain.
84 reviews17 followers
March 27, 2023
This book absolutely has coke for brains.

Not just any kind of cocaine. We're not talking Transformers the animated movie or Flash Gordon here. We're not even talking 80s, high-cut, Ski-Resort, pure Jefferson D'Arcy flowing mullet blow. We're talking 2001: The Space Cocaine. We're talking the cocaine mined from the underground forests in the depths of Jupiter's moons. We're talking the kind of cocaine that Emperor Freeza gets to motivate himself in the gym to come up with a new body transformation. He hits this magic Io pixie dust and his triceps suddenly get more deep vein thrombosis then the back of Joe Rogan's head.

Space Opera is a rollicking roid-raging rhapsody of kinky alien Road Runners. It deals with the Metagalactic Grand Prix: a sort of Eurovision music contest in space. Complete with backstabbing, politics, nepotism, drugs, talking cats and making out with abstract concepts.

The Grand Prix is an alien solution to "The Sentience War", the ongoing and constant debate in the galaxy over whether or not a species is 'sentient' or 'food'. So new races are regularly invited to compete on the Grand Prix and strut their musical stuff for points and prizes.

If they manage to place in the Grand Prix a species is declared 'sentient' and there is much celebration (see: drugs, sex, pregnancy). If a species doesn't place, they are...food. At best. Talking food. Singing food. But food nonetheless. They are declared unworthy of continued evolution and either harvested or bombed into oblivion to allow another species (see: cats) a chance to ascend.

And now it's the human race's turn to either sing for or become supper. And to this end the aliens have summoned Earth's most worthy and talented musicians as declared by the empire. But unfortunately Yoko Ono couldn't make it and the Insane Clown Posse had a horrible magnet accident. So we're stuck with a one-hit wonder act called Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes. And if they don't rock so hard they make the sentient wormholes sing a-long, our collective butts are cooked.

Maybe literally. Definitely literally.


Space Opera is basically what would happen if you took The Last Starfighter, Scott Pilgrim, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Space Dandy and mixed them together in a blender. And then dropped liquid LSD into your eyes and walked around making out with the leather furniture at your local Leon's.

So in other words: It's hot. Good fun. It's randy. It's sticky. It's Lahey. It's gonna touch you in all the weird places you aren't normally touched. Yeah, right there. Prepare for re-entry. The void is singing.

I can see how this novel completely flummoxed some reviewers. Its plot screams "SQUIRREL!" every ten seconds and points at weird and crazy and hilarious tangents interrupting the main story. For a few paragraphs there's plot and the next thing you know you're hearing the history of sentient zombie alien viruses that consistently produce the best coffee in the universe.

For some people that melts their brain like a vinyl disc sitting on a hot plate.

For me, it's butterscotch. It's chocolate. It's eating Dairy Queen blizzards with Grandma. It's sitting by the fire with my cat. It's new new car smell. It's old book smell.

It's home.

Yes, that's right Catherynne M. Valente. I too, am something of a brain damaged lunatic with the logic of a sentient math puzzle. I see you from across the room and I raise my chilled Faygo in your direction. And I award this book 9/10.

You get a full Space Juggalo secret handshake.

May the cats sleep comfortably, cuz otherwise we'll all be screwed.

Merry Christmas, Happy Pride, Don't ask an alien to share their feelings and stop huffing jet fuel. Unless you wanna learn ninjitsu from strange cosmic fetuses that float around your head. In which case, get down with the clown.

P.S.: I just realised this is BOOK 1 of a series of novels and I'm so happy my blood has turned into a fucking rainbow. My heart is pumping light. I am neon and electric fire. LIGHT WILL SAVE US.

Thank you. Blow me. Goodnight.
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews393 followers
October 30, 2018
Like being at the best cocktail party--EVER!

So funny, clever, over-the-top, philosophical Eurovision/Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that had hints of This is Spinal Tap and cameos by:

How you ask. Simple. After nearly annihilating the universe, the varying factions created the Grand Prix, a song competition. Humans are out to prove their sentience. Sounds easy? Not so fast, grasshopper. The descriptions of all the species and their peccadillos were fabulous, entertaining. Trust me, you love red pandas? You'll love them even more. Organic, inorganic, substantial, insubstantial--it's all good. Clearly, some species are always going to be more friendly than others, but there are always outliers too.

The fateful weapon? A large-print, mildly venomous picture book for which the general galactic population feels a level of affection and tender attachment that falls somewhere between Newton's Principia Mathematica and Goodnight Moon. Goguenar Gorecannon's Unkillable Facts contains 99.9 percent pure reliable and comprehensive laws of the universe as observed by an underachieving socially anxious mutant murderhippo and is considered to be as essential to a healthy, balanced childhood as hugs, night-lights, and cellular division.

I borrowed this book from my library, but I'm going to my local bookstore to get a copy so I can hand it out to people who really matter to me. And because there's at least one person who finished AP Calculus took the exam and still had a month of showing up to class, wherein the the teacher said do what you want and they teamed up to created/record a song called "Concave Up" set to the music of "Bottom's Up" by Trey Songz and Nicki Minaj; they deserve a book that speaks to them:

Second place went to the machine intelligences known as the 321 for their precision-tuned, eighty-nine-minute, neo-gangsta math rock anthem "This Program Has Encountered an Error and Must Shut Down," coded, compiled, and submitted by the Entity Known as Monad.

This is a wild ride on the pop culture tilt-a-whirl that critiques life and humanity. I got dizzy once while reading this and had to stop. Didn't stop me from jumping back on. Just don't have a corndog before hand. It was only once-- I swear.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
April 14, 2018
As much as I love Valente, I just can’t handle this book. So over the top and so not my thing. I did hate The Hitchhiker’s Guide, so I should have known...
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,130 followers
September 28, 2018
Catherynne M. Valente is an incredible prose stylist. Exceedingly verbose, deliriously lyrical; she whips up the craziest, most beautiful images with her long-winded sentences. Reading her feels like drinking a strange and unusual cocktail, and you have to be ready to get dizzy when you crack her books open: it’s all part of the fun. But it is not for everyone… The synopsis of “Eurovision in space meets Douglas Adams with a David Bowie-like protagonist” was not something I could have resisted from an average author, even less so from the woman who gave me “Radiance”, “Deathless” and “Speak Easy”. This book is psychedelic, dripping in glam-rock sequins, wry humour and it has space flamingoes! What else could a girl possibly want?!

Decibel Jones was – very briefly – the biggest rock star on Earth. But alas, such things aren’t meant to last very long and he is now a bit of has-been, trying to coast through life on as many chemical enhancers as he can handle until something rather unpredictable happens: aliens show up, and they are not how anyone expected them to be. At all. And they are here to deliver a bit of an ultimatum: humanity has to compete in the Metagalactic Grand Prix – and not come in dead last, or they will be obliterated. After the Sentience Wars ripped the galaxy apart, it has been decided that marginally intelligent life forms would have to prove they wouldn’t wreck everything by enrolling in this bizarre game show (which incidentally, reminded me of one of my favourite “Rick & Morty” episodes) or face annihilation. Because the galaxy just can’t go through another civil war… Somehow, Decibel and his band, the Absolute Zeroes, are drafted to represent humanity in this high stake talent show. But Dess and his multi-instrumentalist, Oort St. Ultraviolet, haven’t spoken in years, and the lovely drummer Mira is, well... unavailable…

I love the idea that if a species can’t make decent music, they are considered non-sentient. I would tend to agree with that, considering the importance music has in my life. And of course, Valente uses her admittedly insane premise to slip in some colourful commentary on music, but also on reality TV and humanity in general. Let’s face it: from an alien’s perspective, I can totally see how humanity could be judged as a complete and utter fuck up of a species. We do have a few redeeming qualities, but we also have a lot of explaining to do… When the flamingoes show up and explain why humanity needs to prove it is not a complete failure, I had to admit they made some really good points.

That being said, with all the world building, bizarre exposition and descriptions of highly original alien races and all that, there’s not a ton of room for character development. There are many chapters about the various alien civilizations that populate the galaxy, and how they performed in previous editions of the Grand Prix; so many of them in fact, that it gets quite confusing. I couldn’t quite keep up with the huge variety of alien species I was introduced to, and regret not having taken little notes as I read in order to be able to tell them from each other later on. The other problem with this over-abundance of information about things that don’t really drive the plot forward is that we never get to really know Decibel much… A mixed-ethnicity gendersplat (not entirely sure if that’s a word Valente made up or not…) and typically self-involved frontman, what we see of him is pretty much how I expected that description to turn out: obsessed with what people think of him, terrified of failure, unrepentant show pony. In other words, every frontman ever. I would have wanted to get to know him better, past the various stereotypes he embodies. And Mira… Why didn’t we get more of Mira?!

The highly creative language gymnastics Valente performs here are impressive – and sometimes excessive. But that goes with the spirit of her story: “Space Opera” is over the top across the board. It's also wonderfully silly and doesn’t really take itself too seriously. Just like glam rock! Valente injects a strong dose of absurdist humour, delightful puns and existential questionings about life, the Universe and everything in her story, and I drank it up like some brightly coloured, glittering booze. And her many clever music references never failed to make me giggle.

So 4 stars for an enjoyable, often hilarious story about a galaxy full of aliens who deeply care about music. For fans of comedic sci-fi, absurd humour, thought-provoking puns and glitter bombs.
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews189 followers
January 8, 2019
If you are a mostly adult SFF + YA reader like me, it doesn't matter which books you've read - this will be one of the weirdest you've ever found. It's Eurovision in space, against aliens, and if the humans lose, they will be exterminated.

This is the kind of book that doesn't make sense, but it also does. It's so over-the-top it's almost exhausting, it's comedy, it's so alien - but it's also a very human, very serious book. Its main themes are what it means to be human, whether human life is redeemable, the importance of art, and the nature of life itself.

But Space Opera didn't stop here, and that's why I loved it. It's funny while calling out sexism, racism and transphobia, it deals with colonialism, and it's openly political without becoming preachy. Also, chapter 13 is one of the best things I've ever read.

I've never liked comedy, so I was hesitant when I started this book - I like weird and I liked the premise, but all "funny" books I had ever read always felt like they were trying too hard. This felt different, mostly because nonsense is my sense of humor, and because the writing was always beautiful here, even when it made no sense.

And maybe the characters are never the strongest point in Valente's books, but I loved them too.
We have:
Danesh Jalo / Decibel Jones, a multiracial (Pakistani, Nigerian, Welsh and Swedish descent) person who describes himself as "omnisexual gendersplat", singer of the glamrock band Absolute Zeros in his youth. The mess that must save humanity, according to the aliens.
Mira Wonderful Star, "girlfraud, drummer, serial keyboard assaulter". Her death in a car accident put an end to the Absolute Zeros' career. Deserved better, everyone knows that (including the aliens), and so it goes.
Omar Calişkan / Oort St. Ultraviolet, Turkish descent, "man-of-all-instruments, boyfrack". Has tried to rebuild a functional life after all this mess, but the aliens don't agree. Also, the cat.
⇝ a very emotionally manipulative but not-so-bad after all flamingo/anglerfish hybrid-looking alien
⇝ a time-traveling hyperactive alien red panda
I loved all of them, and I loved all the weird alien species described. There's so much here that could have been explored, a whole universe of weird creatures I'd read a series about.

There was only one thing I didn't love: when the aliens come to Earth with the list of musicians that could represent humanity, the ones that are mentioned in the book are overwhelmingly English-speaking/singing. English is not the only language, and I think the aliens know that.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
425 reviews182 followers
December 31, 2020
Space Opera is Catherynne Valente at her most creatively and exuberantly unreadable. It’s a slick, holographic tale that I bounced off so hard and so repeatedly that it kind of started to hurt. Reading this book is like being the only sober person at a party where everyone else is high out of their minds on magic mushrooms. Like trying to make sense of the output of Hamlet-typing monkeys on LSD.

It’s so outre that I feel bad comparing it to nuts, cuckoo birds, and batshit, all of which are very reasonable things in comparison. I was attempting to summarize one part near the middle thus: “So, the blue flamingo alien grew a ship out of a polyp that ate one character’s roof, kitchen, and cell phone and is powered by a paradox that involves two people having sex in the engine room.” This is not an exaggeration. It just takes Valente a lot more words to say it.

Here’s a representative sampling of the writing:
The one vehicular commonality among all the millions of spacefaring species past, present, future, and Prefer Not to State is that it is easier, cheaper, and more fun to grow than to build. This is what Goguenar Gorecannon discovered in the carbonated shadows of the fluoro-chloro forest of Yllir as she tried to invent a way out of loneliness, and it led to both the impressive horror-tonnage of the Yurtmak Meatship and that marvelous Second General Unkillable Fact: For everything that exists, somewhere in the universe, there is a creature that eats it, breathes it, fucks it, wears it, secretes, perspires, exhales, or excretes it. Somewhere on Ynt, there was a mammal the size of a convention center, stuck taxonomically between a bear and a crocodile, the decomposition of whose fresh corpse produced the exact type of gases necessary (when combined with the electrostatic ion acid-sap of Yllir trees) to propel the entire disgusting mass of itself into orbit.

Right. I usually admire Valente’s indefatigable imagination and the way she thinks of things that would never, ever have bubbled up in my brain, but Space Opera takes it to a new level of word soup. There's coherence if you work for it, and there are interesting ideas about music, fame, culture, and sentience embedded deep within it, but there’s also enough insanity that I felt my eyeballs sliding off these page-long paragraphs as if they were oily. I mean, what else can the rational mind do when presented with sentences like, “I have just spent two weeks eating frozen plankton space burritos, watching some janky American shag his grandmother through a jellyfish’s arse, and listening to the animal sidekicks from the latest rubbish Disney musical chat with a man I can barely stand to look at about whether Kanye has transcended the hip-hop genre - and by the way, he hasn’t, he never did, and he has always been the worst”?

The whole thing is like that. You can flip to any random page and find something equally digressive, colorful, and hallucinatory.

Don't expect character or plot to give more shape to the story. The plot is as flimsy as they come. Aliens, alarmed by the prospect of human space travel, have decided to give us an ultimatum: prove ourselves worthy at the annual intergalactic music competition, or cease to exist. Somehow the best we could do was the Absolute Zeroes, a has-been glam punk band, 1/3 of which is now dead, and the remaining members of which kind of suck. Also, I was grossly misled about the prominence of a talking cat in the story.

I couldn’t finish. I really tried; the book was a gift, and I’m on staycation this week with nothing pressing to do. I made it about 50% of the way through and skimmed the rest to confirm that, nope, I still don't care. Although I have to say, "Everything Just Gets So Fucked Up Sometimes" sounds like a pretty good song and a fitting anthem of 2020.
Profile Image for Emily.
296 reviews1,534 followers
February 1, 2018
Okay, wow. What a book!

This was such a wonderful, wild ride. Valente's writing is gorgeous, per usual.

The middle portion of this dragged a bit for me, but I also think this is the kind of book where I'll pick it up to reread those passages that I initially thought of as boring. EVERYTHING in this book feel inventive and fun and silly and gravely serious all at the same time.

We flip between two stories, so to speak. One is the story of Decibal Jones and the Absolute Zeros, who have been selected to participate in an intergalactic singing competition in a bid to prove that humans are a sentient species. Failure (last place in the competition) means the entire human race will be wiped out by other aliens. The other "story" is not really a narrative, but rather chapters describing the various alien races we encounter during the traditional narrative parts of this book. The story feels a bit stop-start, but Valente really flexes her creative chops so at the end of the day I just have to tip my hat to those alien chapters.

At its core this is a book about empathy, about respecting the other. Like life, that weighty theme is often wrapped up in a whole lot of silliness, but Valente manages to bring back the seriousness at the core of this book with skill.

This is a bizarre, amazing book that I will definitely pick up again.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,030 reviews2,604 followers
May 13, 2018
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/05/12/...

The first line of the description for Space Opera likens it to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I think it’s an apt comparison because the influence of Douglas Adams clearly shows (and the author even acknowledges it). This is the kind of book that will make you simultaneously laugh and shake your head in amazement wondering how anyone could have come up with such crazy ideas. Considering how my first experience with a Valente novel was something of a downer (with The Refrigerator Monologues) this over-the-top and fun-filled romp through the galaxy was the breath of fresh air I needed.

Our story starts in the new future, when Earth suddenly finds itself visited by a bright blue, seven-foot-tall flamingo-like alien who offers humanity an opportunity to join the greater galactic civilization at large. However, after the disastrous results of a galaxy-wide conflict known as the Sentience Wars, these invitations are hardly going to be simply handed out to every new species they come across. So, what ultimately determines whether humans will be deserving of recognition and a place among the stars? The Metagalactic Grand Prix, a singing contest in which all prospective species vying for inclusion must compete to prove their worth. Come in dead last, and you will be deemed non-sentient and unfit to join the intergalactic community. Worse, your entire species will then be exterminated to prevent you from becoming a danger to yourself and others. (“Hey,” the blue alien bird thingy pretty much says to the people of Earth, “I didn’t make the rules. I’m just telling you all what’s up, so you better choose your representatives wisely if you don’t want your whole planet incinerated.”)

The good news is that the aliens are not just going to let the humans flounder, and they’ve even provided a helpful list of their favorite singers and bands—those they believe might have the best chance at success in the contest. The bad news is, pretty much everyone on that list is dead and gone, except for Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, a washed-up glam punk rock band who had one single hit in the mid-2000s before fading rapidly back into mediocrity. The band’s frontman, who was just getting used to being completely forgotten, is suddenly thrust back into the limelight as all of humanity’s hope now rests on his and his bandmates’ performance at the Grand Prix. Things aren’t looking too good for Earth, but at the very least, people are reminding themselves that they don’t have to win. Just as long as they don’t come in last, humanity has a chance! Unfortunately, Decibel “Dess” Jones isn’t even sure he has what it takes in him anymore, not to mention one of his band members, Oort St. Ultraviolet, is has become a weary middle-aged commercial musician with an ex-wife and two kids, and the other, Mira Wonderful Star, is dead, killed in a car crash. Everyone on Earth is now counting on what’s left of the Absolute Zeroes to get past all their insecurities and hang-ups in order to pull off a literal out-of-this-world performance—one that will mean either life or death for the entire human race.

Wow, where do I start? First: freaking awesome premise! But as this is Catherynne Valente, insanely and wonderfully creative ideas are pretty much a given. Her style can take some getting used to, especially in this case, where the novel is presented as an almost rambling narrative full of tangents and asides (some of which are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main story being told). In fact, the characters themselves even feel like mere footnotes at times—ancillary pieces of information tacked on to add more context to what’s playing out on the page. As a “characters first” kind of reader, I thought at first this would bother me, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. After all, how could I not be immediately drawn in by the wonders and fascinating sights of this amazing universe that the author has created? A small story in a big galaxy is how I look at this one. While it’s true that the book is more exposition heavy, and character development might be on the lighter side, Valente has really gone all out with her imagination and world-building here. Just reading about all the different kinds of unique alien species and cultures she has invented is worth the price of admission alone.

And then there’s the humor. It can be described as a mixed bag, but satire is definitely a major component. Valente spares nothing and nobody, poking fun at everything from sci-fi genre tropes to the absurdities of human existence. There are also pop culture references aplenty, as well as moments of slapstick comedy and just plain silliness. Admittedly, it can also become a bit too much at times, and I’ve noticed that the author has a tendency to get carried away, especially when she’s getting into a rhythm and doesn’t know when to hold back. Despite the story’s energetic pacing, things started flag for me in the last third of the book, quite possibly as a result of the novelty starting to wear off and fatigue settling in. Also, humor being so subjective, the strange and madcap nature of the kind in this book will mean that it won’t be for everyone. Your mileage may vary, and personally, I was able to enjoy the style and tone of the novel, but even I felt it ended exactly when it should have.

All in all, Space Opera was good fun—as you would expect from a novel with its loud and glittery cover, quippy tagline, and punny title. Its premise is most certainly guaranteed to be nothing you’ve ever seen before, full of lightness and frivolity, but there’s also a lot of heart and meaning. That said, I was still glad when the book finished when it did, before we started going overboard with the comedic shenanigans and lengthy asides. Valente might have wound up overdoing it in the end anyhow, but then managed to pull it back just in time for a satisfying conclusion.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
July 2, 2018
I am a big fan of Catherynne Valente, but she's one of those writers with a very distinctive style that does not always hit the right notes for me. To use what is possibly the most unlikely equivalence of all, I will compare her to Cormac McCarthy — sometimes his long, run-on punctuationless walls of text evoke the natural world and the brutality of humankind in an incomparable, breathtaking fashion, and sometimes you just want to throw one of his books at the wall and say "Learn what a comma is for, you pretentious piker!"

Valente is very fond of "word bling" - she decorates her sentences with glittering Oort clouds of adjectives and metaphors dredged up from Jungian archetypes as envisioned by Lovecraft in prosey crafted artisanal constructions that sometimes look like works of genius and sometimes look like the work of a precious, precious child trying to show what a clever girl with a big vocabulary she is.

In Space Opera, Catherynne Valente tries to be funny. And... it doesn't really work.

Life is beautiful and life is stupid. This is, in fact, widely regarded as a universal rule not less inviolable than the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Uncertainty Principle, and No Post on Sundays. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of all-annihilating flames to help you follow along.

True confession time: I have never been a fan of Douglas Adams. I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and my reaction was "meh." Yes, it was clever and funny in places and unimaginably alien aliens who still act like a bunch of quarreling civil servants was a cute schtick for... oh, one book. I felt no need to read the rest of the series. Catherynne Valente is clearly doing a riff on Adams in her own style, and she always puts a little bit of heart, some existential soul-searching, into her books. So in Space Opera, the aliens who come to destroy Earth aren't doing so because it happens to be in the way of an intergalactic freeway construction project. They are doing it because:

I'll put this in words you can understand: humans are hideous, pain-guzzling, pollution-spouting space monsters who might threaten our way of life. Now, how does that usually pan out in the movies, kitten? At least we let you try to convince us we're wrong. I doubt you asked the dodo birds what they thought about it before you blasted the last one in the face with a blunderbuss.

Earth got noticed by the rest of the galaxy, and it turns out that there is a process for inducting newly-discovered sentient species into the galactic community: you have to prove your sentience. With a song.

In madcap Douglas Adams-style fashion, the aliens abduct a has-been glam rocker named Decibel Jones and his estranged band to represent Earth in the Metagalactic Grand Prix, which is basically a EuroVision-style music competition in which Valente can describe all sorts of bizarre aliens performing music in ways that defy carbon-based physiology and psychological understanding, and yet underneath the tusks and tentacles and slime and photonic beams and viral colonies, all the aliens are basically a bunch of divas converging on the Grand Prix like a Coachella Festival as filmed by James Cameron with set design by H.R. Giger. For added drama, it turns out that it's tacitly encouraged to sabotage your competition before the performance; the drama makes for better ratings. Actual murder is considered a bit gauche, but not against the rules. So Decibel Jones and his band not only have to outsing the rest of the galaxy, but also avoid getting kacked in the process in a game whose rules they don't even really understand.

And it's all kind of funny. But with sentence after sentence with descriptions like "something that looked like a zoo run through a blender" or "the lovechild of a rhinoceros and a chainsaw who then went on to mate with (some other ridiculous bizarro combination of unlikely juxtapositions)," it also got a bit tedious. There was more "Look how zany and clever and funny all these alien shenanigans are!" than plot.

This reads like a negative review, I know. I am often critical of those "middle-of-the-road" books that I actually rather liked but just wanted to be so much better. And Catherynne Valente is capable of much better. Space Opera was an imaginative romp that lives up to its title — alien hijinks and glam rockers saving the world. It was just a bit lightweight with too much descriptive filler. But I absolutely think Jermaine Clement should play Decibel Jones in the movie.

Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,630 reviews325 followers
August 30, 2018
With 916 reviews here already, I will be brief. As always, read the head-blurb first. The reviews are, well, mixed. I’m in the middle.

It’s a *very unusual* first-contact story, well-done, imaginative…. It really is SF. It held my attention until the last few chapters, when the silliness and jungle-rules of the Grand Prix du Galaxie got to be too much. Non-spoller alert: the book ends well, with sweetness & light and even less credibility.

I *loved * Capo the cat, who got a partial Uplift in the deal. Here is her key to a happy life: every day, get in a nap, a kill, and a snuggle — and the snuggle is optional. Half a star added for Capo. The Galactics fear the race of Cats!
So. 3.5 stars, rounded down for silliness and confusion.

Bonus stuff online:

Interviewer: Suppose you were abducted by aliens and forced to perform in a talent show to save planet Earth. What would your talent be (besides writing)? Also, have you ever been in a talent show, yourself?

CMV: I have! Are you ready for this level of dorky? Because I don’t think you are.

In 5th grade I played the alto xylophone and sang in Latin in my school talent show. BOY DID I BECOME POPULAR. (I did not.)

I’m not so bad at singing, though. And I look pretty great in sequins.


CMV: As I was signing the contract, my fiance asked: “Does it really just say ‘Eurovision in space’? Do you actually have any idea how you’re gonna pull that off?”

“Yes, it does,” I said. “And no, I don’t.”
Profile Image for Sylvie .
632 reviews820 followers
May 23, 2020
DNF @ 15%

One of the things I hate doing when it comes to reading is dnf-ing it, I keep myself hopeful at first when I don't like the plot, character, writing style etc... But most of the time when I dislike a book from the beginning it stays like that till the very end. So, I decided not to torture myself, not even bother skipping to the end and just dnf it.

The premise of this book intrigued me from the very beginning, and since it was described as being like Eurovision set in space, of course the Eurovision fanatic in me was nothing but excited. Unfortunately my excitement didn't last long.

I couldn't connect with the story nor the characters, everything was just too dull. But the one and only thing I did like was that each title of a chapter was a Eurovision winning song of a certain year, but that's about it.
Profile Image for Gabi.
693 reviews120 followers
August 23, 2020
2.5 stars

This one is really difficult to rate. It isn't as bad as my rating suggests - if you are in the right mood for it. There were times that were wonderfully funny and had me laughing out loud. Everything felt extremely familiar Douglas Adams like with 2/3 of a luckless glitter band that has to represent Earth in an intergalactic Grand Prix d'Eurovision and mustn't come last to avoid the destruction of their home planet.

But the crazy, very wordy, funny writing was often so over the top and way too much of everything, that it overshot the goal of being a worthy "Hitchiker" companion.
When laughing changes into cringing then the line is crossed.

I feel a bid bad for the rating, cause the idea really was hilarious - the execution just was too funny in the end.

Yet I will check out other books of the author, cause my interest is definitely piqued.
Profile Image for Rachel (rachandbooks).
281 reviews146 followers
July 7, 2018
"Life is beautiful and life is stupid."

Ohhhhh Cat Valente, how I adore your writing. This is the fourth book by her I've read and I've adored ALL of them. I understand that she writes niche things, but I love it. Who would have thought that a book about Eurovision in space would become a favorite of mine? Well, I didn't, but because Valente was writing it, I had a hunch I would admire it.

Space Opera begins on little planet Earth, where the people inhabiting it find out that there is life outside of our world. Much more, in fact. After a horrible intergalactic war, every sentient species must compete in a contest in which everyone is competing with each other to prove their sentience in order to continue existing. The problem for Earth is that this is much farther in the future and the world is running low on talent. So, they decide to let the washed-up Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes lead the fight to survive. Queue the glitter, queue the lights!

Valente combines humor and social commentary in the most brilliant of ways, often making you laugh and then *think* about what is being said. It's really unapologetic in that way. Take this for example:

"After all, you always win against the monsters, even though you’re the ones slowly cooking your planet because you can’t be bothered not to, butchering one another for fun and profit, making up elaborate stories that start with being calm and treating everyone with kindness and equality but somehow always end with somebody getting enslaved, absolutely obliterating the other species with whom you share a world so you can take a photograph with their corpses or gobble up their best features in hopes of achieving a more satisfying erection, and being generally willing to sell the fleeting, unique, fragile lives of everyone you’ve ever met if it means you can consume a slightly larger share of resources than they can."

SO GOOD. Also quite an impressively long sentence. Again, I love the way she writes. If you don't like this kind of writing then you might find this book a little exhausting. But I live for this type of writing. I love how Valente tells the story of Decibel Jones and his Zeroes while also including alternating chapters explaining other species in the galaxy. Some are frightening, some humorous, some relatable. All of it is very imaginative. The worldbuilding of this book is really fantastic considering that it's not a particularly long book. I looked forward to every chapter that expanded the worldbuilding to galaxybuilding. It's impressive!

The thing I loved most of all about this book is that, among the trials and bad history on our worlds part, it's incredibly optimistic. It's a hopeful gem of a novel. It made me feel proud to be human. It's laugh out loud funny, so weird and ridiculous, and very sweet at times. It's very well thought out. I think it's a great idea and even better execution. I've found yet another Valente favorite! 5/5 stars.
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