by Catherynne M. Valente
Space Opera is the love child of Ziggy Stardust and Douglas Adams. There is no doubt about it. Someplace in the afterlife, they got it on in some sort of intergalactic, orgiastic, cosmic union and channeled their union through writer Catherynne M. Valente who dutifully produced their progeny. There really is no doubt about this, no doubt at all.
Take the first sentence. Does it not ring with the sound of Adams’, “uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy”?
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.
For the first couple dozen pages, you would be forgiven if you thought Valente had channeled Adams’ ghost. Then you meet down-on-his-luck glam rocker Decibel Jones. Then Jones meets the Roadrunner. Then the dials get turned up to eleven, ripped off of the amps, hurled into orbit, down the digestive track of a wormhole, and finally poured on stage at the galactic equivalent of Eurovision. Oh, and if Jones fails, we all die.
But the book isn’t just a page turner because of the plot. There are aliens. Oh there are so many glorious aliens. Talking viruses, animate knife-o-saureses, undulating tubes of molten Venetian glass, wayward computer code, aliens made of tough, stringy math and many, many more. There are words. Oh there are so many glorious words. Valente’s prose doesn’t sing. It kicks the door down with its thigh-high bejeweled pumps, seizes the microphone with a sequin-gloved hand and belts out a glam-rock ballad through glittered lips. Take for example:
No one weeps for meat, after all.
If that one blue idiot ball had such trouble solving the meat/people equation when presented with, say, a German and a person not from Germany, imagine the consternation of the Alunizar Empire upon discovering all those Ursulas floating about on their cut-rate lavadump, or the Inaki, a species of tiny, nearly invisible parasitic fireflies capable of developing a sophisticated group consciousness, provided enough of them were safely snuggled into the warm chartreuse flesh of a Lensari pachyderm. Imagine the profound existential annoyance of those telekinetic sea squirts who ruled half the galaxy when their deep-space pioneers encountered the Sziv, a race of massively intelligent pink algae who fast-forwarded their evolutionary rise up the pop charts with spore-based nanocomputers, whose language consisted of long, luminous screams that could last up to fourteen hours and instantly curdle any nearby dairy products. And how could anyone be expected to deal with the Hrodos with a straight face when the whole species seemed to be nothing more than a very angry sort of twilit psychic hurricane occurring on one measly gas giant a thousand light-years from a decent dry cleaner?
And so it goes, right up the pop charts and into galactic history. This is the most fantastic, phantasmagoric, cosmic and funny book you can read this summer. Just go get it already? What are you waiting for, an abduction? When the aliens come, they come for us all baby. Just turn the page.