Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

35297390If you are a mostly adult SFF + YA reader like me, it doesn’t matter which books you’ve read – Space Opera 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.

This is not the first book set in space I’ve read by this author – Radiance was, and it was also one of my favorite books of last year. I can already tell that Space Opera will make it to my favorites of this year – it’s completely different from Radiance, futuristic comedy instead of decopunk noir, but it’s still undeniably, recognizably… Valente. And of course I loved it.

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 the band, 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.

My rating: ★★★★★

8 thoughts on “Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

    1. Half of this book is about weird alien societies doing weird alien stuff, so yes it was great!
      The characters are weirder than Radiance’s, but the storyline is easier to follow and told in a more linear way.

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  1. oh man, i’ve actually been excited for this one for a long time! im so glad u see u enjoyed it this much, especially the humor!! like,,, i think that’s the part im actually worried abt?? i know i will love valente’s writing, it’s a done deal, but will i like her sense of humor????

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Comedy isn’t usually for me so I was worried about that too, but the humor here is mostly nonsense in very pretty words and I really like nonsense? So it worked for me. I hope it works for you too if you try it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide so I don’t know if the comparison is accurate, but the Eurovision-in-space part definitely is, and it’s as great as it sounds. I hope you like it too!

      Liked by 1 person

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