So the 2019 Hugo nominees were recently announced. I had read all the novel nominees a few years ago and found it to be a rewarding exercise. I missed out on doing that last year, but hey, I should be able to manage it this year, right? I’ve already read Record of a Spaceborn Few and Spinning Silver, so next up on the list is Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera.

So the thing about this is, it’s a book about a galactic Eurovision contest, and the heroes are over-the-hill glam rockers. Books about pop music are really, really not my thing, and if I’d realized the full meaning of the title before I’d started reading, I might have just skipped it entirely.

It’s also written in a style that can only be described as Douglas Adams pastiche—but it’s actually more amped-up than Adams ever was. Like, you know the little parts between chapters where Adams will go off into an extended essay about (for instance) how big space is, before narrowing his focus back down to Arthur Dent and what’s happening to him? Valente stays in that extended essay mode almost the whole time, never really tightening up and falling back into quiet understatement, but always staying at the grandiose level of the hyper-absurd. Maybe it’s like the glam rock version of Douglas Adams.

And so yeah, I wasn’t expecting to really like this very much; at 5% of the way in, I almost just gave up on it entirely, but I enjoy doing the Hugo read thing even if I don’t super-love a particular book, so I kept going, and… well, Valente made it work, even for me. There’s enough heart to the characters, enough originality in the world-building, and enough verve in the writing that it kept me reading and interested. I’m not crying out for a sequel or anything, but it was an enjoyable read.

If it sounds like the sort of thing you’ll like, you’ll probably like it a great deal; if it sounds like the sort of thing you’d hate, who knows, you might still like it. Recommended.


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