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Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

I've decided that 2023 is going to be the year that I a) stop buying so many books that are just going to sit on my shelves for ages and ages before I get around to reading them, and b) actually read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for ages and ages.

With that in mind, I finally picked up Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente. I was initially drawn to the book by the tag line ("In space, everyone can hear you sing") and the idea that this book was basically Space Eurovision with a thin veneer of extra plot. Aliens have discovered humanity, and in order for humanity to prove that they're sentient (and thus avoid the planet getting blown up) they have to participate in (and not come in last in) the Metagalactic Grand Prix (Space Eurovision!). Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros--a washed up Brit-pop sensation--have been chosen to represent humanity. The only problem is that the band is broken up: the drummer died a decade ago, and neither Decibel Jones (vocalist) nor Oort (keyboardist) have really gotten over her death. Decibel Jones spends most of his time drunk in his apartment, and Oort lives in the suburbs caring for his kids. They're going to have to get their act together if they want to avoid getting assassinated, incapacitated, or otherwise removed from the competition.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The way that Valente explores the characters and their relationships and traumas was excellent. There wasn't a ton of plot, but the premise was fun enough that I didn't need a ton of plot to keep me hooked. Unfortunately, what didn't work for me was the writing. It was so over the top and all over the place and glitter and tangents and silliness that it was just too much. It felt like the book was in love with its own wittiness. Some of it was genuinely quite funny, but most of it was just tiring. I didn't want serious prose in a book like this, but it would have been nice to have some space for the jokes and silliness and tangents to breathe.

Ultimately, while I don't regret reading Space Opera, it's not going to be one that I keep around, and I (probably) won't be reading the sequel when it comes out.

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