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Kalbear

SPACE OPERA: It will ROCK YOU IN THE FACE

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Sooo...Space Opera...the first 40 pages were a slog.  It picked up some in the next 40 pages.  Now on to the next bit.

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@Kalbear You sold it to me. I just finished it.

it's not like you said. It's short, overwrought, sometimes trying too hard and a bit sad under the fun varnish, but I cried a little in the end. 100 points, level up, thanks for the rec.

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I want to love this book, but in the end, it fell way short of my expectations. It read like mediocre Douglas Adams fanfic. The ending was rushed and hackneyed. 

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I enjoyed it despite it sagging badly in the middle.  It does feel like an emo version of the Zaphod POV in tHHGttG but the prose is very entertaining for the most part.  

The author struggled a bit to turn a fun concept into a full novel, but still a worthwhile read. 

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Posted (edited)

I find that this thread has mirrored Valente’s writing style in Space Opera. It began on topic, then meandered quite a bit in a way that was entertaining but not clearly relevant. 

I liked the book. Not my favorite type of prose, and sometimes a slog, but really witty and funny and sad in parts. And short enough that I didn’t feel bogged down by it all. I think someone that’s watched Eurovision (I haven’t) would get more out of it. 

Edited by unJon
Typo

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So...I ended up shelving it...I just couldn't get into it once it started sagging in the middle... maybe I'll try again later...

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Fifty pages into it. About one in three jokes land, the language is overwrought, the run-on sentences are painful to read and the author should be told that commas are not optional.

There's some good ideas floating around here, but it doesn't learn the lesson from Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett that sometimes less is more. Those guys were funny but they could also be restrained, a word that doesn't apply to this novel. It feels a lot more like a Robert Rankin book when his editor isn't on his game.

Still, certainly not awful and it's good to see someone trying to write a funny SF novel, but certainly not great.

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4 hours ago, Werthead said:

Fifty pages into it. About one in three jokes land, the language is overwrought, the run-on sentences are painful to read and the author should be told that commas are not optional.

Is this the first book you read by this author? Never finished anything by her because of that. . . :ack:

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I liked Deathless a lot, actually, but have not tried anything since for various reasons, mainly due to her questionable use of crowd funding.

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Man, I love Valente's prose. Certainly not for everyone though clearly.

Mind, I do think she uses it better in the Fairyland books, Palimpsest, and Radiance, and this will probably end up being her book I'm least likely to re-read, in hindsight.

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, unJon said:

I don’t follow the Dan Harmon comment. 

Season 2, Episode 15 of Harmon's animated show Rick & Morty featured Earth about to be destroyed by aliens who demanded that the planet sing on reality TV for its survival.

Edited by Werthead

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Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Earth has just discovered that it is not alone in the universe. There's a multitude of alien races out there, not all of them very nice, and they recently only just avoided annihilating one another in the Sentience Wars, a conflict driven over what races were and were not intelligent. To replace interstellar warfare, they have introduced the Metagalactic Grand Prix, essentially a world-spanning singing contest. In order to prove itself worthy, Earth must send its finest musical artists to literally sing for the planet's survival. Unfortunately, the only artists acceptable to the aliens are washed-up has-been Decibel Jones and Oort St. Ultraviolet, whose brief superstardom years earlier has left both of them in very different conditions. To save the world, they have to put the band back together.



Space Opera is a comic SF novel written by Catherynne M. Valente, inspired by Douglas Adams and the Eurovision Song Contest, that kitsch and silly musical talent show which has replaced armoured warfare as the primary means of measuring international competition on the European continent. As the book is careful to make clear, this means it should be zany, crazy, neon-drenched, glitterball-kicking fun. And to be fair, Catherynne M. Valente has a go. There's a lot of invention in this novel, various original alien species and entertainingly bananas planets that are described with inventive glee.

The problem is that the book tells you it's going to be crazy fun, but never really kicks off into being zany fun on its own merits. It also tells you that it's inspired by Douglas Adams but doesn't really learn any of the lessons of Adams' work, which is centred in a dry wit, and a lot of English restraint which occasionally cuts loose in bananas set pieces which will leave you giggling in your chair like a loon. Instead, Space Opera has to settle for generating the occasional wry smile.

The book is oddly structured. At 290 pages of both large and very well-spaced type, it's very short (which is good, as the premise is too thin to support a prolonged narrative) but bizarrely lopsided. Approximately the first 200 pages of the book are dedicated to lengthy profiles of each alien race, the history of their worlds and the history of the Metagalactic Grand Prix. We're also introduced to our two protagonists and a couple of other alien characters, who explain the situation and travel to the planet where the Grand Prix is being hosted and, er, that's it. The actual plot of the book is rounded off in a mere 90 pages, the bulk of which is taken up by a drinks reception. The actual singing competition is over in a just a few pages. A compelling narrative this does not make.

The writing is meant to be witty and funny, but this is made difficult by the book being almost entirely written in long paragraphs, run-on sentences and an inventive but nonstandard use of commas (i.e. mostly forgetting there is any such thing as commas). It feels like this book should have been written in shorter bursts which made its points more succinctly. As it stands, despite the book's short length, reading it and parsing the enormous blocks of text feels like far more work than it should be for a book that is, by design, supposed to be short, zany and disposable fun.

The character work is fine, by which I mean protagonist Decibel Jones is a monumental tool it's hard to have much time for, but Oort St. Ultraviolet is a well-motivated fellow and we get some well-defined band dynamics. Mira is by far the most interesting character in the book, but gets the least amount of development by dint of having died some time before it starts. The story is okay, but so extremely brief that I wonder if this was originally supposed to be a short story and was padded out to novel length for commercial reasons.

A fairly major problem for the well-read SF and fantasy fan will be the nagging feeling this has been done before, and much better: Terry Pratchett's Soul Music and Robert Rankin's The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code are both amusing and finely readable musical-influenced genre novels (although neither are the author's best). In fact, I kept wondering what madcap monk-genius Rankin would have made of this premise on one of his good days. I suspect it would have been a lot more entertaining. Rick and Morty also produced a reasonably entertaining episode with a similar premise a couple of years back, which was fine (although again not one of the show's best).

Space Opera (**½) is a weirdly-paced, oddly-structured novel which is nowhere near as amusing as it wants to be, but manages to raise a few laughs here and there, but is also overwritten and overwrought with a thin story. A quintessentially non-essential read. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

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Damn, @Werthead , never read Proust.

Thinking about it, maybe people familiar with more germanic languages, and thus with longer sentences are less bothered by Valente's style. I don't know, the main thing I have against her style is that it's too clinical... which of course is a bit crippling for something that aims to be funny I suppose, but Space Opera worked for me not because it made me laugh (it did not actually) but because it was a fun satire of the politics of Eurovision and a sad description of what it meant to be a loser yet still a human capable of conjuring a miracle.

 

Also, maybe an unpopular opinion, but Mira was a cheap melodramatic McGuffin, and the thing that is furthest from an Adams or Pratchett storytelling trick. Alien politics and alien way of thinking and ridiculously serious business high stake corny singing competition and sex and blue flamingos and not losing by happenstance while staying a loser, now, that's another thing (and that's Eurovision in a nutshell)

 

Also, cats rule.

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