When someone asks me about my hobbies, I usually start with the basics: drawing, reading, very amateur comedy…and it takes quite a bit of digging before someone I don’t know too well finds out I also follow developments in intellectual property law (mostly in the US.) It hardly qualifies as persecuted “nerd culture,” but disappointingly few people want to hear about the differences between copyrights, trademarks, and patents and why they shouldn’t be used interchangeably in conversation. (On the other hand, #cockygate has been more exciting for me than any celebrity breakup in recent memory.)
I also dabble in the more stereotypical definition of nerdery, so the synopsis for Year Zero, by Rob Reid, tickled just the right spot: aliens pick up signals beamed from earth, become obsessed with human music…and then find out they owe a universe-worth of riches in royalties. Hijinks of the legal and laser varieties ensue.
Unfortunately, while the idea behind the story is enjoyable and creative, Reid is definitely stronger in his copyright and licensing law knowledge than he is on effectively communicating a narrative. Though billed on Wikipedia as a thriller, the stakes never feel quite real, and it often tumbles into self-indulgent humor that doesn’t quite land. Some of it is obnoxious (the running gag about finding as many ways as possible to call a female character a slut based on her appearance), and some of it is just kind of lame (most of the planets have names that do not sound cool in typical sci-fi ways.)
The book also wants very badly to be commentary on all manner of modern pet peeves but never can quite pick anything for long enough to say anything meaningful. On top of the ridiculousness of music copyright law and the political graft that feeds it, the narrative throws out a shotgun spray of social ills including reality TV, people you think are not as smart as you are, corporate greed, pranks between friends, pretentious New York restaurants, celebrity worship, governmental bureaucracy, relatives without personal boundaries, and how hard it can be to talk to pretty girls.
To its credit, the book is certainly creative in its settings, locations, and alien tech, introducing bizarre creatures and a variety of planets and space stations. It whips its protagonist through a dizzying array of locations and situations like a frenetic channel surfer, picking up clues and useful items along the way until it all resolves at the end with a bit of a shrug.
I honestly wanted better for this book, and I could tell the author had a grand time writing it, but ultimately the creative premise and settings can’t hold up under the unfocused narrative and clunky prose.