It is the near future and life is far more prevalent in the galaxy than anyone had dreamed. Humanity learns this, much to their chagrin, when an Esca appears to each and every person on planet Earth simultaneously and explains they are not alone. It would be one thing to find out that aliens exist in an astonishingly wide variety but that was not the reason for the Esca’s visit. Instead, humanity was informed that they must prove their sentience in order to continue existence. Otherwise the planet would be wiped and the Earth could have another go at developing a dominant species.
When galactic species first became aware that they were not alone, wars broke out over who were sentient and therefore people. Once all the dust settled (and it was decided no one wanted to go through that again!), a way had to be determined to test future species for sentience and whether they could be welcomed as civilized to the cluster, or annihilated before they could start up another galactic war.
But how do you prove sentience?
In order to create a pop band, the whole apparatus of civilization must be up and running and tapping its toe to the beat. Electricity, poetry, mathematics, sound amplification, textiles, arena architecture, efficient mimetic exchange, dramaturgy, industry, marketing, the bureaucratic classes, cultural critics, audiovisual transmission, special effects, music theory, symbology, metaphor, transportation, banking, enough leisure and excess calories to do anything beyond hunt, all of it, everything….Are you kind enough on your little planet, not so shut that rhythm down?….Do you have soul?
To solve that problem the Meta-Galactic Grand Prix was invented; “part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza”, a souped up version of Eurovision in space to prove that a species was worthy of being a contributing member in the galaxy.
From a short list of bands the Esca brought with them, that were thought of as potentially capable of performing on a galactic stage, Decibel Jones and the Automatic Zeros was at the bottom. And Decibel Jones (formerly Danesh Jalo of England) resented his place on the list. With the death of Mira Wonderful Star, the band had been broken up for some time now. Decibel continued on chasing the glam rock dream and coasting on former glory. Oort St. Ultraviolet (Omar Caliskan of England) had turned away from the limelight for a regular pay check playing music on other people’s records and recording jingles. Estranged for many years the two must unite and put together a performance to prove humanity’s sentience.
This book was a lot of fun and the way in which Catherynne Valente wrote reminded me a LOT of Douglas Adams author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. She even thanks him in the afterward. The aliens, their planets, and descriptions of past Meta-Galactic Grand Prix performances were wildly imaginative. I wish we could award half stars because I would give this 3.5. Valente seems to love a nearly run on sentence and the use of commas as much as Patrick Rothfuss. It’s better than “a good book” but through out I would have to occasionally re-read to parse out what was being said, which kept it from being “a great book”. It took me a bit to settle in but once I did it was highly entertaining.