Bingo Square (Round 2): Center/Free Space
I was originally going to use this as my brain candy spot, but it didn’t quite fit that category for me. There was just a bit too much going on in the first few chapters for it to be pure fluff, and required more attention than my tired brain was expecting. There are absolutely absurd and hilarious moments, but with all the details of the all different parts of the galaxies, it also demands slightly more reader attention than your average brain candy.
Over a hundred years ago, galactic powers had a huge, destructive war, and decided they needed to come up with a better way to determine whether a species was sentient and should be accorded rights or if it could be ignored. The best solution was an galactic singing competition, reminiscent of Eurovision since being able to make music requires a certain amount of technological prowess, the ability to appreciate and make art and a few other criteria that would make the case for sentience. There was actually a quote in there that made me think of Almost Famous, a movie I haven’t re-watched in ages: “Only the uncool have the requisite alone time to advance their species.”
Earth is at the point where it has achieved enough technologically that it is has unwittingly made the galaxy aware of its existence and raising some alarms (or to quote the alien rep: “You’re just shy of figuring out how to shuffle your horde of hormone-curdled control-obsessed malignant narcissists offworld. In short, you were about to become our problem.“) The rest of the galaxy needs to make sure Earth won’t start another war if accepted into the fold and so Earth must prove its sentience and potential for a better future or face annihilation. Fortunately, the Earth musical representative doesn’t even have to win the competition – they simply need to come higher than dead last. Unfortunately, most of the bands and artist that the rest of the universe believe have potential to even compete are either too old or too dead to play – and most are not exactly considered in human best of music lists, including acts such as Insane Clown Posse and Yoko Ono. And being human, we would rather die than let certain acts represent us: “go fuck yourself, no, Skrillex is not going to go down as the savior of humanity. It’s just not happening. I’d rather die in a sea of nuclear fire.”
The only viable choice is Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, a kind of glam rock band that has been broken up since one of its three members died in a car crash. They are just as surprised as everyone else that they have made the list – or to quote the former lead singer, “What the bloody goddamned rabbit-fucking hell is my name doing at the bottom of that list?” (This is also my new favorite line in literature!) Actually, the remaining Absolute Zero was asleep during the announcement and doesn’t realize until Decibel Jones comes to pick him up that it wasn’t simply a particularly vivid and crazy dream.
Valente uses her rather hilarious premise to not only address the idea of sentience and what makes one species be able to claim it over others (there are a few jokes about dolphins and cats), she also uses it to make comment on humanity’s darker side, including our history of slavery, colonialism and othering, and our current climate of immigration fears. In fact, while Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes are a British band, there are very much gatekeepers commenting on how they aren’t truly British given the diverse cultural backgrounds of the band members (Indian, Turkish, Japanese and Jewish among others).
I was entertained by the novel and the amount of detail and creativity behind the other sentient species of the galaxy. Overall, I enjoyed it and laughed out loud during a few sections but the novel is also a bit exhausting because there is so much going on – it’s brain candy in some aspects, but definitely requires the reader to pay attention.
Bingo Square: Center/Free Space