It’s nearly impossible to read this book and not compare it to Hitchhiker’s Guide, and I don’t know how to give it a fair review without those thoughts tumbling around in my head. This was an interesting, fun read…but NOTHING is going to come out on top when you compare it to Hitchhiker.
Humans are just getting close enough to attempting space travel to make the rest of the universe nervous, so they have to compete in the universal sentience test or risk total destruction. This test takes the form of a kind of intergalactic Eurovision-style battle of the bands, with each planet sending representatives. If the judges like your song and performance, your race gets to live. Otherwise, your planet will be sterilized of that species so they can’t inflict themselves on the rest of the universe. (The planet itself is left alone, in case other creatures evolve enough to try again later.)
A glowing blue flamingo alien shows up on Earth to let the world know that they need to choose a representative. Unfortunately, their info and/or taste in music seems a bit out of date, and everybody on their list of potential representatives is dead – except for the washed-up, has-been members of Decibel Jones and the (one remaining) Absolute Zeros.
It’s a fun idea, and Decibel Jones is great. He and his bandmate have 11 days of interstellar travel to write a planet-saving song (no pressure). However, it’s a LOT. Reading this book is like the first 10 minutes of Moulin Rouge. It’s frenetic and wacky and wants you to KNOW how frenetic and wacky it is. You kind of have to wade through the prose with a machete. The sentences go on for paragraphs, the descriptions go into details that assume you already know the history of each set of aliens, and it’s all so flowery and ornate.
The sidebars into past performances, wars, competition rules, and planetary flora and fauna reminded me a lot of asides from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I could almost hear it being narrated in that style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that that comparison is never going to go in your favor. As much as I liked Decibel and his grandma, he was no Arthur Dent.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m working on being more culturally sensitive. It’s a struggle, when your culture is so much better and older and more advanced than everyone else’s.”
“You can choose your friends, you can choose your outfit, but you can’t choose the environmental conditions that led to the evolution of your specialized anatomy.”