Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Galaxies competing for glory in a universe-wide musical contest—where the stakes are as high as the fate of planet Earth.

A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented—something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for Galactivision—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick, and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny—they must sing.

A band of human musicians, dancers, and roadies have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente. Book 1 in the Space Opera series. Audiobook edition, 9 hours and 46 mins. Published by HighBridge, April 2018.

Wow. Uh… I’m…. not sure exactly what I just listened to over here…. This book really had me scratching my head and feeling pretty frustrated a majority of the time. Space Opera felt so…. convoluted and… really drawn out… and stuffed full of not a lot of anything….? I don’t even know, dude. Like……WTF?

I had been toying with getting this book since it came out. I’m so-so on scifi, but the cover of this book is just so gorgeous and curious and it kept luring me over to check it out, but never buying. The plot sounded interesting but, I kept waffling on it. I didn’t know the author and I just had so many other books I’ve been wanting and reading, so I kept passing. Finally, a few weeks ago, a friend of mine recommended it. He said that he heard it was hilarious and really, really good. I had been hearing the same online for a while. So I figured, ok, I will see if the library has it on audio and I’ll finally give it a try.

Everything starts off well. The story pretty much jumps right in to a giant blue, 8ft tall flamingo fish alien telling humanity how they have to enter a galactic idol type contest. Ok, good… good… I’m with you….

Then things start going off the rails. Fast. I seriously don’t even know where to even BEGIN!

Ok, so, one of the biggest problems (although, to be fair, there are several big problems here!), are the sentences. Holy run-on sentence, Batman! So. Many. Commas. I mean, the sentences just went on and on and on. Eventually I would forget where we even were going with these sentences in the first place! As if the long ass sentences aren’t bad enough, they are all sprinkled with wonky words and convoluted phrases. Do I need a dictionary? A thesaurus? Half the time I felt like I only had a half vague idea of what we were even talking about anymore. :/

Ok, now bare with me here for a second… I’m a huge wrestling fan. Wrestling is scripted (OMG NUUU! ). The stories and matches are written by people called Bookers. They do the “booking”, right? Sometimes when a booker is doing a story, they start adding gimmicks to keep people on their toes and keep them interested in what we are watching. That’s a good thing, right? Yes. It’s what keeps us hooked (assuming the gimmicks they are working with are good.). But. Sometimes the booker gets a little out of control, or in over their head, or caught up in the excitement. They start adding more gimmicks. Then some more. And more. More. More. More. Soon the story has so many gimmicks that it over shadows the story and makes this huge mess of everything. Nobody even knows what is even going on anymore. And 9 times out of 10 we don’t even end up with a satisfactory ending because nobody even knows what’s going on now. It leaves the viewers confused. This…. is NOT good. When this happens, it is said that “this story / match is overbooked“.

Space Opera…. is overbooked. So. So….. OVERBOOKED. If I’m not explaining this properly………… WAY TOO MUCH SHIT IS GOING ON HERE …….all while simultaneously a lot of not much goes on. I’m not even sure HOW that can happen?? But it does. A lot.

First, soooo many characters. And ever character seems to have gimmicks followed by a chaser of more gimmicks. Hey! I am all for diversity in the cast. People of color, different cultures, sexual orientations and multiple genders, aliens…but, in Space Opera, I don’t know, man… it comes off feeling like the author just shoehorned social commentary about humans being shitty to each other / gender / race for a token WOKE AF moment? And then repeated it to DEATH. It didn’t feel organic at all. :/ We GET IT the first few times you mention it… you don’t have to keep beating a dead horse. It came off feeling really forced. Or maybe trying way too hard? OR… All of the above. Yeah. I’m going with that one.

Honestly, the whole book has this… forced / trying too hard… feel to it. Ok, I’ve never read this author before. I don’t know if this is her typical style or not? But, Space Opera feels like the author had a long, LONG list of random ideas, and instead of culling the list down to a manageable amount to deal with, she’s like “Fuck it! They all go in!” and then just crams them in wherever. Instead of getting a cohesive, solid plot, we get this twisty-turny, winding, weaving, detailed to death book that has so many side steps that when we actually, FINALLY, get to the contest actually happening, it’s over in a flash. The contest is over in a matter of minutes, while I had to sit through long chapter after long chapter about the history of all these alien races- that I can’t even keep straight nor remember?? WTF? Dude, I can’t even tell you how the human race even placed in the contest because it was just like, oh they sang and it was a convoluted mess, *instert more gimmicks here* Now cue cheerful ending and goodbye. 😮

WHA-?? What the hell even just happened?? Why in the hell did the (present day) contest not have as much over detailness as some alien’s entire back history of their home world when we don’t even really see that alien in the main plot ANYWAYS!? 😡 *waves hands around* Really??

Ooooookay……..Let me get this straight. Through the whole damn book, we have twists and turns after twist and turns. Long ranting, rambling sentences like the author is getting paid per word. All while veering from the main plot, over and over so much so that I feel like GPS can’t even get me to end of the book… And then, when we FINALLY get to the climax of the story, it’s WHAM BAM THANK YOU BYE like it’s a fucking after thought?! 😡 Not cool.

Ok, you want to tell us the history of the contest and the main alien races. I get that. I am on board with that. I am. BUT. It was way too much information. Way, WAY too much for one book. Again, we come back to overbooking. The world building was amazing. I will give the author a big gold star for that. Her vision of other worlds and creatures is very creative and unique. There was just SO much detail in all these alien backstories, plus the back story of the big galactic war, PLUS the backstory of the contest. Then you add on the long comma filled run on sentences, and the long winding side steps in the plot. Seriously, the side story doesn’t need side stories! 😮 I shouldn’t have to constantly ask myself (and the book) if all of this is even leading anywhere? Space Opera got so over the top with everything, it just became confusing, and not fun anymore. :/ It’s a 300 something page book, for crying out loud. It felt like it. Would. Not. END. With all this other… stuff…. going on, the 3 main human characters seemed like they were lost in this quagmire of wordy TMI.

That’s not to say that it was all bad. There are some pretty funny parts to the story. I enjoyed a lot of the banter. I loved Oort talking to Clippie. Hilarious! The best is the talking mane coon that Oort owns. I listened to the audiobook, so I’m not sure how the cat’s name is spelled officially… Kapo? Capo? Anyways, the cat is EPIC. I wish that there had been more cat. Sadly, even though I did have some LOLs here and there, with these overbooked sentences that were paragraphs in length, and a meandering plot that didn’t seem to care about getting to the finish line anytime soon, I just got kinda bored with this book. :/ While I enjoyed the funny moments, it was not enough to make me like this book, nor read the next book in the series. D:

I really hate complaining about this book. Is it just me? Do I not “get it” or something? I mean… I LOVE the premise! A crazy glitter coke induced space party music contest. Sounds awesome! Everyone has been raving about how amazing this book is. Nominated for several awards. And the cover is just so fun and alluring! But man… I just did not like this very much. I tried. I really, really tried. I thought of DNFing a few times when things really slowed down… but I kept going. I kept hoping it was going to get better, or back on track, or SOMETHING. I feel…. not gonna lie, kinda let down. Ugh! The more I think about Space Opera, the more my rating goes down for it. Ok, I’m done ranting about this book now. I promise!


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