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text 2018-04-21 17:20
Reading progress update: I've read 42% The Real Test, Who Do I Want To Be and DJ Bobo
Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

This book is starting to consume me. The more I read the more I need to read.


I started off thinking Douglas Adams on speed but now I'm thinking Terry Pratchett minus the benign optimism.


Three things stuck with me most in the last few chapters:



Anyone who enjoys this kind of book is going to cheer at this ulitmate test because they'll ace it:


"Are you kind enough, on your little planet, not to shut that rhythm down? Not to crush underfoot the singers of songs and tellers of tales and wearers of silk? Because it’s monsters who do that. Who extinguish art. Who burn books. Who ban music. Who yell at anyone with ears to turn off that racket. Who cannot see outside themselves clearly enough to sing their truth to the heavens. Do you have enough goodness in your world to let the music play?
Do you have soul?"




Here's how the band members are described:


"Decibel Jones always lived in the moment; Omar Calis»ôkan always lived in an uncertain future. Mira, he supposed, had always lived in her own head and allowed others to visit once in a while. With advance notice. And extensive decontamination protocols."


I could never be Decibel Jones and I'm thankful for that. I want to be Mira and used to think I was but these days I'm worried that I'm becoming Omar.





DJ Bobo is one of the dominant figures of the music scene here in Switzerland. There's only 8 million people here, a quarter of them are foreigners and only half of what's left speak the same language so being famous in Switzerland is not like being famous in the UK. Still, I like the guy, so I was pleased to see that Chapter 14, "Vampires Are Alive" is named after his most famous stage show.

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text 2018-04-21 14:09
Reading progress update: I've read 37%.
Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Oort St. Ultraviolet, deeply apologetic creator of the maddening earworm that was the current West Cornwall Pasty Company jingle, “Live and Let Pie,” somewhat reluctantly handed over his bespoke Kuu & Co. oversize, overear, oversensitive headphones in the limited edition Phantom Pearl color scheme.

Oh, no. One of my favourite songs will never be the same hereafter...

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text 2018-04-21 12:05
Reading progress update: I've read 30%.
Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

This still has all the potential of a 5-star read:

“We are representatives of Her Majesty’s government and the office of the Prime Minister and Homo sapiens sapiens, goddammit,” spluttered the agents, half out of their seats though the car was still hurtling along. “We should be allowed to choose our own representatives. Our own warriors!”

“I am sorry, dear boys. But this is not a war. It is not about you, nor are you a part of it. Every child in the galaxy learns the truth about politics at their mother’s proboscis. For lo, does not Goguenar’s Third Unkillable Fact tell us:

‘Though any species on any dumb gobworld may develop sentience (the poor bastards), no government ever does’?

Think on it, Mr. Brown. Mr. Price.”

Only meters from the Whitehall car park, Decibel Jones and the roadrunner dissolved into a very pretty swirl of magenta steam that smelled largely of fish and disdain.


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text 2018-04-21 11:12
Reading progress update: I've read 25%.
Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

“Is that really it?” Dess interrupted halfway through. “We just sing better than one other beastie and we get to live?”

“Yes. Does it seem barbaric to you? Sixty-seven percent of your population used that word.” “No, it makes sense to me. It’s perfect.”


Decibel shrugged. “Life is stupid and beautiful that way.”

The Esca smiled; for the Esca can and do smile. All its feathers flushed an excited shade of cobalt. He had said something good, then. Somehow, the world’s luckiest fuckup had done something right for once, though God and all his angels knew what. He’d only said what he meant, which was, when you thought about it, a minor superpower, because so few people ever did. The blue creature danced coquettishly toward him on those impossible, dumb legs that couldn’t hold up a plastic garden flamingo, let alone this living, breathing version.

So, the name "Esca" ... is that described somewhere and I missed it again (reading this before bedtime was not the best idea - this book really requires a lot of attention) or is it Valente's random invention or is there something in it being "ESC" + "A(lien)"?


The previous chapter also outlined the "rules, guidelines, regulations of the Metagalactic Grand Prix as agreed to by everybody left standing after the Battle of Vlimeux", which I have added behind the spoiler:



1. The Grand Prix shall occur once per Standard Alunizar Year, which is hereby defined by how long it takes Aluno Secundus to drag its business around its morbidly obese star, get tired, have a nap, wake up cranky, yell at everyone for existing, turn around, go back around the other way, get lost, start crying, feel sorry for itself and give up on the whole business, and finally try to finish the rest of its orbit all in one go the night before it’s due, which is to say, far longer than a year by almost anyone else’s annoyed wristwatch.


2. All species currently accepted as sentient must compete.


3. All species applying for recognition as intelligent, self-aware (not a huge barrel of dicks), and generally worth the time it takes to get to 

their shitty planet, wherever that may be, must compete.


4. One song per species.


5. Special effects and stagecraft of all kinds are encouraged; however, no harm must come to the audience, the audience’s families, or the linear timelines of any active spectators.


6. Please dress accordingly–that is, in the traditional costume of your people. But make it cool, all right? Give it a little showmanship. Make an effort. If you do not comply, your representatives will be sentenced to not less than six years of hard labor. We’re not trying to run the trains on time in Drabtown here.


7. Please provide a written translation of your lyrics to the umpire. And no trying to show off by singing in Alunzish! Stay in your linguistic lane. Your accent will always be terrible.


8. New compositions only! No sloppy seconds.


9. Judging will be conducted in two phases: by audience acclamation, and a considered vote by a panel consisting of the representatives of the Great Octave, the new applicant’s chaperone species, and an old computer from Kogu the Belligerent’s house on Planet Yoomp.


10. At no time may anyone cast a vote for their own species, as this is selfish and boring and ruins it for everyone—looking at you, Alunizar.


11. Offensive verses must confine bloodshed to the staging area.


12. In the event that an applicant species comes in last, their solar system shall be unobtrusively quarantined for a period of not less than 50,000 years, their cultures summarily and wholly Binned, their homeworld mined responsibly for resources, and after a careful genetic reseeding of the biosphere, their civilization precision-incinerated from orbit so we can all sleep at night. Every effort will be made to spare unoffending flora and fauna. The planet’s biological processes will be allowed to start over without interference, older, wiser, more experienced, and able to learn from its mistakes. Any new species arising from said ecological matrix may reapply in the future without prejudice.


13. In the event that an applicant planet defeats at least one species of proven sentience and achieves some rank other than miserably dead last (so to speak), they shall be welcomed with open arms, spores, antennae, tentacles, wings, or other preferred appendages into the Untidy Lounge Room of the Extended Galactic Family.


14. In the event that a sentient species finishes in last place, they shall all go home and have a hard think about where they’ve gone wrong in life and promise never to do it again.


15. The final scoreboard shall determine the proportional distribution of all communally held Galactic Resources for the next cycle. (See attached documents for a full explication of said resources.) As this is kind of a big deal and has been, historically, the source of every war other than this one, see Rules 10, 17, and 18.


16. The undersigned, all their descendants, and any subsequently discovered civilizations we decide we can stand to talk to at parties, unto the heat-death of the universe or the next bout of belligerent stupidity makes all this maximally moot, whichever comes first, solemnly swear to play fair, listen with open minds, vote their feelings, not their ambitions, and not stack the roster with too many rookies all at once, so that everybody gets a really solid chance at not being vaporized if they don’t deserve to be.


17. Any violators of Rule 16 shall be subject to the gentle ministrations of Rule 12.


18. The winner shall compel their government to pick up everyone else’s drink tab, as well as put us all up and pay for the catering when we do this whole thing over again next year, no take-backsies, no changing mobile numbers, no pleading planetary austerity—take out a loan from the Intergalactic Happy Friendship Bank like everyone else, you skinflint.


19. Try your best and have fun!


After the Corking Incident at the thirtieth Grand Prix on the Utorak homeworld of Otozh, the subsequent trial, surprise exoneration, and politico-musical ascendency of the perpetrators—Igneous Lagom Opt, Aukafall Avatar 0, and the Entity Known as Monad—

a twentieth rule was added. At the time, the change was so controversial that protesters threatened to blow the thirty-first Grand Prix out of the sky if the Octave adopted it. However, with the launch of the Keshet Holistic Live Total Timeline Broadcast, the effects of Rule 20 proved so unreasonably, voyeuristically, nail-bitingly fun to watch from home that the protesters got completely addicted to viewing parties, and it became the galaxy’s favorite guilty pleasure and fundamentally changed the way the game was played, spectated, and won.


20. If a performer fails to show up on the night, they shall be automatically disqualified, ranked last, and their share of communal Galactic Resources forfeited for the year. Do try not to actually kill anyone. It’s a dreadful bother to clean up the mess.

(spoiler show)


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text 2018-04-21 10:07
Reading progress update: I've read 22%. - I'm seeing this through an old man's eyes
Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Most of the time, I forget how old I am. True, I great each day with an immediate awareness of minor aches and pains and a low level fatigue that nuzzles me like a loyal Labrador rather than springing awake and wondering what to do with the parts that spring the most, but that has all happened so slowly, I'm mostly able to ignore it and it's not like it's a surprise, just aging as advertised.


But for a long time, I thought that life inside my head, where I live for an unhealthily large proportion of the day, went on as it always did, with me being the same me I've always been, without the need to dress up or remember not to scratch where it itches.


This book, which, as you can see, has infected me with a fever for long, long, continuous stream of confused consciousness writing, has made me see that that belief is not so much a lie as a self-imposed blindness.


Have you ever moved out of a house and, as the furniture that has sat unmoved for decades, is carted away and the curtains are taken down and sunlight streams into places it hasn't been able to reach in recent memory and then seen that the paint is faded, dustbunnies have formed civilizations complicated enought to be ready to make a break for the next room and the floorboards that haven't had furniture crouching on them are scarred and tarnishe and ALL OF THIS is now so obvious that you cannot understand why you've never seen it before?  That's what reading and reflecting on this book has done to my perception of life inside my head.


It's clear that, even inside my head, I'm really sixty-one Who knew? Not me, I've lived here for too long.


So what prompted this unlooked-for epiphany? Reading a couple of chapters in what, to my own younger eyes, might have seemed a silly but cool and wickedly bright book.


It is cool and wickedly bright. But it's more than that. The author behind the curtains is not yet forty but she knows and wants us, old-enough-to-spot-it folks, to know, that behind the wit and the exuberance and the anarchic energy, lies the reality of hard choices, inevitable age and the ephemeral nature of ineffable music.


Chapter 3 is all about a cutely presented ultimatum from the alien races that humanity must pass a test or be obliterated. Once I'd have been amused at how this was done and impressed at the strength of the steel-fisted logic in the single white Michael Jackson glove. Now I find myself angry at the aliens because they can't see that their own post-holocaust civilization is still built on the acceptance of the genocide as a necessary part of maintaining peace and that that kind of peace is too pricey to maintain. That might just be me being me but it's probably me being a grumpy (but right) old guy.


Chapter 4 is all about the launch of the rock band "Decibel Jones and The Absolute Zeros". This is nothing short of wonderful. It captures all the desperation and freedom and NEED for identity and terrifying fear of failure that bands live with. So what made me focus on being old? I suddenly realised that I AM the old guy running the open-mike pub in Brighton and watching Decibel Jones launch himself into the world like a baby bird falling from a tree. I've been listening to music since before the author was born. I love it but I see it's scars and wrinkles more clearly now than I used to. So here's how the venue owner reacted to the first performance of the band:


"He laughed and laughed in total silence while bright-eyed, ambitious Lila Poole patted his shoulder and tears streamed out from under his glasses, down his booze-blooming cheeks, and into the soft darkness of his smoke hole, seeping toward the last part of him that remembered what it was like when he was young and everything in the world sounded just like that.


He wept into his single pint."

See what I mean?

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