the Little Red Reviewer

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Posted on: August 12, 2019

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used








Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.


If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.


Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.


Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.


Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.


The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?


Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.


If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!


I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.


I DNF’d this book, twice.

It kills me double, because I love so much of Valente’s work.  I was idiotically star struck when I was on a panel with her at a convention. She was, and is superhuman to me.


But I felt the same way about Tori Amos. And Fallout Boy. and others.  People change. I change. They change. Artists want to create new cool stuff, and i’m the dickhead who wants them to make the same thing that made me happy, and make it over and over and over again.


All that to say that my opinion is a narrow one. I hope you like this book. I hope you find it worth reading.


Valente is still superhuman to me.


But Space Opera drove me fucking crazy, and not in a good way.


I absolutely could not stand the narrative style.  It was sensory overload, from page one.  Like I said, your mileage may vary, maybe you will love this!      The narrative style was, simply put, too much for me.  Space Opera is 95% run-on-sentences by volume.  A few run-on-sentences is fun, they are the crimson dress in a room full of stodgy charcoal suits. But when everyone is wearing crimson, and the crimson is covered in blinky lights, and the lights are screaming?


An example, from a random page:


“In the thirteen minutes and eleven seconds that elapsed between Oort St. Ultraviolet waking from dreams of his daughters growing up and refusing to visit at Christmas and the abrupt disappearance of Decibel Jones from the backseat of a gently used BMW 760Li, the entity known as the roadrunner build a ship capable of traveling at many times the speed of light, engaging in a mild spot of dogfighting, providing roomy accommodations with plenty of lunch, life support, and legroom for four, and kin the most advanced human aircraft wet itself and crumpe into a heap wondering just what it had been doing with its life.”


Do you remember what happened at the beginning of that sentence?  I’m the buzzkill who doesn’t. And nearly the entire book reads like this,  each sentence the length of a paragraph, many feeling much longer. And that quantity of information overload, that quantity of run-on-sentences, it just didn’t work for me.  At all. The narrative style never gave me a moment to think or breathe. I don’t know if I’m old, or boring, or what, but I need those quiet moments to think and breathe. For me, the quiet moments is where the story happens.


About 100 pages in, I DNF’d Space Opera. Reading it felt like I was listening to 15 different songs all at the same time, all at top volume, with the lights flickering on and off, after having been awake for 24 hours.  And asking to have the volume turned down because I just wanted 5 seconds to hear myself think would out me as the world’s biggest buzzkill. So I stopped reading.


A couple weeks later, our of sheer curiosity, I picked the book up again.  Same thing happened.


On the third attempt to finish it, I got acclimated to the narrative style, skimmed the parts that drove me up a wall, was able to enjoy what little dialog there was.  And to be honest, i was curious – I truly did want to know if humanity lived or died at the end.


Minor spoiler – by the end of the book, the pace finally slows down.  I actually quite enjoyed the last 50 pages or so, when we actually get a chance to get to know the two human characters, Decibel and Oort.  I spent the first first two thirds of the book not being able to stand Decibel. It was nice to finally learn than he’s just as vulnerable as the rest of us idiots.  I still don’t much care for Decibel, but I’m softening towards him. I wish Oort got more pagetime, I liked him. But he’s a normal sort of bloke, far too bland for the likes of Space Opera.


If you liked Space Opera, I truly am happy for you. This book was over the top, it was different, it was hilarious, for many people it will be exactly what they need.  And different is good, right?


But I’m not most people, and what I need right now is to go reread the Habitation of the Blessed.


Maybe that’s why I liked Oort so much.  He seemed to hit sensory overload too,  seemed to be begging people to turn the sound and the lights down.  But he’s the boring bloke, the party pooper.

8 Responses to "Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente"

This wasn’t my favorite Valente either, although I liked it more than you. It was a little too wacky for me!

Liked by 1 person

I get what she was trying to do, I respect what she accomplished, it just didn’t work for me.


Well, this definitely won’t work for me – I can usually go off your reviews pretty well and I’m steering clear.
Lynn 😀


maybe give it a try in a few years, when you’re in the mood for something super weirdo?


I do enjoy super weird – but I kind of think this one might be a stretch 😀


Great review! I absolutely loved this book, but I’m also very weird and I love things that are out there, defying all the laws of storytelling on occasion lol. Definitely know this is a book that won’t work for everyone. 🙂


i’m really happy you liked this one!! I have mad respect when authors throw out the rule book. i know it sounds weird, but I’m happy that I’m in the minority with my opinion on this one.

Liked by 1 person

Nah, that doesn’t sound weird at all. I feel that way about some books I don’t enjoy–glad someone loves it! 🙂


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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