Catherynne M Valente’s latest novel is the over-the-top, absurdist extravaganza Space Opera (Corsair, £16.99). In the aftermath of the Sentience Wars, which almost annihilated intelligent life in the galaxy, the Metagalactic Grand Prix was instituted with a double-pronged motive: to bring together alien races in a spirit of cooperation, and to continue the war in a more manageable fashion (think the Eurovision Song Contest writ very large). When Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, a jaded British glamrock outfit, are selected to represent Earth, they learn that their homeworld will be destroyed if they finish last. It’s a conceit that allows Valente to spin a frantic narrative – think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Monty Python – with in-jokes, pop-culture references and some pertinent observations about diversity and gender politics.
Valente exploits the ripe satirical potential of her novel’s premise to decent effect. A somewhat meagre plot is fattened with lengthy, discursive digressions, and there are ridiculous names aplenty (also dollops of British slang, some of it inaccurately used by the American author). Those seeking a Douglas Adams fix could do worse.