In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Sing: Catherynne M. Valente Reveals the Origin of Her New Space Opera

Earlier this year, we had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with the folks from Saga Press and the inimitable Catherynne M. Valente, whose then-forthcoming novella The Refrigerator Monologues had already locked in a spot on our 2017 must-read list (and boy, did it deserve it). During the meal, she teased a little project she’d cooked up with an editor at Saga that had a decidedly unusual origin story—so unusual, in fact, that we insisted she tell it to you all here, on the blog. Now, months later, that day has finally come. You may want to be sitting down for this. Here’s Cat:

I have a confession to make. It’s a little embarrassing. It’s a little out there. And to be honest, it’s been pretty unsettling for my family and friends to deal with.

In the last few years, I’ve found religion. Or perhaps you could say it’s found me. A revelation. A truth I couldn’t deny. A kind of calling. In fact, it’s more than that. I’ve become one of those annoying evangelists you don’t want to sit next to on an airplane.

Have you heard the good news?

Eurovision is here to bless and elevate us all!

Allow me to explain.

If you’re American, chances are you have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s okay, baby. It’s not your fault. Like me, you just never had the opportunity to know about one of the greatest accomplishments of humanity. But it’s not too late for you.

(If you’re not American, no, I’m not being sarcastic.)

The Eurovision Song Contest was conceived as a way for the continent of Europe to re-bond after WWII, to get their cultural cohesion on and sing it out. It’s hard to express to those of us here in the States how big a deal it is, even 61 years later. That more than 200 million watch a yearly event we have never even heard of. But there is more in heaven and earth than Super Bowls, Horatio.

It’s kind of like a combination of the Miss Universe Pageant, The X Factor, and WWI. Every May, the countries of Europe (and lately, several which are emphatically not in Europe, such as Australia) send a singer or pop group to a giant stadium in whatever nation won the contest the prior year to wear amazing costumes, sing ridiculous and occasionally incredible songs, and compete for the prize of having their song played in every petrol station on the continent all summer long.

There are two phases in the judging, voting from home and professional judges from each participating country. The key here is you can’t vote for your own country, which is the genius of the thing, and also where politics come in. The judging tends to pool around WWI era regional loyalties in a kind of glitter-soaked Model UN situation. Even if you don’t know Eurovision, you definitely know some winners. ABBA, for one. Celine Dion, for another.

Despite the camp factor, or perhaps because of it, modern politics come out a lot on that Eurovision stage. The 2016 winner, for example, was Ukraine, with a song called “1944,” a direct confrontation of that country’s plight at the hands of Russia. With a kickass techno beat. 2014’s crown was taken by a bearded drag queen who never moved a muscle but was sort of on fire, and brought the house down, as countries whose governments are very anti-LGBT defiantly voted for her.

Again, no, I am not kidding. Eurovision is at once utterly absurd and over the top and not to be taken seriously, and capable of incredible heights of feeling and meaning. It is so very perfectly human. I am not even afraid to say I have cried during Eurovision performances. More than once. Fight me.

There have been many rules over the years, a big one being that you had to sing in your own language, which has been relaxed in the last decade or so. There are quarter and semi-final rounds. There are trends and anti-trends and controversies. It’s…it’s a pretty big deal. And it’s pretty amazing. The love I have for this event is the love of the converted, the outsider, the true believer. America isn’t part of it, and despite what’s going on with Australia, probably shouldn’t be. We wouldn’t really get not being able to vote for your own country. If you want to know more, I have some literature I could show you.

But why, Cat?

Why am I talking about this on the B&N SFF blog?

Well, it all started two years ago, when I was live-tweeting Eurovision, as I do—alienating my American followers and making my European followers vaguely uncomfortable with the depth of my love.

As for what happened next, I’m going to name names, because I alone should not be held responsible for this.

A lovely man and SFF aficionado named Charles Tan tweeted me, joking that I should write a fantasy or science fiction book about Eurovision, a kind of high-end, affectionate version of “if you love it so much why don’t you marry it?” And Navah Wolfe, an editor at Saga Press (publisher of my recent book The Refrigerator Monologues), slid into my DMs all “hey girl, I will buy that book right now.”

I had so much on my plate. I had so many other deadlines and commitments. I really didn’t have time to even conceive of a way to cram everything I love about Eurovision into a book featuring a plot and characters and some kind of intergalactic song contest, and do it in a grounded and realistic way that made any sense at all.

But when rock and roll calls, you pick up the damn phone.

And now, two years later, this is happening.

Putting the “opera” in “space opera”

It’s the near future, and we’ve just made first contact with an alien species. Rather a lot of alien species, in fact. And they aren’t too impressed with us. You see, the galaxy has sent the last couple of centuries torn apart by the Sentience Wars, and only lately achieved a fragile peace. These days, they’re very careful with new species, especially when they just can’t be entirely sure whether the new warmongering, highly prejudiced, kind of obnoxious, newly spacefaring kids on the block are entirely sentient. For borderline cases, like Earth, the greater galactic community makes an offer freshly discovered planets are literally not allowed to refuse.

Send your best and your brightest to the Metagalactic Grand Prix to sing their hearts out against alien punk rock superstars from all around the universe. Show us that you are intelligent. Show us that you know what it’s really all about. Show us that, if you do end up wiping out half the galaxy in an ill-advised war, you’ll at least sing a sad song about it after.

Show us that you have soul.

All you have to do is not come in last, and your species will be allowed to join the interstellar civilization already in progress. But should you completely fail to beat even one other measly species, your species will be annihilated—painlessly, of course—your biosphere reseeded, your planet quarantined, and you can try again in another million years or so with dolphins or something. No hard feelings. Can’t be too careful.

Unfortunately, compared to the rest of the Milky Way, humans really suck at music. And the time-traveling race of hyperintelligent red pandas that handle cultural reconnaissance screwed up the timeline a little, so humanity’s liaison shows up with a list of bands they think might just have a chance to appeal to heightened alien tastes—Yoko Ono would be their top choice—only to find that most of their picks have shuffled off their mortal coil.

Except this weird London down-on-their-luck glam-punk one hit wonder ex-band called Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

And it’s up to them to save the planet.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever written.

It’s so full of love and disco and aliens it’s bursting at the seams.

It’s so completely and utterly ridiculous from top to bottom it really has no right to exist.

I’m legit terrified and so excited for you to read it I might burst an organ before it comes out in 2018.

It’s my glam-camp, glitter-soaked, pop rock, over-the-top comedy, spacefeels, Eurovision-inspired baby, and it’s called Space Opera.

Let the music play.

Now you know where the book came from. And you’ve seen the glam af cover, designed by Greg Stadnyk. And you can understand why Navah Wolfe was so excited to publish it, she said this:

If you know me, you probably know that Eurovision is one of my favorite things in the known universe. I love it desperately, delightedly, with all my heart and soul. Having Cat Valente write a science fictional Eurovision is pretty much a dream come true. Space Opera is funny, clever, heartbreaking, and gets under your skin in the smartest possible way—the way all the best science fiction does. If you love Eurovison, you’re going to love this book. And if you’ve never heard of Eurovision, you’re still going to love it—and then immediately want to go immerse yourself in all the Eurovision YouTube videos you can find. I’m so excited to share this book with everyone—and to hook new fans on the magic of Eurovision!

But there’s one thing you don’t know: when you can read it. And the answer is: April 3, 2018. And you can lock in your preorder now.

Rock and roll.

Catherynne M. Valente is also the New York Times bestselling author the Fairyland series and Radiance, the best space opera novel-cum-exploration of cinema history ever written. Read it while you wait.

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