It was the book so preposterous, so frenetic, so wild and word-drunk, that only Catherynne M. Valente could’ve written it: Space Opera, the life-affirming, Eurovision-inspired ode to every broken soul ever soothed by the power of a heartfelt ballad, a kicking drum solo, a sweet guitar lick. The unlikely story of a washed-up glam rocker abducted by aliens and forced to sing for the Earth’s supper (not to mention its right to continue existing in an “unexploded by aliens” form) in an intergalactic battle of the bands, it is now a Hugo Award nominee—and, even more improbably, the first book in a series.
Yes, there will be a sequel to Space Opera. And yes, of course it is going to be called Space Oddity.
There’s no cover yet, and no back cover blurb. All we know for sure is the release date: Spring 2021.
Luckily, we were also able to wrangle a few minutes with the freshly Hugo-nominated author to find out a little bit more…
Space Opera (or should we say Hugo Award-nominee Space Opera?) is both a delightful and deeply odd work of sci-fi, rooted in your singular obsession with Eurovision, but it’s also deeply thoughtful, with a lot to say about how far humans are willing to go to push others away, and how profound is our need to connect. And, impossibly, readers fell for it in a big way. How did it feel to see people embrace such a deeply personal project?
It was such an amazing experience, seeing people respond to Space Opera. Reviews are reviews, and some will be positive and some will be negative, but the overwhelming love readers showed this book knocked me for a whole loop. It’s so very different than my other books, and of course I was worried about all the press comparing me to Douglas Adams backfiring in a big way. And to be quite frank, when you pour so much of your heart into a book, and your heart happens to be full of dumb puns and glitter and politics and more glitter, you just tend to worry about how people are going to handle your heart.
I’ve been flabbergasted. I never expected readers to embrace it like this. I’m not sure anyone did. I spent the first few weeks just slowly realizing that I’d done something okay. And when I started seeing handmade fan t-shirts and “Life is beautiful and life is stupid” signs waved by fans at Eurovision itself less than a month later (yeah, that happened), it finally started to sink in that Space Opera really meant something to a lot of people other than just dumb-pun-and-glitter me. Some of the things that have been said to me about this novel, by fans and by critics, have literally brought tears to my eyes. It was a hard book to write and I worked so hard on it, so to have it really grokked is breathtaking. It’s what you always hope for and rarely get.
But there’s something so terribly Space Opera about that. This underdog book that appeared out of nowhere with a cover like some lost ’80s concept album art became a hit against all odds. Decibel Jones would say of course that’s how it was, how could it have gone any other way?
The first book is loaded with Eurovision in-jokes, quirky cameos (Clippy!) and hidden references. Are there any Easter eggs readers have yet to discover? Which one is your favorite?
I’ve made no secret that the aliens, as well as their planet names and personal names, are all words taken from the languages of Eurovision-participating countries. Which is one of the best decisions I ever made—and I made it on a whim on day one. My office was covered in papers with lists of words I liked in forty different languages, and slowly, over the course of weeks, they went from being lists of random words to lists of my weird space-friends, familiar and beloved.
But I don’t think anyone has noticed the English one. Obviously, England is one of the big five Eurovision countries who contribute so much money to the thing that they’re guaranteed a final slot every year, so out of all the alien names, surely one is in bloody English.
It’s the Esca. An esca is the proper anatomical word for that little light-up probosicis thing that arcs over the head of an anglerfish. I thought that was rather neat.
So, we’re burying the lede here: You’re writing a sequel! When you wrote Space Opera, did you already know there could be a followup?
By the end, yes, absolutely. I wanted to write more in this universe. I love my alien species so much, and my bright broken rock stars, and I love writing in this style. The minute a time-traveling red panda wondered whether Decibel Jones would be interested in being a starship captain, the next book started waving cheekily from the corners of my mind. I’ve always loved the way Pratchett and Adams pulled off having many books in the same universe without having them be completely dependent on the other stories in the series. We’ll see how good I am at that, I suppose.
Besides, you always have to get the band back together for one more show.
What can readers expect from book two? Where do you go in the wake of an intergalactic singing competition?
These are the voyages of the Starship Glam. The further adventures of Dess and Mira and Oort, and introducing Marvin the half-human, half-Esca ingenue on drums. Earth is safe, for the moment, and taking its first steps into the greater galactic community—you know that won’t go well. Another Grand Prix is always right around the corner. And of course, other possibly-sentient species can emerge at any time…
It seems impossible for the book to be called anything other than Space Oddity. In fact, it’s so good, it practically justifies the book on its own. Were there ever any other contenders for the title?
Not a one.
Now, if there’s a third, I’m not sure where I’ll dig up another half as good as the first two, so I try not to think about that.
Does book two have a big hook akin to the singing competition?
Star Trek meets Live Aid! (Original Series, obviously.)
I can say that we’ll see the Metagalactic Grand Prix again, but from a very different perspective.
Can you sum up Space Oddity in a single Eurovision video? (Or song?)
How did no one ask me this for the first book???
If Space Opera was the literary equivalent of “Love Love Peace Peace,” the fantastic parody/tribute to all of Eurovision from the judging interval in 2015…
then Space Oddity is “Rise Like a Phoenix,” Austria 2014:
With a little bit of Dustin the Turkey thrown in.
Space Oddity will be published in 2021, but you can read Space Opera on repeat until then.