Read by John Hodgman
Length: 9 Hrs 53 Min
Genre: Science Fiction, Satire
Quick Thoughts: If I can compare a book to Ready Player One, Agent to the Stars and The Hitchhikers Guide, then it should be a given that I loved it. I did. Year Zero may be the most pure fun I had listening to a book this year. There was enough inappropriate laugh out loud moments that the weird looks I began receiving from strangers and coworkers became part of the scenery. Year Zero is the kind of accessible, pop culture ridden science fiction that should be embraced by a wide audience.
I have always loved a good first contact novel. I love those initial moments when the characters of the book begin to realize that what they are encountering is not exactly terrestrial. Whether it’s the site of large craft orbiting earth, or even encountering a strange artifact, this moment of discovery always tickles those little hairs in my brain responsible for the great beyond. Yet, more and more I am beginning to realizing that that big moment will probably never come. Not that I don’t think it’s possible that we will encounter alien life, because I do. Yet, I think that when it does come, it will probably end up being managed by some PR type or lawyer. It will be less about some invading lizard men coming to steal our water and eat our children, and probably more about negotiations over some weird mineral or commodity. Maybe we will have some new aliens looking to open a market for some of their new tech, or discovering some product that the youth on Tau Ceti-4 just have to have. In Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars, our new Alien friends hired a publicist to prepare humanity for their practically distasteful appearance. In John Ringo’s Troy Rising series, after Aliens set up a Gateway to other worlds, one enterprising human discovers that Maple Syrup is a pleasing intoxicant for many alien species. This is the future of our alien encounters, where they come not in peace as much as with Merger and Acquisition lawyers, and marketing professionals. Yet, even my jaded vision of impending extraterrestrial contact wasn’t prepared for Rob Reid’s vision, where aliens show up, preaching potential doom for Earth, all over territorial music rights and piracy laws.
Nick Carter never imagined when he took a job working as a low level lawyer for a major firm specializing in entertainment rights, that one day, he may be called on to save the world. Yet, when two strangers show up for an appointment, Nick gets sucked into a situation that will span Galaxies. It seems that Earth has become the greatest creators of music in the Galaxy, and that a vast Alien culture has been pirating our music for decades and now owe us a whole lot of money. So much, in fact, that some believe it may be better to let us just destroy ourselves. Year Zero is a hilarious, mad cap journey blending of Science Fiction and pop culture reminiscent of Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One. Reid tale is full of tongue in cheek humor, taking jabs at science fiction tropes, and cheesy entertainment. I find it quite interesting that an alien society starved for music become enamored with not to our higher artist endeavourers like classical and opera, or even the types of popular music you may hear on NPR, but onto the worst of the worst. These great arbiters of taste become smitten with sitcom themes, glam rock, boy bands and one hit wonders. They speak with high praise over artists that have fallen out of our favor before they even fell into it. Reid does a fantastic job setting up this strange culture, which declares itself, often rightly, to be far beyond us, but is also plagued by red tape, poorly written laws and their own arrogance. His scifi elements definitely have touches of Douglas Adams, and are full of just enough weirdness to delight a wide range of genre fans. Reid’s characters work well in this setting, because they are basically bland everyday men and women, who find some sort of greater purpose in the outrageous situation. While in many ways, they are just along for the ride, in the end, they do manage to take hold of the plot and bend it to their desires. Simply put, if I can compare a book to Ready Player One, Agent to the Stars and The Hitchhikers Guide, then it should be a given that I loved it. I did. Year Zero may be the most pure fun I had listening to a book this year. There was enough inappropriate laugh out loud moments that the weird looks I began receiving from strangers and coworkers became part of the scenery. Year Zero is the kind of accessible, pop culture ridden science fiction that should be embraced by a wide audience.
I think casting John Hodgman to narrate this book was an incredibly smart decision by Random House Audio. Hodgman has a minimalist style of narration similar to that of Wil Wheaton. His voice is instantly recognizable and just quirky enough to pull off Year Zero without having to resort to a lot of vocal tricks and gymnastics to sell the performance. His characterizations where well thought out, and crisp enough to allow the reader to delineate characters easily. My only concern with the reading was his pacing. Hodgman seems to have a natural, almost hyper kinetic vocal speed, and while this worked for some aspects of the book, at other times his reading came off rushed. While his vocalizations are distinct enough to keep things straight, the pacing at times made you feel like the story was breezing by a bit too fast. I think this is something, if Hodgman continues in audiobook narration, that he will eventually master. All, in all, this production and Hodgman’s narration was a joy to listen to. A fun ride through a weird universe that translates wonderfully into the audiobook format.