Rob Reid – Year Zero

Aliens are totally in love with our Earth music (all of it) and have been religiously pirating it for decades. Once they did some research into how human society works, they find out that they now owe us a fortune in copyright fees… Also, there’s a Napster alien on the cover. Who wouldn’t get drawn in by a premise like that? Here’s the book trailer.

YEAR ZERO
by Rob Reid

published: Del Rey, 2012
ISBN: 0345534484
pages: 384
copy: ebook

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: Aliens suck at music.

Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news. The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own everything—and the aliens are not amused. (The blurb also says “In the tradition of the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.)

After the dreadful Redshirts, I wasn’t expecting too much from this novel here. The promises on the blurb seemed too similar, too much like a wanna-be Douglas Adams. But when Tom and Veronica from the Sword & Laser interviewed Rob Reid on their show, I really liked the guy. And what he had to say sounded both smart and funny. So I gave the book a try. And thank the literary gods, it did live up to its promise and I had So. Much. Fun.

Nick Carter is visited by two aliens who mistake him for a Backstreet Boy and let him know that the Earth now owns all the wealth of the universe. Like, all of it. Because they have been stealing our music since Year Zero and only found out about copyright laws decades later. So Nick embarks on a journey to find a way out for the aliens and also save the Earth from assisted self-destruction.

If the premise doesn’t already make you smile, what is wrong with you? But it’s the writing that really makes this book great. Being compared to Douglas Adams is a dangerous thing, but I think Rob Reid actually pulls it off. Sure, he’s not quite as whacky as the Hitchhiker’s Guide author, but the humor is very similar and evoked equally loud bursts of laughter. At least from me. Reid jibes at the music industry, copyright law, humanity in general, and Windows computers in particular. You will all be grateful to learn that in this book, we finally find out why Windows sucks so much. There is actually a very good reason…

The characters are rather on the shallow side with Nick being the everyman kind of person who makes it easy for readers to identify. He’s a down-to-earth guy who just happens to work at an evil law firm. He also has a crush on his voluptuous neighbor Manda and suffers under the dreadful boss Judy. While these characters all have their own personality, this is not a character-driven book. And it doesn’t have to be. I loved Meowhaus the cat and I definitely enjoyed the insanity of certain alien species we get to meet. But let’s be honest, there was no emotional bond with any of the protagonists. And I really didn’t mind.

Our planet was previously visited by some [alien] kids on a joy ride during a time geologists call the Cryogenian period. The kids were looking for fun – but the only cool thing about the Cryogenian was that its name could be rearranged to spell things like Organic Yen, Coy Grannie, and Canine Orgy.

While full of jokes that range from laugh-out-loud funny to merely meriting a slight chuckle, the novel also offered quite a good plot. There was suspense, there was some interesting world-building and there was a nicely rounded story arc. Was it perfect? No, but I still had a hell of a lot of fun. I would have read this even if it didn’t have a plot and was just making jokes at the expense of musicians, aliens, human technology and law firm CEOs. I liked the beginning a bit better than the ending because we’re thrown into this world of brilliant and funny ideas and get to explore, Jasper Fforde style, by following our protagonist as he struggles to get a grip on reality.

A nice little extra are the footnotes that can be found in every chapter. These may be explanations of alien attitudes, little jokes, or just comments by the narrator Nick. But they are all hilarious and did what they’re supposed to do. They made this book an even richer experience. At the end of the book, the main characters each published their personal playlist, which is a nice touch and also made me laugh. You can check the lists out before you read the novel but you’ll only get the jokes once you’re finished.

Lastly, let me say that this is the first time that I’ve been Rickrolled by a book (and to pass on the favor, I hope I Rickrolled all of you, dear readers)… “Never gonna give you up….’

THE GOOD: As funny as the blurb says and then some. Great ideas, wonderfully evil jokes, a fast-paced plot and a mix of both intelligend and very silly humor.
THE BAD: The characters aren’t all great but I personally really didn’t mind that.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended for fans of Douglas Adams or Jasper Fforde. Or people who’ve always wanted to know why Windows never works, who Simply Red’s biggest fan is and what the heaviest metal in the universe is called…

RATING: 8/10 Excellent fun!

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THIS IS AWESOME:

Rob Reid actually sent me a thank you e-mail after reading this review. Now I can’t (and won’t) change the rating of the novel but I will say that, first of all, it’s incredibly nice of a writer to take time out of his schedule to thank his readers. And secondly, we had a nice little conversation going that made me like him all the more. And I’ll be (even more) sure to check out anything he writes next. My friends tell me, Rob also frequently responds to tweets and generally has a very nice interaction with his readers going. That’s how you get true fans – and by writing hilarious books, of course.