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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Year Zero

In the mood for something humorous yet addresses something that's angered world citizens for over a decade? Have I got the book for you. Year Zero, by Rob Reid, is an irreverent jab at the monolithic music industry... and Microsoft Windows.

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.

Nick Carter has just been tapped to clean up this mess before things get ugly, and he’s an unlikely galaxy-hopping hero: He’s scared of heights. He’s also about to be fired. And he happens to have the same name as a Backstreet Boy. But he does know a thing or two about copyright law. And he’s packing a couple of other pencil-pushing superpowers that could come in handy.

Soon he’s on the run from a sinister parrot and a highly combustible vacuum cleaner. With Carly and Frampton as his guides, Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.

So first off, let me tell you about the style of this book. This book would fit perfectly on a shelf with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (THG) by Douglas Adams, Agent to the Stars and Redshirts by John Scalzi, Ready Player One and Armada by Ernest Cline, and a hilarious 1987 Star Trek TOS book I cherish to this day titled How Much for Just the Planet by John M. Ford. Like most of the titles above, it takes an average guy and thrusts him into a truly bizarre yet serious situation. The outcome is hilarious, and a great deal of fun to read/listen to.

The premise is easily a creative match to each of those titles, even THG. You'll read lots of reviews on Goodreads from people denigrating Year Zero for the publisher's audacity in comparing it to THG. These people hold Douglas Adams on a pedestal so high they feel no one could ever surpass his genius. Codswallop. If you think Douglas Adams is some genius who can't be matched, your acting on a cult like attraction to a dead man rather than a critical view of his works. THG was a very good book, but it was not literary. It was merely funny and well crafted. I just wish people would stop reviewing books by comparing them to their cherished idols, and instead review books based on their own merits. The merits of Year Zero's premise stands on it's own and is as creative well wrought as Douglas Adam's premise in THG. Get over it. >:(

But a clever idea brought to life with humor and parody doesn't make a good book. It needs more than that, so let me tell you about the characters. Though I can't say they aren't stereotypes, for they most assuredly are, the book demands they be so. Absurd situations require absurd characters, and they don't get much more absurd than Carly, Frampton and even Judy. Are they brilliant, deep characters full of wisdom and humility? No, they are shallow, two-dimensional, self-centered characters who are just trying not to be blown up or die of spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage when a Justin Bieber song comes on the radio. In other words, they are just like everyone else. They are everyday people who will remain true to who they are. That's good, but don't expect any of them to be Gandhi. :|

One thing I do appreciate about the characters in this book is the equanimity displayed when portraying them. I think this book can actually pass the Bechdel Test. This is something THG cannot do. All the female characters in THG exist because of some personal relationship with the male characters - or they're a servant. Neither Carly nor Judy, or even Manda for that matter, require a male character to give them a reason to exist. Though it is true the protagonist likes Manda and wants a more meaningful relationship with her, her character stands on its own. It was quite refreshing to hear female characters given equal stage with the male characters and owning their own flaws and merits. It was very nice to read a science fiction that actually had three (3!) independent female main characters in it. :)

I also appreciated the ending. I didn't see it coming until very near the end, though the author began foreshadowing it early in the story. I love a book that keeps me guessing. Well done sir.

If I have to give a con for this book, I'd be forced to point out the author doesn't know what the heck he's talking about when it comes to PC operating systems. Having plenty of personal experience with Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux, I can tell you they all suffer from IUS - ignorant user syndrome. Don't blame the machine, blame the monkey driving it. That's where the fault lies way more than 90% of the time. >:D

There was one loose end in this book the author forgot to tie up, and it's bugging the crap out of me. Did Nick ever get a species specific wet-ware update to correct his foot problem? :?

In summary, this is a fun book that can help you pass a few lighthearted hours with a smile on your face. It isn't literary, it's more like reductio ad absurdum in a science fiction wrapper. It has a serious social comment, but it doesn't succumb to negativity, and instead handles it with humor, sarcasm and parody. In that, it does very well. Give it a read and have some fun!

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