My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book pretty much just left me mad at Douglas Adams all over again, for having the nerve to die.
Bookshelves: satire, sci-fi, humor, pop-culture, wannabe
It is unfortunate that Year Zero is heavily compared to and touted as the next Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because that’s just asking for reader disappointment. Rob Reid is no Douglas Adams. Nobody but Douglas Adams could be Douglas Adams. I was further surprised at how flat this book left me after my son recommended it. We like a lot of the same stuff although his taste is sometimes a bit PoMo or highbrow for me (he loves David Foster Wallace, I love Margaret Atwood, we both love Truman Capote). I don’t think that’s the case here, though.
I feel like I’m kicking a puppy, slamming something that’s acceptable enough on its own merits. The characters are two-dimensional, but I can live with that in a highly plot-driven story. There is plenty of plot, and satire, and science-y principles and gadgets, and trying to save Earth from destruction by aliens (or rather, from aliens helping us to self-destruct, which we’re already managing just fine on our own). I like the alien/Napster cover illustration. The music and pop culture jokes are legion. But the scene where the Jailmeister at the Wholly Autonomous Boundary Court of Fiffywhumpy sings to his prisoners was such a blatant ripoff of Adams’ Vogon poetry as a torture device that I almost stopped reading right there.
Even without the obvious kyping of the Vogon poetry principle, I think that’s what it comes down to for me – Year Zero wants too much to be HHGTTG. I have adored HHGTTG for decades. It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. I get up, and go find my husband or son or daughter or random person on the bus and struggle to suppress my giggles enough to read the passage aloud to them, and then retreat to read and laugh out loud some more. Year Zero is amusing enough, I suppose, but Reid’s humor does not come close to Adams’. Moreover, HHGTTH still has, after repeated readings, surprising and timeless depth and insight as it lampoons humanity. Year Zero can’t hold a candle to it.
I just read a shareable quote from Tom Waits: “The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.” I won’t say Year Zero is badly written; it’s not. But HHGTTG highlighted the absurdity of the human condition and made us laugh at it and, by extension, ourselves. That’s what really good writing can do, that okay writing just can’t.
Damn, I still feel like I’ve been kicking a puppy. It’s not my fault, you wannabe book!
Oikology: the science of housekeeping
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