Year Zero by Rob Reid
Publisher: DelRey/July 2012
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.
“Aliens suck at music.” So begins Rob Reid’s Year Zero. Nick Carter (not of the Backstreet Boys), is an entertainment lawyer who gets the office visit of a lifetime from two alien beings, Carly and Frampton. Of course the voluptuous, smart Carly intrigues Nick immediately, but they’re not on Earth for extra-curricular activities. They’re here to deal. See, the Refined League, a confederation of brilliant alien societies made the decision that humanity would never make the cut. We’d just never achieve Refined status. However, after distant anthropologists happened upon an episode of Welcome Back Kotter, their initial assessment of us being a bunch of idiots changed once the end credits started and the theme music began. Yep, the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter convinced these superior beings that they had found most wondrous thing in the universe, in the form of human music (called the “Kotter Moment.) Decades later, after sampling every single song in the human playbook, they made a startling realization: they owe us a huge amount of money. Seriously, huge, and Nick must find away to make a deal since it’s starting to look like the actual planet may be in danger. So, Nick sets out with Carly and Frampton on an interstellar trip to settle up and possibly save the Earth.
Year Zero is told in Nick’s voice and while there’s plenty of adventure to be had here, it’s his observations of the many weird, wild alien life forms and environments that make this book such a blast. Usually I groan when I see footnotes in a book, but once I got into the swing of reading them (I’ll admit, I’m bad at ignoring footnotes, but you won’t want to ignore these), more times than not they made me laugh out loud and were always entertaining. Carly and Frampton are pretty jaded aliens and Nick’s absolute wonder at their spectacular world and technology is endlessly amusing to them. Rob Reid has a knack for setting up a scene and mining it for maximum laughs, and walking the line between so ridiculous it’s rather awesome and just plain ridiculous is tough, but he manages to do it, to fine effect. Music licensing is a serious (and lucrative) business, but serious really doesn’t factor into the equation here, and this razor sharp satire manages to make it fun (and actually kind of informative.) Inevitable comparisons will be made to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and that’s a good thing, but Year Zero is a romp all its own.
Nick is an affable hero who thinks on his feet and Carly and Frampton are brilliant, funny, and awesomely weird. Don’t forget the talking parrot, pluhhhs (not THE pluhhhs), various other gooey, slimy, space things, Purfuffinites, and Wrinkles (the main mode of travel for Carly and Frampton), and plenty of pop culture references. So, can Nick figure out how to help them pay their ginormous music bill, save the world, and get the girl (his lovely neighbor, Manda)? You’ll just have to pick up a copy and find out! I promise you’ll have a helluva time!
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