Year Zero by Rob Reid.

There’s a lot of praise for this book with some on the front cover and lots all over the back cover. For once I can’t disagree with a single one of them. Even the one that said ‘Year Zero is ROFLMAO funny…’, although I had to google that one just to see if it was legal in the UK.

The whole story is based on the premise of copyright infringement but not the normal Internet piracy or ripping off your friends new CD. This copyright infringement was by aliens. In fact, all of the refined races throughout the cosmos and there are a lot of them. To make it worse, they ripped off the entire musical output of the human race. Where it gets interesting is that the refined races (those that achieved an advanced technological level and showed an inclination not to do anything nasty to the universe) are highly moral and have an Indigenous Arts Doctrine that compels the refined races to honour the inferior races laws and regulations concerning their arts. When all the fines and penalties for the copyright infringement are added together, the aliens end up owing everything they possess to the human race.

While it might be every humans dream to be wealthy beyond measure, the fly in the ointment is the refined races civil service union known as the Guild. They are a staunchly unionised bunch serving the Guardian Council and are just a little peeved that their pension entitlements have disappeared, along with all their other benefits and personal wealth. It’s all going to pay off the extortionate fines due to the copyright infringement. It’s up to the Guild’s field operative on Earth, one Paulie Stardust and his rather inept sidekick, Ozzy, to get their money back using any available means, however violent or destructive. Their task is not helped by the fact that Paulie looks like a rather large bright yellow parrot, while Ozzy bears a remarkable similarity to a popular make of vacuum cleaner.

It falls to Nick Carter to rescue Earth and humanity from this mess, when he is inadvertently tipped off by two aliens, Carly and Frampton, who mistake him for someone really famous. I mean someone really, really famous, THE Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. Unfortunately, this Nick Carter is actually a low level associate in a legal firm specialising in copyright law. His career is on a downward trend and he is expecting the sack at any moment. To make things worse, his two alien visitors are brother and sister and while from a refined race, are not quite the sharpest minds you are likely to meet. They are also somewhat skimpy with the truth about their involvement and motivations.

In addition to having to save humanity, Nick Carter also has to win over his gorgeous neighbour, Manda, avoid his filthy rich cousin, Pugwash, and survive the attentions of his ruthless boss, Judy Sherman. This is not easy to do while trying to outsmart the crazed parrot and his vindictive Guild brethren. Carly and Frampton help and hinder our reluctant hero in equal measures, although this is more by accident than design. As the plot unfolds, we are treated with wonderful new technologies such as the Wrinkle, which is a means of local and interstellar transportation. We also get to meet a host of alien species such as pluhhhs, a race so pathetic, drab and trivial that they don’t warrant capitalisation of the name pluhhhs. Carly and Frampton are prime examples of the Perfuffinite’s who are famous in their own right for impersonating famous human singers. It’s worth pointing out that a common factor of species that make it to refined status are they are generally wimpy non-aggressive species. Zinkiwo and Fiffywhumpy are typical of names for home planets for these refined races.

There are going to be lots of comparisons with ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy’, which is both understandable and unfortunate. It is understandable as both tales are madcap comic SF capers but unfortunate as Rob Reid has created a superb self-contained novel in just 357 pages that deserves to be evaluated on its own merits. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has lots of nice little touches. On a final note, the book finally ends by listing the playlists of the main characters.

Andy Whitaker

August 2012

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 357 page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $29.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-53441-5)

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I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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