Written by: Rob Reid
Published by: Del Rey
Nick Carter is a copyright lawyer and while he works at a very prestigious New York City law firm specializing in copyright law he is in fact only a middling one, lawyer that is. He does have two things going for him; he shares a name with one of the Back Street Boys and one of the partners of the firm he works for. Those two facts are the reason Carly and Frampton, two very worried aliens choose to consult him out of all the copyright lawyers in New York City. Carly figured it was his name on the door and Frampton just wanted to meet one of the Back Street Boys. Of course they are both disappointed but while Nick Carter may not be what either one of them expected he may just be what they and Earth need.
One of the staples of Science Fiction has always been the alien invasion. Aliens invade Earth for some semi plausible or borderline ridiculous reason and generally give us the business. At least until the third act when some scientist in a lab coat figures out that the aliens are allergic to water, or vulnerable to the common cold, or haven’t updated their anti-virus software and humans proceed to march the aliens right off our planet. Then there is the rare variation to the alien invasion story where humans and aliens make contact and we are either way more aggressive, imaginative or just physically more badass than the aliens and we dominate galactic civilization from the moment we burst noisily onto the scene. This is one of those stories. Or it will be as long as Nick Carter can keep Earth in one piece for the next twenty four hours.
So why do a couple of oddly named aliens need a copyright lawyer? Because they and the rest of the enlightened population of the universe have been copying every human song they can get their hands, flippers, claws,or pseudopods on since 1977. Galactic civilization is based on the appreciation of art, what else are you going to base a civilization on when all of everyone’s physical needs are met effortlessly, and the aliens are damn good at it all, sculpting, basket weaving, stained glass, drama, literature, but the one thing they could never master was music. Which in a way made them appreciate it more than any of the other arts. Then in 1977 it happened. The universe got a taste of human music from a stray radio signal. As it turns out we as a species are very good at music, so good that the universe basically went on holiday for the last thirty years trying to absorb it all. They are just now starting to pick up the pieces. Which explains why it was just nine days ago that they learned about intellectual property rights and copyright law.
You wouldn’t think this would be a problem but remember this is a civilization based on the appreciation of art and respect for the civilizations that produce it. Galactic law decrees that they must obey Earth laws when it comes to Earth music which means that every enlightened soul in the universe owes Earth every quatloo they have ever earned and every quatloo they ever will. In a universe of trillions there are going to be at least a few who have a problem with that and the easiest way to deal with the problem is to make it go away, as in make the Earth go away. That’s why Carly and Frampton are in Nick Carter’s office. They are trying to convince him to help them save Earth. Which once he believes their story isn’t that hard a sell. Soon Nick is stepping through wrinkles in space to the far side of the galaxy with aliens he just met, arguing with parrots in trendy New York City night clubs and outwitting vacuum cleaners in his apartment. As you might have guessed one of the first things he learns is that everything is not as it seems. But all of this is just a warm up to his biggest challenge, talking record label executive into forgoing unimaginable wealth just to save the planet.
Year Zero is a one trick pony. Sure there are plenty of jokes and pop culture references thrown in but at its heart is the conceit that not only are the record label executives and their co dependent politicians creeps but that their greed has jeopardized Earth. Is that enough to hang a novel on? Maybe, but Year Zero doesn’t pull it off which is a shame because the book has a lot going for it. So let’s start with the good first. It’s fast paced. After a rolling start it blasts up to .99C (99% of light speed) and stays there excepting a few slowdowns in the middle. Even when my interest started to wane I still wanted to see how Nick was going to get himself out of this particular jam. The aliens are clever, inventive and fun. The ending doesn’t provide the pop that the story needed but I have to admit that it was clever enough that it blindsided me even though in retrospect it was laid out pretty plainly. Now for the bad, I never really cared for the protagonists; my favorite characters were nothing more than bit players. While the aliens were all cool the world they lived in seemed created just as a place to hang gags and jokes. It never came across as a place where conscious entities would actually live and raise little conscious entities. There is a lot of exposition, seems like there is always somebody conveniently in the room that a joke or pop culture reference needs to be explained to. I admit that sometimes that was the only way I got a joke but it still got a little stale. On top of that each chapter is followed by footnotes. Maybe one out of five of these put a new interesting spin on something that just happened but mostly they were just continuations of jokes or further explanations of pop culture references or worst explaining how a character knew something that maybe they shouldn’t have known but I never would have thought about it if the author hadn’t raised the point in the foot note. The biggest problem is that it just never seemed to hit light speed. When things started to pick up about two thirds of the way through the book I thought just maybe it would do it, but it never broke .99C. Then after the climax that could have stood to be a little more climaxier is a dénouement that is just flat, flat and predictable and lazy, shooting fish in a barrel lazy.
The Book: 5/10
Year Zero is not a bad book, It’s built around a great idea but it just isn’t stretched enough to hang a great story on.