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Review: Year Zero by Rob Reid

Monday, July 09, 2012

Year ZeroYear Zero by Rob  Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It started off with a good chuckle--the noble opus so sublime as to trigger the dawning moment of Year Zero was the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter.  Which, I've got to say, while I might not call an opus, is a mighty fine song that is on my iPod.

My first impression was Christopher Moore meets Hitchhiker. I'm not sure why the Moore since it's sci-fi, maybe just the slapstick humor. Now I know everyone is comparing it to Hitchhiker, and really it's not fair to hold it to such a high standard, people are bound to be disappointed if it doesn't meet their expectations after reading that, so I was reluctant to mention it, but I could hardly ignore it. And some will say that it's too derivative of Hitchhiker. But really, just because that was my first thought and so many other people's thoughts doesn't make it actually true. Because once you read it (and I hope you do) you'll see that actually it's nothing like it except in tone and because it has a lot of odd, silly aliens. And the Earth is in danger. And really, every story is derivative of the seven basic stories, right? The trick is just in writing a good, entertaining tale. This definitely doesn't copy Hitchhiker's plot or jokes in any way, it's just similarly styled, so if you like that kind of humor you'll probably like this. It doesn't have Douglas's satirical depth, but it is consistently sweet and amusing.

The book definitely caters to people of a certain age with the some of the humor like Hogan's Gyros, a Magoo-like stroke of fortune, the Kotter thing, Nick Carter, etc., but I fit the demographic so I enjoyed it. On the other hand, it's a thoroughly modern use of tech with mentions of the computer audio software, iPhone, apps, Google, etc., felt very fresh, and the Nick's voice felt very young and relatively hip, if somewhat nebbishy (as intended). I hope that the mentions of technology that were used don't make it feel very dated in a few years like some books that I've read. It doesn't feel like it will because it's pretty general. It mentions iPhones but it doesn't say which one. It complains about the new Windows OS, but everyone does that. It is more obviously set in a certain time than most books, but I think it will have a shelf life.

The plot had a lot of good twists that I didn't expect from the silly way things started out. And Nick isn't as helpless and bumbling as he first appears or as the inevitable comparisons to Hitchhiker will make the reader assume he will be. The premise is silly but the plot really does hold together, it unfurls logically for all of its absurdity and humor. The author said in the (very long) introduction that his beta readers gave him a hard time about this and it was worth it, it's more than just a long series of jokes.

The supporting characters were all pretty good too. Manda was cute without being too anything. Pugwash was a good character, he started off appearing to be that guy you think you're going to hate, but he isn't actually a bad guy, just kind of distasteful and annoying. Judy was a cool shark. Paulie was even funny.

The only printing issue I had with the advanced review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley was that the cutesy little footnotes totally don't work in the ebook version, at least in the pre-release edition, because they're printed at the end of the chapter not at the end of each page, so in order to read them you have to either try to remember what the footnotes were referring to when you get to the end of the chapter, or page forward page by page to find the end of the chapter and the footnote text each time it happens because the chapters weren't marked in a way that could be selected in the ebook version that I had. This may well be corrected in the final print edition. It's not that big of a deal, the footnotes are sometimes funny, but not significant to the story. (**edit - The author reported to me that the printing problem with the ebook version has been corrected, so go ahead and buy it if that's your preferred format.)

Overall, as you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and funny and surprisingly sweet. I hope you'll give it a try.

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