So here’s the deal: aliens exist, and they’re all highly refined artists…except they all suck at music. Humans make the greatest music in the universe, but we’re terrible at all 139 other forms of art that are worth doing. A match made in heaven? Not quite. You see, the aliens have all been pirating our music since 1977, and they just realized that a literal application of our copyright laws (and they’re very particular about literally applying our copyright laws) would bankrupt the entire universe. Some of the less refined beings might say that it would be easier to destroy the Earth than to pay up…
It sounds pretty crazy, but it works in the hands of Rob Reid with his first novel, Year Zero. Reid is the founder of Listen.com, which you might know better at the creator of the Rhapsody online music service. A longtime proponent of reforming America’s copyright laws, Reid brings the same absurdity that leads to the $8 billion iPod to his fictional universe of classic rock-loving aliens, and only Nick Carter, not the Backstreet Boy, but a junior anti-piracy lawyer, can save the world from an evil alien parrot and a vacuum cleaner. (It makes sense in context.)
It sounds rather polemical, and, yeah, it kind of is, but it has a real Douglas Adams meets the Electronic Frontier Foundation vibe. For the most part, the absurdity outweighs the pontificating and creates a fun and interesting story. From the lip-synching alien reality show stars to the disturbingly horrifying teddy bears to the exposition-giving fake Richard Nixon, the book’s strength lies in making the copyright bit one of the less ridiculous things about it.
It’s a little rough around the edges, maybe, especially if hard sci-fi is more your game, but Year Zero is still a fun read, and it may be an eye-opening one if you’re new to the issues it raises. And if you’re an Adams fan, you should definitely get yourself a copy (but don’t pirate it, because who knows what could happen then!)
My rating: 4 out of 5.