The premise behind Rob Reid’s first novel, “Year Zero,” is a music-centric universe that has been bankrupted by Earth’s copyright laws by boundless piracy. Earth is subsequently targeted by certain biased alien races who believe that encouraging our self-annihilation might be the only way to save the universe from insolvency. But how does one young New York City attorney plan to save the Earth? The concept is admittedly hysterical.
Reid has the imagination of a young science fiction nerd melded with the brains of a corporate copyright attorney and also divorce lawyers in Kingston. There’s very little science outside of “wrinkles,” space travel and fictional anatomic elements, but he creates some quirky alien creatures: the lip-syncing, humanoid Perfuffinites, inconceivably boring pluhhhs, photophobic mini-teddy bear guards and wan, multi-stalked Decapuses. I’m sure that Reid became very familiar with copyright law when he founded Listen.com which serviced Rhapsody shortly thereafter. The result is a fast-paced, somewhat gripping parody of the universal music industry.
The funniest elements of Reid’s “Year Zero” are the fact that aliens love awful music (the universal dawn of musical time is the discovery of the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter), universal law is subject to the litigious nature of each planet and that reality television (as seen in Sonny and His Sirelings) is the apocalyptic societal forecast.
“Year Zero” is a quick, kooky read though it does leave much to be desired. Ultimately the story suffers because of its flat, underdeveloped characters (not in reference to the two-dimensional alien species) and the prose, although plenty entertaining at times, is eye-rollingly over-written in more than a few passages throughout.
The protagonist, Nick Carter, might be totally forgettable if it weren’t for the Backstreet Boys joke on his own name. The predictable love interest (with a slight hipster twist), Mandy Shark, and the emasculating female boss, Judy, are clearly the creations of a male writer incapable of developing a female psyche. And readers do not need a punchline every two lines! It becomes overwhelmingly unfunny at times. For instance, Reid finds the need to refer to Carly’s Warcraft character as a “visual tart,” “smutty little avatar,” “ray-traced jezebel” and “anime ho” in a mere two and a half pages; “she” or rather “Carly” would have sufficed.
Once again, Year Zero is Rob Reid’s first stab at a novel after a memoir and an Internet history text. That is not meant as an excuse for shoddy writing, but with some practice and bowing out of the sci-fi realm, he might just find himself some success. Reid has a gift for description and is more than capable of coming up with interesting concepts, particularly surrounding the world of music. His next novel could do to the music industry what Martin Amis’ “Money” did to Hollywood. Or it could suck. Let’s hope for the former.