Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Most of the time, I forget how old I am. True, I great each day with an immediate awareness of minor aches and pains and a low level fatigue that nuzzles me like a loyal Labrador rather than springing awake and wondering what to do with the parts that spring the most, but that has all happened so slowly, I'm mostly able to ignore it and it's not like it's a surprise, just aging as advertised.

 

But for a long time, I thought that life inside my head, where I live for an unhealthily large proportion of the day, went on as it always did, with me being the same me I've always been, without the need to dress up or remember not to scratch where it itches.

 

This book, which, as you can see, has infected me with a fever for long, long, continuous stream of confused consciousness writing, has made me see that that belief is not so much a lie as a self-imposed blindness.

 

Have you ever moved out of a house and, as the furniture that has sat unmoved for decades, is carted away and the curtains are taken down and sunlight streams into places it hasn't been able to reach in recent memory and then seen that the paint is faded, dustbunnies have formed civilizations complicated enought to be ready to make a break for the next room and the floorboards that haven't had furniture crouching on them are scarred and tarnishe and ALL OF THIS is now so obvious that you cannot understand why you've never seen it before?  That's what reading and reflecting on this book has done to my perception of life inside my head.

 

It's clear that, even inside my head, I'm really sixty-one Who knew? Not me, I've lived here for too long.

 

So what prompted this unlooked-for epiphany? Reading a couple of chapters in what, to my own younger eyes, might have seemed a silly but cool and wickedly bright book.

 

It is cool and wickedly bright. But it's more than that. The author behind the curtains is not yet forty but she knows and wants us, old-enough-to-spot-it folks, to know, that behind the wit and the exuberance and the anarchic energy, lies the reality of hard choices, inevitable age and the ephemeral nature of ineffable music.

 

Chapter 3 is all about a cutely presented ultimatum from the alien races that humanity must pass a test or be obliterated. Once I'd have been amused at how this was done and impressed at the strength of the steel-fisted logic in the single white Michael Jackson glove. Now I find myself angry at the aliens because they can't see that their own post-holocaust civilization is still built on the acceptance of the genocide as a necessary part of maintaining peace and that that kind of peace is too pricey to maintain. That might just be me being me but it's probably me being a grumpy (but right) old guy.

 

Chapter 4 is all about the launch of the rock band "Decibel Jones and The Absolute Zeros". This is nothing short of wonderful. It captures all the desperation and freedom and NEED for identity and terrifying fear of failure that bands live with. So what made me focus on being old? I suddenly realised that I AM the old guy running the open-mike pub in Brighton and watching Decibel Jones launch himself into the world like a baby bird falling from a tree. I've been listening to music since before the author was born. I love it but I see it's scars and wrinkles more clearly now than I used to. So here's how the venue owner reacted to the first performance of the band:

 

"He laughed and laughed in total silence while bright-eyed, ambitious Lila Poole patted his shoulder and tears streamed out from under his glasses, down his booze-blooming cheeks, and into the soft darkness of his smoke hole, seeping toward the last part of him that remembered what it was like when he was young and everything in the world sounded just like that.

 

He wept into his single pint."

See what I mean?