Catherynne Valente Is Writing a Sequel to Space Opera. Yes, it Is Called Space Oddity

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It was the book so preposterous, so frenetic, so wild and word-drunk, that only Catherynne M. Valente could’ve written it: Space Opera, the life-affirming, Eurovision-inspired ode to every broken soul ever soothed by the power of a heartfelt ballad, a kicking drum solo, a sweet guitar lick. The unlikely story of a washed-up glam rocker abducted by aliens and forced to sing for the Earth’s supper (not to mention its right to continue existing in an “unexploded by aliens” form) in an intergalactic battle of the bands, it is now a Hugo Award nominee—and, even more improbably, the first book in a series.

Yes, there will be a sequel to Space Opera. And yes, of course it is going to be called Space Oddity.

There’s no cover yet, and no back cover blurb. All we know for sure is the release date: Spring 2021.

Luckily, we were also able to wrangle a few minutes with the freshly Hugo-nominated author to find out a little bit more…

Space Opera (or should we say Hugo Award-nominee Space Opera?) is both a delightful and deeply odd work of sci-fi, rooted in your singular obsession with Eurovision, but it’s also deeply thoughtful, with a lot to say about how far humans are willing to go to push others away, and how profound is our need to connect. And, impossibly, readers fell for it in a big way. How did it feel to see people embrace such a deeply personal project?
It was such an amazing experience, seeing people respond to Space Opera. Reviews are reviews, and some will be positive and some will be negative, but the overwhelming love readers showed this book knocked me for a whole loop. It’s so very different than my other books, and of course I was worried about all the press comparing me to Douglas Adams backfiring in a big way. And to be quite frank, when you pour so much of your heart into a book, and your heart happens to be full of dumb puns and glitter and politics and more glitter, you just tend to worry about how people are going to handle your heart.

I’ve been flabbergasted. I never expected readers to embrace it like this. I’m not sure anyone did. I spent the first few weeks just slowly realizing that I’d done something okay. And when I started seeing handmade fan t-shirts and “Life is beautiful and life is stupid” signs waved by fans at Eurovision itself less than a month later (yeah, that happened), it finally started to sink in that Space Opera really meant something to a lot of people other than just dumb-pun-and-glitter me. Some of the things that have been said to me about this novel, by fans and by critics, have literally brought tears to my eyes. It was a hard book to write and I worked so hard on it, so to have it really grokked is breathtaking. It’s what you always hope for and rarely get.

But there’s something so terribly Space Opera about that. This underdog book that appeared out of nowhere with a cover like some lost ’80s concept album art became a hit against all odds. Decibel Jones would say of course that’s how it was, how could it have gone any other way?

The first book is loaded with Eurovision in-jokes, quirky cameos (Clippy!) and hidden references. Are there any Easter eggs readers have yet to discover? Which one is your favorite?
I’ve made no secret that the aliens, as well as their planet names and personal names, are all words taken from the languages of Eurovision-participating countries. Which is one of the best decisions I ever made—and I made it on a whim on day one. My office was covered in papers with lists of words I liked in forty different languages, and slowly, over the course of weeks, they went from being lists of random words to lists of my weird space-friends, familiar and beloved.

But I don’t think anyone has noticed the English one. Obviously, England is one of the big five Eurovision countries who contribute so much money to the thing that they’re guaranteed a final slot every year, so out of all the alien names, surely one is in bloody English.

It’s the Esca. An esca is the proper anatomical word for that little light-up probosicis thing that arcs over the head of an anglerfish. I thought that was rather neat.

So, we’re burying the lede here: You’re writing a sequel! When you wrote Space Opera, did you already know there could be a followup?
By the end, yes, absolutely. I wanted to write more in this universe. I love my alien species so much, and my bright broken rock stars, and I love writing in this style. The minute a time-traveling red panda wondered whether Decibel Jones would be interested in being a starship captain, the next book started waving cheekily from the corners of my mind. I’ve always loved the way Pratchett and Adams pulled off having many books in the same universe without having them be completely dependent on the other stories in the series. We’ll see how good I am at that, I suppose.

Besides, you always have to get the band back together for one more show.

What can readers expect from book two? Where do you go in the wake of an intergalactic singing competition?
These are the voyages of the Starship Glam. The further adventures of Dess and Mira and Oort, and introducing Marvin the half-human, half-Esca ingenue on drums. Earth is safe, for the moment, and taking its first steps into the greater galactic community—you know that won’t go well. Another Grand Prix is always right around the corner. And of course, other possibly-sentient species can emerge at any time…

It seems impossible for the book to be called anything other than Space Oddity. In fact, it’s so good, it practically justifies the book on its own. Were there ever any other contenders for the title?
Not a one.

Now, if there’s a third, I’m not sure where I’ll dig up another half as good as the first two, so I try not to think about that.

Does book two have a big hook akin to the singing competition?
Star Trek meets Live Aid! (Original Series, obviously.)

I can say that we’ll see the Metagalactic Grand Prix again, but from a very different perspective.

Can you sum up Space Oddity in a single Eurovision video? (Or song?)
How did no one ask me this for the first book???

If Space Opera was the literary equivalent of “Love Love Peace Peace,” the fantastic parody/tribute to all of Eurovision from the judging interval in 2015…

then Space Oddity is “Rise Like a Phoenix,” Austria 2014:

With a little bit of Dustin the Turkey thrown in.

Space Oddity will be published in 2021, but you can read Space Opera on repeat until then.

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The Strange and Familiar Nominees for the 2019 Hugo Awards

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The nominees for the 2019 Hugo Awards were announced this morning via streaming webcast straight from Dublin, Ireland, home of the 77th annual World Science Fiction Convention, and the lucky honorees represent the daring, strange—and familiar—flavors of sci-fi and fantasy that defined last year.

All six authors vying for Best Novel this year are prior Hugo nominees, and three of them—Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars), Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning), and Catherynne Valente (Space Opera)—even won, though none of those trophies was for a novel. The three others facing off in the category—Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver), Becky Chambers (Record of a Spaceborn Few), and Yoon Ha Lee (Revenant Gun)—are celebrating nominations for consecutive novels, though not all were published in consecutive years. (Also worth noting: Roanhorse, Novik, and Kowal’s novels are contenders at this year’s Nebulas.)

There are fresher faces elsewhere on the ballot, including P. Djèlí Clark, nominated two times this year, for Best Novella for The Black God’s Drums and Best Short Story for “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington.” Alix E. Harrow also celebrates her first nomination for her short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” while the Best Novelette category features first-timers Simone Heller and Zen Cho—who, we’re pleased to say, picked up her nomination for “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” a lovely story of love, perseverance, and dragons that was published right here on The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

As ever, an established career and a dedicated fan following have their perks: in its third year, the Best Series Hugo sees its first repeat nominee, for Seanan McGuire’s October Daye urban fantasy series, while Aliette de Bodard, Yoon Ha Lee, and Becky Chambers are nominated for series whose recent individual works are also recognized in other categories this year.

With additional nominations for familiar names like Jo Walton and Ursula K. Le Guin (who earned her second posthumous nomination), what is perhaps most notable about this year’s slate—aside from the uniform excellence of the works recognized—is the how very traditionally Hugo they are. After a number of years during which the most storied honor in genre became mired in political gamesmanship, controversy, and no small amount of anger, this year’s ballot seems to do nothing more than speak to the year in SFF that was 2018, as it was seen by the WorldCon fandom.

And that’s the way it should be.

The Hugo Award winners will be announced in August at Dublin 2019. The complete list of nominees follows.

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The first of a pair of prequel novels to Kowal’s award-winning novelette The Lady Astronaut of MarsThe Calculating Stars (also a Nebula nominee) delves into the alternate history that resulted in humanity establishing a colony on Mars in the middle of the 20th century. In the spring of 1952, a huge meteor hits Chesapeake Bay, taking out most of the Eastern United States. Mathematician and former military pilot Elma York and her scientist husband Nate are there to witness the destruction, and Elma knows immediately that this is an ELE—an extinction-level event—and that humanity must look to the stars if it has any hope of survival. Although her experience as a pilot and her math skills earn Elma a place in the International Aerospace Coalition as a calculator, she begins to wonder why women can’t be astronauts as well—and she’s more than willing to confront racism, sexism, and more personal enemies on her quest to become the first lady astronaut. This is one of those books that seems to have come along at just the right moment, bringing together fascinating, inspiring characters; compelling, plausible worldbuilding; and a message that resonates—especially today. Read our review.

Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager)
This standalone followup to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit explores what happens to those passengers on the generation ships humanity used to escape Earth who don’t know how to leave their vessels behind. The Exodans are the largest concentration of humanity anywhere in the universe; they are the descendants of those who left a poisoned Earth two centuries before on a flotilla of hope. The novel explores what happens to them after the ship reaches its destination: both to those who venture forth into new lives, and those who stay behind. Chambers’ books are celebrated for their warmth and diverse characters, but her worldbuilding is also stellar; it’s a delight to spend more time in this universe. Read our interview with the author.

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Lee brings the Hugo and Nebula award-nominated Machineries of Empire trilogy to its conclusion in mathematical style with a brainy, fast-paced final entry. Shuos Jedao wakes up in the body of a much older man rather than the 17-year old one his memories led him to expect. He’s shocked to discover he’s now a general, commanded by Hexarch Nirai Kujen—a tyrant hiding behind an easy smile—to conquer the haxarchate using an army compelled to obey his every command. Worse—he quickly discovers that the soldiers despise him for a massacre he doesn’t remember committing. Worst—someone is hunting him, seeking to bring him to justice for his crimes. The first two books in the series stretched imaginations and taxed brains, and this one is no different—and no less worth the effort it takes to puzzle it out. Read our review.

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga Press)
Valente spins a truly nutty disco ball of a sci-fi story that begins with the Sentience Wars that nearly eradicate all intelligent life in the universe; when they end, the scattered survivors regroup and begin a new tradition designed to avoid future apocalypses: the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a universe-wide competition of song and dance open only to recognized sentient species. When any new species emerges onto the universal stage to declare itself sentient—like, say, humanity—they must send contestants to the Grand Prix to prove their worth and quite literally sing for their lives (though alien singing doesn’t always sound like a Top 40 hit). Place anything but last and the upstart civilization is a part of the club. If they come in last, they’re quietly exterminated, in the name of preserving universal peace. (Tough choices, people…and not people.) When Earth is unexpectedly pulled into the next contest, the task of saving humanity falls to a has-been rock star named Decibel Jones, who must grapple with the demons of his past while venturing reluctantly onto the largest stage of all-time. It’s a a second chance to be a glitter-bombed rock star. or die trying—along with everyone else. Inspired by her dual love for Eurovision and Douglas Adams, this one is pure Catherynne Valente, from the first page to the last. Read our review.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Drawing on Eastern European folklore and the classic fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, Novik tells the story of Miryem, daughter in a family of Jewish moneylenders led by her incompetent father. With their fortunes on the wane due to his poor business sense, Miryem must step in and turn the family business around. Inspired by a mixture of desperation and genius, she responds by spinning debts into gold—gold that attracts the attention of the Staryk, emotionless fairies who bring winter with them. The Staryk give Miryem Fairy Silver and demand she transform it, too. Miryem does so by turning the beautiful metal into jewelry that attracts the attention of the rich and powerful—but her success brings her more Staryk attention, and thus more problems. Novik’s first standalone novel to come along in the wake of the Nebula Award-winning Uprooted had a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver—expanded from a short story included in anthology The Starlit Wood—is every bit as enchanting. Read our review.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press)
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel, binding them together in a way that could only and ever happen in Dinétah. Read our review.

Best Novella

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)

Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)

The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)

The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)

Best Novelette

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog)

“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections,” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com)

“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth,” by Daryl Gregory (Tor.com)

The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)

“The Thing About Ghost Stories,” by Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny Magazine #25)

“When We Were Starless,” by Simone Heller (Clarkesworld #145, October 2018)

Best Short Story

“The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine #25)

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine, February 2018)

“STET,” by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine, October 2018)

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine #23)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)

Best Series

The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older (Tor.com Publishing)

The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross (Tor.com Publishing)

Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

The October Daye Series, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

The Universe of Xuya, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press)

Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work

Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee (Dey Street Books)

The Hobbit Duology, written and edited by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan (YouTube)

An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000, by Jo Walton (Tor)

The Mexicanx Initiative Experience at Worldcon 76 (Julia Rios, Libia Brenda, Pablo Defendini, John Picacio)

Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon (Tin House Books)

Best Graphic Story

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)

Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford (Marvel)

Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (First Second)

Paper Girls, Vol. 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image Comics)

Saga, Vol. 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Annihilation, directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer (Paramount)

Avengers: Infinity War, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios)

Black Panther, written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler (Marvel Studios)

A Quiet Place, screenplay by Scott Beck, John Krasinski and Bryan Woods, directed by John Krasinski (Platinum Dunes/Sunday Night)

Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley (Annapurna Pictures)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Expanse: “Abaddon’s Gate,” written by Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Simon Cellan Jones

Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab,” written by Vinay Patel, directed by Jamie Childs

Dirty Computer, written by Janelle Monáe, directed by Andrew Donoho and Chuck Lightning

The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett

The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy,” written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell

Doctor Who: “Rosa,” written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, directed by Mark Tonderai

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Neil Clarke

Gardner Dozois

Lee Harris

Julia Rios

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

Catherine Tobler 

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

Sheila E. Gilbert

Anne Lesley Groell

Beth Meacham

Diana Pho

Gillian Redfearn

Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Galen Dara

Jaime Jones

Victo Ngai

John Picacio

Yuko Shimizu

Charles Vess

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews

Fireside Magazine, edited by Julia Rios, managing editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, social coordinator Meg Frank, special features editor Tanya DePass, founding editor Brian White, publisher and art director Pablo Defendini

FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editors Troy L. Wiggins and DaVaun Sanders, editors L.D. Lewis, Brandon O’Brien, Kaleb Russell, Danny Lore, and Brent Lambert

Shimmer, publisher Beth Wodzinski, senior editor E. Catherine Tobler

Strange Horizons, edited by Jane Crowley, Kate Dollarhyde, Vanessa Rose Phin, Vajra Chandrasekera, Romie Stott, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons Staff

Uncanny Magazine, publishers/editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor Michi Trota, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue editors-in-chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien

Best Fanzine

Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus

Journey Planet, edited by Team Journey Planet

Lady Business, editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, & Susan

nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla and The G

Quick Sip Reviews, editor Charles Payseur

Rocket Stack Rank, editors Greg Hullender and Eric Wong

Best Fancast

Be the Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace

The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

Fangirl Happy Hour, hosted by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams

Galactic Suburbia, hosted by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts, produced by Andrew Finch

Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders

The Skiffy and Fanty Show, produced by Jen Zink and Shaun Duke, hosted by the Skiffy and Fanty Crew 

Best Fan Writer

Foz Meadows

James Davis Nicoll

Charles Payseur

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Alasdair Stuart

Bogi Takács

Best Fan Artist

Sara Felix

Grace P. Fong

Meg Frank

Ariela Housman

Likhain (Mia Sereno)

Spring Schoenhuth

Best Art Book

The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press)

Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon, by Julie Dillon (self-published)

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer (Ten Speed Press)

Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, edited by John Fleskes (Flesk Publications)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—The Art of the Movie, by Ramin Zahed (Titan Books)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, edited by Catherine McIlwaine (Bodleian Library)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Katherine Arden (2nd year of eligibility)

S.A. Chakraborty (2nd year of eligibility)

R.F. Kuang (1st year of eligibility)

Jeannette Ng (2nd year of eligibility)

Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2nd year of eligibility)

Rivers Solomon (2nd year of eligibility)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform)

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt)

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black (Little, Brown)

Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)

The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin (Scholastic)

Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House)

Who are you pulling for at this year’s Hugo Awards? Let us know in the comments.

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