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Year Zero
Rob Reid
Del Rey, 365 pages

Year Zero
Rob Reid
Rob Reid is the founder of, which created the Rhapsody service, the world's largest seller of online music until it was eclipsed by Apple's iTunes service. lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife.

Rob Reid Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

The aliens have heard our music, and they like it. Actually, they love it to the point where the first time they heard human music it caused all listeners to become comatose with rhapsody, disrupting entire societies to the point where, after recovering from the shock, calendars were re-numbered, with all dates now measured by whether they are Pre or Post K.

What the K stands for is one of the underlying jokes of Rob Reid's hilarious first novel, Year Zero. Intergalactic society, it turns out, revolves around cultural competition. Species are not allowed in until showing they aren't a threat to blow up themselves or their neighbors, which so far has kept the human race out. In all of the other cultural pursuits, from theatrical drama to indoor decorating, the aliens are so far beyond us as to create the same kind of overwhelming awe in us as our music does to them. Music is the one thing we do better than anybody else, and we're so much better at it that it isn't even funny.

The reason it isn't funny is that one of the quirks of intergalactic law requires that when a culture's art is imported into galactic society, the rules and customs of the creators regarding that art should be followed. That means that every individual in the universe owes Earth up to $140,000 for each song he, she, or it has downloaded illegally from Earth sources, and since everyone carries around more than enough computer power to store Earth's entire musical history, it's quite a tidy sum.

Needless to say, there are some, even in a culturally enlightened universe, who aren't happy at the prospects of all the universe's wealth being owed to humans. That's the situation when two strangers dressed as a mullah and a nun show up in entertainment lawyer Nick Carter's office. From there, things get weird.

The obvious comparison to Year Zero's humor is The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but Reid's style is actually closer to Douglas Adam's predecessor, Robert Sheckley in works like Mindswap and Dimension Of Miracles. It's a sardonic, dry style with the jokes firmly grounded in the idea that nothing is more absurd than reality itself. The music industry completely lends itself to such an approach, and Reid is enough of an insider to make his jokes both generally funny, and pointed enough to identify specifics such as exactly which Senator it is that Nick Carter's law firm refers to as Fido.

Which means that Year Zero is a funny book that rewards those who pay close attention. Don't skip the footnotes, they have some of the best lines. And reading to the very end pays off in the epilogue, where a short conversation reveals not only the most far-ranging Bill Gates conspiracy theory in existence, but also the most subtly ironic Alanis Morissette joke ever. Don't miss it.

Copyright © 2012 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson looks forward to using his galactic royalty check to fill in the remaining space in his iPod. Greg's reviews have appeared in publications ranging from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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