”Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news.
The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own everything—and the aliens are not amused.
Nick Carter has just been tapped to clean up this mess before things get ugly, and he’s an unlikely galaxy-hopping hero: He’s scared of heights. He’s also about to be fired. And he happens to have the same name as a Backstreet Boy. But he does know a thing or two about copyright law. And he’s packing a couple of other pencil-pushing superpowers that could come in handy.
Soon he’s on the run from a sinister parrot and a highly combustible vacuum cleaner. With Carly and Frampton as his guides, Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.”
Thoughts: Most of humanity would argue that as a species, humans do pretty well for themselves when it comes to the arts. We have our highlights – Mozart, Monet, Michelangelo – and an entire group of artists we would prefer to pretend never happened. Yet, all in all, one could argue that humans know art. Then again, humans have not entered Rob Reid’s wacky world of Year Zero.
Nick Carter is a man with absolutely nothing to lose. He is convinced he is going to lose his job at one of the most prestigious entertainment law firms in the country. He keeps trying to get the girl – to no avail, and his only real friend is his cousin, with whom he has a bit of a love-hate relationship. When two very unlikely aliens walk into his office and ask him for help, he takes it. What follows is an experience Nick never could have imagined if he tried.
Year Zero is not all humor though. Its portrayal of humans, especially of Americans, is spot-on satire. The inflated sense of self-worth, the ability to accept even the most improbable of scenarios if it means more money in one’s pocket at the end of the day – Mr. Reid captures it all while wrapping it up with comedy to ease the sting.
John Hodgman did an excellent job narrating Nick Carter and the entire cast of characters, silly as they are. His voice has the right amount of self-deprecation necessary for Nick but can still pull off the Frampton’s cluelessness and Carly’s self-serving righteousness. While the story itself is fun, Mr. Hodgman’s characterizations of the alien beings really does add to the gentle mockery, making Year Zero one of the more enjoyable audiobooks of the year.
Year Zero is as rollicking as one would expect of a story based around the entire premise that American music during the disco era was some of the best music in the entire universe. Even funnier is the idea that alien beings would concern themselves with copyright laws, especially given all of the issues the music industry has had with pirated music websites. Nick Carter is charmingly goofy in the most endearing of ways and plays into the silly premise perfectly. With brilliant wordplay and an incredibly good sense of humor, Mr. Reid eases the pain of his skewering of humanity’s ever-growing sense of self-importance to create a story that is as entertaining as it is a biting social commentary. For the humor alone, Year Zero is well worth the time and effort. Let’s face it – where else are you going to find a world in which Welcome Back, Kotter is considered the height of television?
Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.