Reading progress update: I've read 25%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

“Is that really it?” Dess interrupted halfway through. “We just sing better than one other beastie and we get to live?”

“Yes. Does it seem barbaric to you? Sixty-seven percent of your population used that word.” “No, it makes sense to me. It’s perfect.”

“Why?”

Decibel shrugged. “Life is stupid and beautiful that way.”

The Esca smiled; for the Esca can and do smile. All its feathers flushed an excited shade of cobalt. He had said something good, then. Somehow, the world’s luckiest fuckup had done something right for once, though God and all his angels knew what. He’d only said what he meant, which was, when you thought about it, a minor superpower, because so few people ever did. The blue creature danced coquettishly toward him on those impossible, dumb legs that couldn’t hold up a plastic garden flamingo, let alone this living, breathing version.

So, the name "Esca" ... is that described somewhere and I missed it again (reading this before bedtime was not the best idea - this book really requires a lot of attention) or is it Valente's random invention or is there something in it being "ESC" + "A(lien)"?

 

The previous chapter also outlined the "rules, guidelines, regulations of the Metagalactic Grand Prix as agreed to by everybody left standing after the Battle of Vlimeux", which I have added behind the spoiler:

 

 

1. The Grand Prix shall occur once per Standard Alunizar Year, which is hereby defined by how long it takes Aluno Secundus to drag its business around its morbidly obese star, get tired, have a nap, wake up cranky, yell at everyone for existing, turn around, go back around the other way, get lost, start crying, feel sorry for itself and give up on the whole business, and finally try to finish the rest of its orbit all in one go the night before it’s due, which is to say, far longer than a year by almost anyone else’s annoyed wristwatch.

 

2. All species currently accepted as sentient must compete.

 

3. All species applying for recognition as intelligent, self-aware (not a huge barrel of dicks), and generally worth the time it takes to get to 

their shitty planet, wherever that may be, must compete.

 

4. One song per species.

 

5. Special effects and stagecraft of all kinds are encouraged; however, no harm must come to the audience, the audience’s families, or the linear timelines of any active spectators.

 

6. Please dress accordingly–that is, in the traditional costume of your people. But make it cool, all right? Give it a little showmanship. Make an effort. If you do not comply, your representatives will be sentenced to not less than six years of hard labor. We’re not trying to run the trains on time in Drabtown here.

 

7. Please provide a written translation of your lyrics to the umpire. And no trying to show off by singing in Alunzish! Stay in your linguistic lane. Your accent will always be terrible.

 

8. New compositions only! No sloppy seconds.

 

9. Judging will be conducted in two phases: by audience acclamation, and a considered vote by a panel consisting of the representatives of the Great Octave, the new applicant’s chaperone species, and an old computer from Kogu the Belligerent’s house on Planet Yoomp.

 

10. At no time may anyone cast a vote for their own species, as this is selfish and boring and ruins it for everyone—looking at you, Alunizar.

 

11. Offensive verses must confine bloodshed to the staging area.

 

12. In the event that an applicant species comes in last, their solar system shall be unobtrusively quarantined for a period of not less than 50,000 years, their cultures summarily and wholly Binned, their homeworld mined responsibly for resources, and after a careful genetic reseeding of the biosphere, their civilization precision-incinerated from orbit so we can all sleep at night. Every effort will be made to spare unoffending flora and fauna. The planet’s biological processes will be allowed to start over without interference, older, wiser, more experienced, and able to learn from its mistakes. Any new species arising from said ecological matrix may reapply in the future without prejudice.

 

13. In the event that an applicant planet defeats at least one species of proven sentience and achieves some rank other than miserably dead last (so to speak), they shall be welcomed with open arms, spores, antennae, tentacles, wings, or other preferred appendages into the Untidy Lounge Room of the Extended Galactic Family.

 

14. In the event that a sentient species finishes in last place, they shall all go home and have a hard think about where they’ve gone wrong in life and promise never to do it again.

 

15. The final scoreboard shall determine the proportional distribution of all communally held Galactic Resources for the next cycle. (See attached documents for a full explication of said resources.) As this is kind of a big deal and has been, historically, the source of every war other than this one, see Rules 10, 17, and 18.

 

16. The undersigned, all their descendants, and any subsequently discovered civilizations we decide we can stand to talk to at parties, unto the heat-death of the universe or the next bout of belligerent stupidity makes all this maximally moot, whichever comes first, solemnly swear to play fair, listen with open minds, vote their feelings, not their ambitions, and not stack the roster with too many rookies all at once, so that everybody gets a really solid chance at not being vaporized if they don’t deserve to be.

 

17. Any violators of Rule 16 shall be subject to the gentle ministrations of Rule 12.

 

18. The winner shall compel their government to pick up everyone else’s drink tab, as well as put us all up and pay for the catering when we do this whole thing over again next year, no take-backsies, no changing mobile numbers, no pleading planetary austerity—take out a loan from the Intergalactic Happy Friendship Bank like everyone else, you skinflint.

 

19. Try your best and have fun!

 

After the Corking Incident at the thirtieth Grand Prix on the Utorak homeworld of Otozh, the subsequent trial, surprise exoneration, and politico-musical ascendency of the perpetrators—Igneous Lagom Opt, Aukafall Avatar 0, and the Entity Known as Monad—

a twentieth rule was added. At the time, the change was so controversial that protesters threatened to blow the thirty-first Grand Prix out of the sky if the Octave adopted it. However, with the launch of the Keshet Holistic Live Total Timeline Broadcast, the effects of Rule 20 proved so unreasonably, voyeuristically, nail-bitingly fun to watch from home that the protesters got completely addicted to viewing parties, and it became the galaxy’s favorite guilty pleasure and fundamentally changed the way the game was played, spectated, and won.

 

20. If a performer fails to show up on the night, they shall be automatically disqualified, ranked last, and their share of communal Galactic Resources forfeited for the year. Do try not to actually kill anyone. It’s a dreadful bother to clean up the mess.

(show spoiler)