Noir, by Christopher Moore – As can be guessed from the title, this is basically Moore’s take on the noir genre, but not the hard-boiled detective variety so much as the normal guy who has stuff happen to him. Set in San Francisco in 1947, it’s mostly narrated by protagonist Sammy Tiffin, a bartender who falls for a woman named Stilton. It starts out parodying the sort of detached, metaphor-heavy prose that the genre is known for, but it seems to gradually become less prominent as the story becomes increasingly more convoluted. There are other running gags that continue throughout, however, like a kid who uses random words to try to sound tough. The plot turns out to involve a black mamba snake that narrates the parts of the tale where Sammy isn’t present, a secret society, aliens, and somewhat bumbling men in black. As mentioned in the afterword, a lot of elements of the story are based on reality, although obviously it goes off the rails a bit. It also touches on some heavier topics, like racism and homosexuality, and Sammy turns out to have rather progressive attitudes for the time period.
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente – By the author of the Fairyland series, this is a science fiction comedy based largely on Eurovision. Now, I’ve never watched Eurovision, although I have an idea of how ridiculous it is from people who live-tweet it every year. I’m sure there are bits I’d understand better if I were more familiar with the source material, but I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy the book. It has an engaging style largely inspired by Douglas Adams, with some of the same sort of observations on humanity’s place in the universe. There’s also the same general theme of Earth being considered culturally backwards by most of the galaxy, yet the aliens sharing many of the same foibles. The back story has it that, after the brutal Sentience Wars, the galaxy switched to a system where all sentient species participate in a big, flashy, over-the-top annual music contest, the Metagalactic Grand Prix. When a new species that seems borderline sentient is discovered, they’re allowed to have a representative in the contest. As long as they don’t come in dead last, they’re then permitted to join the interstellar society. Otherwise, they’re obliterated. When Earth is given this choice, their representatives by default (this takes place in the near future when all of the aliens’ preferred choices have died) are Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, a British glam-rock band that had been really successful, but had since broken up, and one of the trio had died. The two remaining members, Decibel Jones and Oort St. Ultraviolet (real names Danesh Jalo and Omar Caliskan), are taken to the overly cheerful world of Litost in a ship powered by paradox by a creature resembling a cross between a flamingo and an anglerfish and a time-traveling red panda. Valente is quite creative with the various species involved in the contest, including a collective of algae, rock monsters who are known for their military strategy and psychiatry, virtual mechanical life forms (at one point, one of them manifests itself as the Microsoft paperclip), and viruses that zombify corpses of other beings, all of them with their own ways of performing. Even wormholes are living beings in this universe. I understand the book has been optioned for a movie, and while I’m not sure how some of these creatures are going to be represented on screen, that’s pretty cool.