Nothing slows down innovation like the entrenched, regardless of how important change may be. Rob Reid learned this firsthand launching Listen.com, which eventually launched Rhapsody. At the dawn of MP3s and digital music, he found himself up against a juggernaut music industry previously known for trying to kill radio. While now killing Napster and the MP3 player, the industry tied up licensing and access to music commercially, inadvertently teaching generations of fans that it was infinitely more convenient and easy to steal via torrents and file sharing rather than but through legitimate channels. The effect of this has been to cripple the music industry’s market share at a time when technology makes it possible for more artists to produce and distribute music globally.
Breaking down the effect of such inflexibility could render a topic rife with legal issues impenetrable, so Rob Reid has employed comedy to make His point. He did so first in a TED conference presentation titled the 8 Billion Dollar iPad, and repeats the feat here with Year Zero, his first novel.
In the book, the unfortunately named Nick Carter, a copyright lawyer working for a firm representing some heavy hitters in the music industry is approached by aliens with a substantial problem, for them and us. Due to their love of Earth’s music and initial lack of knowledge of our copyright laws, they have pirated countless recordings of ours, and now owe us the entire wealth of the galaxy (their problem). As a result, they have learned some unscrupulous aliens have opted to destroy Earth rather than pay up(our problem). Now Nick must foil the plot and save Earth with the help of these aliens (who also are reality stars in space), a ne’er do well cousin, an indie rocker next door neighbor, and a cat.
Reid deftly combines a love of music with the perfectly logical nonsense science found in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who. He also manages to stir in his legal expertise on this issue, using a simple governing rule throughout the rest of the civilized galaxy to smash the needless complexity of our legal system up against. I was left with the impression that, as fun as this book was, it would be equally enjoyable to see a legal satire revealing how maddening our laws can be that didn’t rely on Science Fiction as a frame. The Sci-fi elements were certainly fun, but the insanity Nick encounters is just as present in the real world, and Reid can certainly make even the driest legalese funny.
Aside from that (meager) criticism, Year Zero was an excellent book, filled with clever jokes for music, legal, and Sci-fi geeks alike. You’d probably be better off classifying this, like John Scalzi’s Redshirts or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, as Nerd-lit, a new sub genre catering to the geek in all of us. As long as they’re as funny as this book, I hope they keep coming.