Literature / Year Zero

Year Zero is a satirical Science Fiction novel by Robert Reid.

"Aliens suck at music. And it's not for lack of trying."

Humans, however, have it mastered (sans North Korea). Though our plays may be horrific in writing, our stained glass windows may be dull and unimaginative, we are quite good at music. So good that the sheer awesomeness from the power of rock killed entire species, just from the rapture of listening to it. Naturally, the surviving races of the Refined League wanted a copy of our music. All of it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until many years later they discovered the maximum fine of $150,000 per copy. Effectively, the universe is bankrupt and some are not happy about that.

Join Nick Carter, a young copyright lawyer, as he hurdles the obstacles thrown in his path: an obnoxious cousin, a beautiful neighbor he desperately wants to hook up with, a megalomanical boss, and aliens who want to blow up the earth unless they get a license that allows every species in the universe unlimited access to Earth's music (sans North Korea).


  • Amoral Attorney: "Although of course we prefer it when our quarry is able to fight long enough to run up the bills for a while. That said, we never feel great when they go bankrupt with lots of unpaid debts. After all, defending counsel deserves to get paid, too."
  • Bad Boss: Judy Sherman is a minor example of this. While she loves terrorizing her staff, only some of it is purely for her own amusement. She also does it to test their mettle, to see if they are worthy of promotion. She combines this with Iron Lady telling off Nick's alien clients.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: It turns out that Bill Gates is an alien who's intentionally retarding Earth's technological development. Although this is too prevent Earth from going through the great acceleration, a final period of rapid technological growth where 3 out 4 species wipe themselves out
  • Bitch Alert: Judy enjoys making sure her staff knows that she isn't nice.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology
  • Brown Note: Earth music acts like this to the aliens of the Refined League; in extreme cases, it causes their brains to explode from sheer ecstasy. Conversely, Carly and Frampton worry that their other artistic disciplines (such as interior decorating) may have a similar effect on Nick, so they deliberately mess up their living room before allowing him into it.
    • Alien music, if weaponized, would rank between chemical and biological warheads.
  • Buffy Speak: The rest of the universe learned to speak American English, in part, by watching our sitcoms and reality TV. Thus it tends to pop up from time to time.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: "The Munk" specifically. Anyone involved in the music industry in general.
  • The Ditz: Carly's other defining trait on her reality show. Frampton, however seems to be this in real life.
  • The Federation: The Refined League.
  • Feathered Fiend: Paulie Stardust, a former alien singer who looks like a parrot.
  • Footnote Fever: Sometimes for funny anecdotes, sometimes for Nick to correct himself. Sometimes, the footnote takes up 80% of the page.
  • Freak Out: An unfortunate cab driver flips out witnessing some of the alien tech.
  • Green Aesop: Inverted. Carbon emissions saved humanity from an ice age.
  • Hevy Mtal mlaut: zz (who is literally made out of the heaviest metal in the universe). His playlist consists of songs from metal bands as well.
  • Human Aliens: Carly and Frampton (along with the rest of their race) are this... except for their eight-toed feet.
  • Humans Are Special: Humans are the only species that can create decent music. However, we suck in all other artistic mediums.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: We see small hints of this in Judy.
  • Kid Sidekick: Carly's main "role" on her TV show to her brother Frampton. However, she hints that they are both quite a bit older than they appear due to Refined Science. Outside of the Show Within a Show, Frampton takes on this role.
  • Killer Rabbit: Photophobes. They look like teddy bears, but are sent by the Guild to take out Nick, Carly, and Frampton.
  • Mistaken Identity: Nick Carter is neither a member of Backstreet Boys nor the name partner of his law firm, Carter, Geller & Marks. He just happens to share their name, much to the disappointment of most every alien he meets.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nick experiences this briefly when he is forced to kill a group of attacking aliens in self-defense.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Poor Carly. Her main role in the book seems to be inadvertently making things worse. Her first boo-boo sets the plot in motion.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hoo boy, was this subverted. Throughout the book, a powerful US Senator was constantly (and condescendingly) referred to as Fido for his willingness to go along with whatever the music industry wanted, in return for some "treats" (getting his music in a movie, a phone call from a musician, etc.) Near the end of the book, though, they make damn sure you know his identity: Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah)
    • Also averted altogether. Many other real-life celebrities are named in passing, such as Lady Gaga, Bono, Steven Tyler and countless other musicians.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Many scenes in the book involve Nick getting into a bizarre conversation and using carefully chosen quotes to make it look like he's someone he's not or just make it look like he knows what's going on when he doesn't, and what was going on isn't revealed until it's over, if not much later. The book is arguably funnier on a second read, after you can understand what the parrot or other characters actually want.
  • Power of Rock: The Refined League first encountered our music by catching the tail-end of Welcome Back, Kotter. The theme song caused entire alien species to die in an ecstatic haze. Just imagine what happened when they discovered Led Zeppelin.
  • Sequel Hook: Pretty explicit. The book ends with "There are enough loose ends out there that this whole mess is probably just beginning."
  • Show Within a Show: Sonny and His Sirelings.
  • Shout-Out: Many many many musicians and songs as well as pop-culture references, TV shows and video games.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Played with. The Earth was discovered (so to say) by Alien teenagers in the Cryogenium, and in their language "Muine Goyrc" is a very funny (but sadly untranslatable) wordplay. Don't even think about the fact that the word "Cryogenium" didn't yet exist in the Cryogenium...
  • Starfish Alien: These show up too, including aliens that look like giant snails, floating cubes, and cockroaches with genitalia-like tendrils.
  • Take That: Targets include music executives, music lawyers, Congress, politicians (both in general and in particular), unions, government employees, ultra-trendy speak-easies, Reality Shows and more.
    Alien representative: "Our top legal scholars have researched it thoroughly. And they unanimously agree that its the most cynical, predatory, lopsided, and shamelessly money-grubbing copyright law written by any society, anywhere in the universe since the dawn of time itself."
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Judy loves this, it seems. "Im Judy Sherman, bitch. And youre in infinitely deep shit.
  • Year Zero: Duh.