The story behind Year Zero is summarized in the writeup, and in many of the other reviews.
Folks have thrown around comparisons to Douglas Adams, and while I can understand the impulse, I think they do come at SF from different comedic angles.
Hitchhiker's Guide and company have much more of an absurdist bent - the plot will often bend in service to the joke that Adams is trying to reach. Reid has an outlandish premise, and the comedy results from taking this premise and following it all the way through to the furthest logical (illogical?) extremes. I enjoy both approaches, and while I love and revere Adam's stuff, I think I find Reid's take a more satisfying as a reader.
Or as a listener.
Hodgman's performance on this audiobook is an absolute delight.
I have heard him in interviews, on The Daily Show, on his podcast Judge John Hodgman, in ads, and as an occasional actor. I am an absolute fan, but he seems to keep winding up in roles where he is performing variations on insane-intellectual-lecturer-mad-professor-on-downers-with-an-ironic-twist. (Probably not the most concise description, but I hope the point comes across. Let me state unequivocally, that I am a big fan of his. ) In Year One, he showed more range in the first two hours of the narration than I have seen from him elsewhere.
In many audiobooks, narrators will sometimes lose me in a round of dialogue - they may not make each character distinctive enough to understand who exactly is speaking at any given moment. This was never a problem in this reading, and some of the voices that Hodgman came up with were downright suprising. (I actually checked again on Audible to make sure he was the only narrator listed, they were that different from his normal tone.)
He makes each voice distinctive, but does not lapse in to cartoony or schlocky impressions (something I struggle with when reading stories to my kids at night). His own voice - insane-intellectual-lecturer-mad-professor-on-downers-with-an-ironic-twist is absolutely perfect for the narrator, Nick Carter.
If the premise even mildly intrigues you, or if you are a fan of Hodgman in other media, please give this a try. I loved it.
You could summarize the plot as Apollo 13 meets Robinson Crusoe, with a dash of Cast Away.
You can see the official summaries, but I want to tell you about three things that made this fantastic for me.
1. Overall plot - if you describe it to someone, it sounds as if it could have been written by Heinlein or one of the other greats. It's a great engineering/adventure story. There was a ton of "hard SF" detail (or probably more exactly "S" - I got a strong feeling that Weir did his homework on this) but the author works hard to avoid the classic "As you know Bob, the oxygenator works through . . . " and actually makes it central to the plot - making it much easier to follow for someone who has basic scientific knowledge, but is *not* a specialist. He keeps the plot moving, and I was riveted.
2. Humor - If you look at the quoted first line, you'll see why this *isn't* a tale straight from SF's golden age. Weir is hilarious, both in the portions narrated by astronaut Mark Whatley, and also in the sections with Mission Control on Earth. This *isn't* Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which I love). The humor is not slapsticky, or goofy, but grows organically from the characters and their interactions.
3. Excellent narration - I got the audio edition, narrated by R. C. Bray. He has a voice that is perfect for the "First-Person Singular Smartass" narration, and does a great job creating a multi-ethnic/national cast for the portions on Earth. He makes most of them true indiduals, and it was always easy to follow exactly which character was speaking, even in scenes with a crowded office full of people. Also, he hits the sarcastic and ironic bits of dialogue perfectly - funny, but not making him into the guy you want to punch because he doesn't know how to turn it off. I know I have praised the humor, but the book is about a literal life and death situation, and the author and narrator make sure the stakes feel very real.
If you enjoy classic adventure stories, with several laugh-out-loud moments, and great attention to scientific detail, check this out.
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