When in 2012, Rob Reid wrote Year Zero, a science fiction novel about the music business and its impact on the universe, many people sat up and took notice. Who better to write about the Byzantine complexities of the music business than Rob Reid? The author of Year Zero, Rob Reid doesn’t have the kind of bio one expects for a science fiction author. In fact, he was and is an entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, the kind of self-made multi millionaire who makes many of us realize what failures we truly are.
Born in New York City, raised in Darien, Connecticut, got his undergraduate degree at Stanford University in Arabic and International Relations. Earned an MBA from Harvard. In 1994 he moved to Silicon Valley where he managed Silicon Graphic’s relations with Netscape. In 1999 he became a founding member of IGN Entertainment which went public in 2000. IGN was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $650 million. Reid was the sole founder of Listen.com for which he served as CEO and Executive Chairman. Listen.com launched Rhapsody, a music streaming service, the first legal service of its kind. Rhapsody was bought by RealNetworks in 2003 and Reid continued to serve as one of its vice president until MTV purchased it for $230 million.
Year Zero is one of the funniest, scariest, weirdest science fiction novels I’ve ever read — up there with Jasper Fforde and the great Douglas Adams and certainly the only book of its kind that includes footnotes. They are hilarious too. The scary part of the novel is not the story but how it mirrors the realities of the music business. The music business is scary.
It turns out that Earth is the only planet in the universe that can create music worth listening to. It is not merely the best music in the universe. For all practical purpose, it is the only music. Other worlds have made something that had been called music, until the discovery of Earth’s music. From the moment our music was heard by the highly advanced sentient cosmos, there was no turning back. The year of the discovery of Earth’s music was Year Zero, the dawn of a new era for every planet in every galaxy everywhere.
It also signaled the likely end of life on Earth unless some legal loophole could be found in our insanely punitive copyright laws. If not, the combined amount of money owed to Earth’s music corporations would be so monumental it would bankrupt the entire universe. Unable to pay the bill yet obligated by inter-galactic law to pay it, the easier choice would be to destroy Earth, eliminating the problem and de facto, canceling the debt.
Whether or not you will find the book as fascinating and funny as I did is probably a matter of what you find funny, but it totally killed me. No one knows the intricacies of law as it pertains to the music industry better than Rob Reid. Did I mention the footnotes? They are even funnier than the text. Humans are oddly heroic, each in his or her own way. People rise to the occasion. The aliens are deliciously bizarre and some of them also rise — or fall — to the occasion. The combination of real law and the idiocy of the situation is the stuff that makes you read and laugh and read, then laugh some more.
Although Year Zero is every bit as weird as any of Douglas Adams’ books to which it has been compared, the strangeness of the story is based on real facts. The “facts” are so odd, you have to sit there and let your jaw flap a bit. Taking into consideration the world in which we are living, this book makes more sense than it used to, if anything makes sense. Douglas Adams created the Improbability Drive from his imagination. Rob Reid only has to quote laws that exist which are as crazy as whatever you might imagine. Right now, nothing seems as scary as life. But I digress.
I loved this book. I have read it half a dozen times and I think maybe I’ll read it again. Like, today maybe. I bought the audio book too and listened to it a few times. I’ll probably read that more also. Some books are worth memorizing.
There is no sequel. It’s the only novel Rob Reid has written, though he has written other non-fiction books including Architects of the Web about Silicon Valley, and Year One about life as a student at Harvard Business School. This is a great book. I bet you’ll love it too. Give it a read.
If nothing else, you’ll learn everything you never wanted to know about the music business, and right now, reading about music seems a great idea to me.