Agent to the Stars

By John Scalzi

Rating: 4 stars

I was slightly dismayed when I read the author’s note at the start of this novel which said that this was written as a “practice novel” with no intention of selling it, and then a series of events happened (one of which, I suspect, was that he wrote some some stuff which sold very well) that involved this being published. I’m not sure if I was more or less dismayed at the end when it was clear that not only was this his first, practice, not for sale, novel, but that it was actually pretty good!

Tom Stein is a Hollywood agent, low ranking, but rising, when suddenly he get the client of a lifetime: an alien species that wants to initiate first contact with Earth but doesn’t want to cause panic.

That’s a decent premise for a story, and I like the idea of how you would do first contact without causing a worldwide panic, stock market crashes etc etc. I liked the fact that most people in the book, despite being very much Hollywood people, are mostly likeable as well, up to, and including, the head of the agency that Tom works for (described as one of the most powerful men on half a continent).

Sure, it’s not as polished as some of Scalzi’s later work, but it’s very readable, it’s well written and, damn, it makes me jealous! Although the characters don’t get a vast amount of fleshing out, there’s enough to them that you do care about them (even poor, dumb Michelle, the actress that Tom’s representing).

So not just of interest to Scalzi fans, this is definitely worth reading for its own sake.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765357007
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Year of publication: 2004

The Android’s Dream

By John Scalzi

Rating: 3 stars

A diplomat on Earth annoys his alien counterpart so much he literally dies. Thus sets off an unlikely chain of events that could ultimately lead to war, and it’s left to Harry Creek, the State Department’s Xenosapient Facilitator (aka the Bearer of Bad News), to find the sheep (yes, sheep) that would solve the problem.

This is an odd book. It started off very tongue in cheek and light hearted, with the low level diplomat literally farting his counterpart to death but there’s a lot packed in here and the tone does vary a bit going from broadly humorous to someone being eaten alive to (mostly off-page) torture, but for the most part Scalzi pulls off the changes in the tone.

The Church of the Evolved Lamb is a brilliant invention, worthy of Philip K. Dick (to whose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the title, and the breed of sheep in the book, are nods) himself. This is a church whose members know it was founded by a scoundrel just trying to fleece someone for money, so they, instead, turn their efforts to making the prophecies come true. It’s quite the theological conundrum and a lovely idea.

Harry Creek is a great character too. Someone who, by temperament, is suited to be able to give people bad news, who’s also a veteran and happens to have mad h3x0r skillz *cough*, I mean, is very good with computers. Sure, he’s not exactly an everyman, but he’s very likeable and I’d feel safe in his hands.

There are number of action sequences in the book and they’re all excellent. Sometimes I can find action sequences a bit dull or wordy, but Scalzi really pulls them off here, especially the one in the mall.

So an all round fun book, with a number of interesting ideas and good characters.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765348289
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Year of publication: 2006


By John Scalzi

Rating: 4 stars

Andrew Dahl is a fresh-minted ensign, just out of the academy, and assigned to the Universal Union Space Fleet’s flagship, the Intrepid. But it’s not long before he notices something odd: away missions are much more dangerous than they should be. Someone dies on almost every one, although never any of the senior officers. It’s not long before he discovers that there’s something very strange going on…

This is an amusing Star Trek parody right up until the point where it goes very metafictional indeed. It continues to be amusing, but your brain does tie itself in knots as you try to follow along. It’s difficult to say more without spoilers, but suffice to say that Dahl, our protagonist, and his friends on the Intrepid are likeable people and you’re willing them on through the strangeness.

The book has some touching moments that are all the more so for being unexpected through the humour, especially in the three codas at the end which feel like the right way to close off the story. So a humorous book with a good heart and a lot of wit. Excellent stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575134300
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War, #1)

By John Scalzi

Rating: 4 stars

In the far future, humanity has reached the stars to find them already occupied. It turns out that there are numerous alien races out there and competition for habitable planets to colonise is intense in an alien-eat-human (sometimes literally) world. The Colonial Defence Force exists to protect human settlements and to aggressively attack other races to gain new territory.

They recruit from an Earth that is shielded from this war and also not given access to the alien high technology that the CDF acquires (saying they should discover it themselves), but it’s their method of recruitment that forms the kernel around which this story is told. Rather than recruiting young people with no experience of the world, the CDF only recruits people over the age of 75, who are given new, young bodies and never allowed to return to Earth, but once their tour of duty ends are resettled on a colony world. Thus the CDF gains the experience of age and experience and ensures that a breeding population remains on Earth.

I had a bit of an issue with the concept behind this book: that diplomacy in interstellar space is impossible because of the demand of each race to propagate and expand, but I was able to mostly get through that because unlike, say, Robert Heinlein, it felt like he was using that background to tell an interesting story, not because he believed it :). There are also some great flashes of dark humour throughout the book, such as when an alien invasion force takes a Human colony, they bring a celebrity chef with them to describe the best way to cook Humans.

Our protagonist, John Perry, is likeable and a good narrator, although perhaps a little too competent, in that Heinlein-esque sort of way. He is the only one to be drawn out in any depth, with the other characters being mostly there to drive the plot forward or provide exposition but it never felt forced and you still feel a little sad at the inevitable deaths that a war-story will bring.

An enjoyable story set in an intriguing universe and I look forward to getting hold of the sequel(s).

Book details

ISBN: 9780765348272
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2005

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