Monday, September 09, 2013

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

From Goodreads:

The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.

So getting humanity’s trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.

Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He’s one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it’s quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he’s going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.

I read the synopsis of Agent to the Stars a long time ago, before I had ever listened to any of Scalzi's books.  It was my first introduction to him, and my first impression was how ridiculous, I'll pass. I mean seriously, an alien race who communicates by smell, contracting with a movie agent to introduce them to the human race. Uh-huh. And so I remained unaware of Scalzi's genius for making the absurd wonderful for a few more years.

Enter Wil Wheaton, reading Red Shirts, and overnight I was a Scalzi/Wheaton fan, but I was still wary of Agent to the Stars. I mean, it sounds kind of bathroom humorish, doesn't it? That premise was just screaming, there will be fart jokes in this book! I stayed away from The Android's Dream for the same reason. I just really don't care for that kind of humor. So I thought, well, Red Shirts was awesome, and look, he's done a re-vamp of Little Fuzzy called Fuzzy Nation, I'll go there next. Fuzzy Nation was wonderful, again read by Wil and I said to myself, okay, how bad can the others really be, now that I'm more familiar with Scalzi's style. With Wil reading maybe it won't hurt too bad and so I picked up Agent and Android from Audible. I have now listened to all 4 of the stand alone novels, and while Red Shirts remains my favorite, Fuzzy Nation has the strongest message, and Android's Dream was good fun, as unlikely as Agent to the Stars sounded, I really enjoyed it. It has a previous history before the current version.  It was apparently Scalzi's starter novel back in the late 90's which he then revamped to modernize it.  This version has the benefit of Scalzi's experience, so it definitely does not read like a debut. There is also a full summary of the plot, so be careful not to spoil it for yourself if you follow my link.  I also found it still available for free here, though I'm not sure if this is the original version or if any updating has been done to it.  I'll have to give it a look sometime and see!

Tom is a great character who holds up remarkably well considering what he's being asked to do.  It was fun seeing him interact with his other "stars" as he's trying to realign them to take on the Yherajk, from the self-important and bitchy singing star, to the ditzy actress who wants so badly to play a dramatic role.  I really enjoyed the Yherajk aliens and their method of communicating, as much as I thought I wouldn't Scalzi's descriptions and scene creation when that comes into play are really fun.  There's a little bit of a message to us as well in the fact that rather than choosing to introduce themselves to the leaders of the world, they chose the US entertainment industry instead feeling that was a better route that would reach a bigger audience.  That definitely says something about us doesn't it?  The truth hurts sometimes.  I loved his assistant Miranda, and even Ralph the dog.  All are wonderful characters. 

Scalzi is a master at creating poignancy inside of humor, at developing characters that you care for even while you're laughing and cringing at the crazy situations they find themselves in.  Wil is a master at interpreting and delivering those emotions through his narration.  From now on the team of Scalzi/Wheaton is an automatic audiobook purchase for me because I know I will want to listen to all of these again. 

For more information on John Scalzi and his work, visit his website, and give his blog a read, it's fantastic too.  I'll definitely be checking out the Old Man's War series and possibly some of his non-fiction too, I just really love his style!

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