Saturday, July 03, 2010

BOOKS: Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

This is supposed to be a happy month, what with Birthday Reading Week popping up smack dab in the middle of it. Naturally, the cruel vagaries of failing at my primary job of pumping out WORKING software, means having to slog through that task, rather than read. So, I suspect Reading Week is more of a hope for the Fall, than anything near and imminent. At the same time, I HAVE been reading over the last year, despite the dearth of reviews here. Sooooo, in order to return SOME sanity to these proceedings, I think I'm going to try and get a bunch of book reviews off my chest this month. Maybe even one a day, since I can cheat and write a few in any one day and get ahead of the game.

At least it's a concept.

I'm going to start with a freely available book you can download. From the author. You can download Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi from here or go to Amazon and get a hardcopy version of it here. Now, got do one or the other. I could end the review here with that, but let me expand for those of you are hesitant to accept my orders. Silly Earthlings!

Agent to the Stars is a funny first-contact science fiction book. Basically, the first aliens (that this fictional universe knows of) arrive at Earth and hire an agent. Note, not a PR agent, an AGENT. Like in Hollywood Agent. The idea is to book a smooth introduction to humanity, something that might be a tad difficult for the gelatinous mobile tubs of jello that are the Yherajk. They know lots about human culture (ahhh, the unintended side effects with beaming I Love Lucy, All in the Family and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire into the ether). But they also know they have to get around the obvious xeno-phobia, we, as a species, have perfected (Yes, Arizonans, I'm talking about you).

Carl Lupo and then his top junior agent Tom Stein are introduced to the Yherajk and become their agents. The hi-jinks that ensue are funny and not a little on-the-mark on what to expect if we ever DID get the change to shake hands-to-tendrils with some visitors from a far-off galaxy. We meet real characters, some of whom die and get 're-born,' some who just die and we get births. I cannot believe the editors at the various houses Scalzi submitted this book to said it wouldn't sell.

That's right, Scalzi initially never sold this book. It was his first, a trial if you will, to see if he could write a book. Three months later, basically just writing on weekends (the envy dripping from every keypress of this computer), he had something unique. And the publishing houses wouldn't touch it. Despite the success of Fredric Brown (Martians Go Home), R.A. Lafferty (East of Laughter), Reginald Bretnor (Ferdinand Feghout stories) and, more recently, Spider Robinson (Callahan series), they said there was no market for funny science fiction. Idiots all.

So, Scalzi posted the book and asked for donations. At the time of my download, he'd stopped asking for donations, having pocketed four grand,. Enough for, as he puts it, "a new laptop and plenty of pizza." My bet is that with an actual publishing deal, after he followed up this book with his popular Old Man's War series and a few more years of the odd donation here or there, he's made a comfortable profit for the time spent on his practice novel.

There's mirth and mayhem, heart and pathos in this book. It's a good read however you get and consume it. 'Nuff said.

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