Thursday, February 18, 2016

Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi

This week I'm reviewing Agent to the Stars, another novel from science-fiction writer John Scalzi whose work has appeared two other times on my blog before. And I'm willing to admit I'm becoming a bit of a fan of Scalzi's work, at least in occasional doses. This particular book is Scalzi's first novel, originally released through his website for people to read, before getting published in both hardback and paperback editions. (Of course, I was reading the e-book version myself.)

The plot is an interesting idea, if perhaps a permutation on some older concepts. Of course, almost nothing in this world is new, so it's good to see some old ideas utilized in new ways. The book follows Tom Stein, an up and coming agent in Hollywood who's managed to start making it big time thanks to one of his clients. His boss mysteriously calls him into a meeting one day at work, and begins asking Tom his opinion on aliens. Tom is of course rather confused by this line of reasoning until his boss reveals that aliens have contacted him and asked him to find someone to represent their species on Earth.

The reason the aliens are seeking an agent is really quite simple. The aliens are friendly and only want to exist in peace with humans. However, they have received quite a lot of human television and radio broadcasts and they're well aware that humans, in movies at least, have a very bad habit of not responding well to aliens. Even if they're benign. To make it even more difficult, the aliens basically look like giant, clear blobs of gelatin and communicate primarily through smell, very pungent and malodorous smells to humans. So the aliens have hatched a plan: hire a Hollywood agent to help pave the way for their eventual arrival to earth. Hollywood is a powerful shaper of popular opinion, after all, so what better place to start?

The novel has a very interesting premise and I rather enjoyed the idea of friendly aliens who are well aware their arrival at earth might not go over so well. And furthermore they know that clear blobs that smell like week-old garbage certainly aren't going to be welcomed with open arms on earth without some amount of preparation. It's really an interesting idea and I enjoyed reading about it. Plus there's a lot of stuff that makes you feel that Scalzi did a lot of research into the workings of the movie business and how agents operate. I felt like it was a really fascinating look into two alien cultures at the same time.

My biggest complaint with this book, though, is I felt like it kind of ran out of steam about halfway through the book. Basically there's a big twist at the halfway mark and after that I could predict where the rest of the book was going. Maybe it's just because I read far, far too much science fiction, but once the initial premise gets laid it just sort of...peters out so to speak. I was a little disappointed, but not overly so.

 Plus there are some really important moral and philosophical questions that get raised during the course of the book and I don't feel like they were given enough time to explore adequately. And these are some really big, big, big questions that get brought in. People have spent their entire lives discussing these questions and I felt like it wasn't given quite enough space. Ultimately, that's my own opinion, though.

Overall, the premise is interesting and getting it all set up is pretty fun. But as I said, after the halfway mark the book rapidly starts running out of steam. Scalzi's writing is a delight to read, though, in my opinion and there were some really enjoyable moments in this book. If you're a fan of Scalzi you'll probably enjoy this, but I would recommend reading some of his other works first if you haven't.

- Kalpar

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