Thursday, July 25, 2013

Agent to the Stars

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Agent to the Stars (self-published, 1997, reissued by Tor, 2005).

John Scalzi explained that, from his perspective, this was not quite his "first novel," it was an experiment to see whether he could write a novel. Shut my mouth. If ever I write a novel, or attempt to write a novel, I'd pray for something half as effective to emerge. If there's a flaw at all, it's that the moral question at the center of the book is agonized over at very great length, and explained quite repeatedly, as additional parties voice their opinions. It gets a little old.

But before and after that point, this is an extremely clever and successful story. It is a knowing and winking look at the entertainment industry, as a successful agent with an active portfolio of high-maintenance, mid-level actors and artistes is instructed by his boss to dump them and devote his energies to a new project: a benevolent and bizarre alien race has discovered Earth and wants to be introduced to us with a minimum of shock. They need an agent.

Very little in the field of science fiction novels appeals to me, but this pleased me in lots of ways. I really liked the identifiable world and very grounded premise, and I like the way that Scalzi plays fair with the results of this nonsense. As things get sillier and weirder, the story plays true to its origins, and the players don't lose their grounding or act out-of-character as their world gets turned upside down.

Well, our hero's assistant loses her grounding when the alien assigned to hang out on Earth, who ends up possessing the body of a deceased dog, tries to telepathically communicate with an actress who's on life support because she somehow cut off the oxygen to her brain while a film's visual effects unit is making a plaster cast of her face... With calamitous and ridiculous events like that forming part of the narrative, how I could I not happily recommend this?

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