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Book Review: Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

* Genre: Humor, Science Fiction
* ISBN: 0765317710
* ISBN-13: 9780765317711
* Format: Paperback, 368pp
* Publisher: Tor
* Pub. Date: October 28, 2008
* Author Blog

John Scalzi’s debut novel, Agent to the Stars, originally published as an online web novel, contains much of what is now recognized as Scalzi’s trademark wit and humor. Though not as tightly written as his Old Man’s War series, the novel is still very entertaining and quite funny.

Tom is a Hollywood agent (insert epithet here) who finds himself in a strange situation. Once day his boss Carl calls him in and commands him to drop all his other clients so that he can take on a unique assignment. Unfortunately for Tome, that assignment is to become the agent for an entire race of aliens bent on being friendly to humanity. Even worse, the aliens are more like the evil SF aliens as seen in The Blob than the wonderful and often very nice humanoids of Star Trek. And so begins Tom’s quest to make the blob shaped and smelly aliens more palatable to humanity.

There are some obvious flaws in this novel that show it was Scalzi’s first novel. For one, there is a large story-within-a-story. This would not necessarily be problematic, except that the events related in that story could have been written more concisely, and some of the character’s reactions saved for later in the novel, when Tom himself experiences similar events. Point being, some of the tension and excitement of Tom visiting the alien spaceship is lost by relating the story of Carl’s visit earlier in the novel.

I think, as well, the final solution to the alien’s problem is less satisfying than I had hoped. I would have preferred that Tom use his creativity to come up with a grand marketing scheme to get humanity used to the idea of visitors from outer space who look and smell like our worst nightmares. Instead, Scalzi went a different direction. It is still entertaining, and allows Scalzi to use his prodigious wit to satirize Hollywood, but it took away the heroic nature of Tom, and left him more a victim of circumstance, more a pragmatist than a man who makes things happen. It undermines the reader’s interest in Tom’s character.

That being said, Agent to the Stars is hilarious. Even if you know little about how Hollywood works, you will recognize some element of the establishment at which Scalzi pokes fun. Entertainment reporters, high-strung actresses, and demanding directors are all either made fun of, or subverted entirely. The many cultural references (all updated in the Tor edition) will bring a smile or memory to each and every reader.

Scalzi takes what might be considered a mundane – if high stress – job and turns it into a story of clever characters, absurd plot twists and strange alien beings. In many ways, it is a literary successor to the work of Douglas Adams. But Scalzi forges his own path. He is not nearly as absurdist as Adams and his story has its sad moments as well as its funny ones. Agent to the Stars is a good science fiction comedy. That in itself is a rare thing, and Scalzi should be applauded for writing a novel in that subgenre. Agent to the Stars is a good read for anyone looking for a little lighthearted comedy about perception and relationship.

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