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Agent to the Stars

Agent to the Stars - John Scalzi Yes, I know this was John Scalzi's "starter novel," written as an exercise, just to see if he could do it. I know it wasn't traditionally published until years later, when his subsequent better books had already earned him name recognition and numerous Hugo nominations. I know that. I don't really care though: this book cost me the same $7.99* as his other stories, and I don't feel the need to give it the benefit of the doubt.Besides, if one thing is clear, it is the fact that Scalzi got a lot of use out of his little starter novel, so why should I discount it just because he wrote it first? After all, he seems to have mined it for material for pretty much all of his subsequent work: this is the fourth of his books I have read, and the fourth that stars a self-assured, witty sarcastic guy who is usually the smartest person in the room, or thinks he is. There is, once again, an acerbic love interest there to share in witty banter. There are cardboard villains who exist solely to have rings run around them by the protagonist's verbal alacrity. There's also a dog. And this book was apparently the genesis of all that, so good on you, book! You launched the career of a best-seller, sort of.The thing about Scalzi is, he is very easy to read. His prose his simple, his stock characters are fun. He puts in a lot of acerbic humor and jokes, even though I don't think he's very funny (times this book made me smile, let alone laugh: 0**). He makes for good bath time/plane/commuting reading. That's not a bad thing. But this book... oy. It starts off really well, with a fun premise: benevolent aliens want to make first contact (benevolent, even though they are also basically Futurama brain slugs,but no spoilers); choose to do so with the help of a slick Hollywood agent. But once the premise has been established, it suddenly becomes an insider Hollywood comedy with a talking alien dog appearing in the background of a few scenes. Seriously, the space part of this book is about 1/3 of its length; the rest is a zippy but largely uninvolving merry go round of movie biz satire, starring a really annoying smartass that the book tries to convince us is, in so many words, "a good man" way more often that it should have to. Instead of actually working on the alien issue, he just does his regular job for 300 pages until the perfect solution to his problems just falls right into his lap. I mean, don't get me wrong, salary negotiations are almost as exciting as first contact with aliens.And then wow. Because the last half of the book suddenly transforms from lightweight comedy to... Holocaust drama, medical tragedy, and discussions of a coma patient's right to live or die with dignity. Oh, also suicide. But then there are still jokes and wacky antics, like hahaha, how will we get the brain dead woman out of the hospital without attracting the attention of the paparazzi? It is a weird shift, to say the least.The story also gets really silly, but it seems dumb to complain too much about that when you're talking about a sci-fi comedy. But it is silly in a way the book didn't necessarily intend, I think? It is hard to tell.Anyway, this book isn't very good, but it is very Scalzi.*a lie; I paid $.79 at a going-out-of-business Borders.**number of times this book made me shake my head in disbelief at how dated some of the pop culture references are, even when taking into account that parts of it were written in 1997, especially because elements have indeed been updated since it mentions Heath Ledger's death: 4+ (Oh that Roseanne and her Star-Spangled Banner shenanigans...)