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on 13 April 2009
At times, I am so jealous of John Scalzi. He seems to have more writing talent in his little finger (not to mention his middle one!) than many people do in their entire bodies. What brings this feeling to mind today? Having just read Scalzi's first novel, Agent to the Stars and realizing that it's one of the funniest, yet also kind of profound, novels I've read in a long time. Curse you, Scalzi!! But I just can't put it down.

I don't know whether Scalzi has any history in Hollywood or in the agent field, but he captures the whole Hollywood scene perfectly, at least to these layman eyes. There's the cutthroat negotiations of getting back-end deals versus front-loaded ones for his actors, lots of talk about the movie-making business (as well as TV too) and just an amazing amount of detail that either demonstrates Scalzi's knowledge or his research ability. Granted, it's all taken a step above reality into the mildly absurd, but that's what this novel is: an absurdist science fiction novel.

Scalzi's characteristic wit shines through, but the book is also laugh-out-loud funny too. There are just so many moments that I burst out laughing that I'm surprised my wife didn't have me committed. Joshua, the Yherajk ,that Thomas has to deal with, has obviously learned a lot about Earth culture, and he makes some wonderful comments about the whole thing, especially when he inhabits the neighbour's dog as a way to get around less noticeably. Some of the humor comes from the situations Scalzi sets up, some are just wry Hollywood asides, and some are sarcastic jokes. None of them fell flat for me, however.

Better yet, much of the humor actually comes from the characters, who are solid as usual under Scalzi's care. Even the bimbo Michelle becomes endearing as the novel goes along, and I loved the relationship between Thomas and his administrative assistant, Miranda. Joshua, of course, is beautifully done and the rest of the Yherajk are as well. There is just not a false note in any of the characters.

That's not to say there aren't any problems. No book is perfect, even less so a first novel. There are a couple of slow spots, including the sequence where Thomas' boss explains to him how the Yherajk came to him. There is definitely some good humor involved, but for some reason I found my attention wandering during this part. Also, the ending is a bit too wrapped up with a bow on top. Scalzi uses the device of a number of newspaper and magazine articles to detail what happens during the last year leading up to the alien revelation to the world. This would have added at least 100 pages to the book to write normally (and perhaps more to do it right), so perhaps it's understandable. I found that it distanced me from the characters and the events more than I would have liked.

That being said, Agent to the Stars is a wonderful book that is perfect for those looking for a good laugh. It is science fiction, but the humor in the novel makes it accessible to all readers. There are a few SF concepts that the non-genre reader may have to get through the head, but it's well worth it. Scalzi is a great writer, and this is a great read.

David Roy
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Agent to the Stars was the unpublished debut novel of John Scalzi, author of the great Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades and Androids Dream. Like his other works Agent to the Stars has a sci-fi bent, but is a very different beast to the books that would follow it. This is not pure sci-fi like Old Man's War and nor is it a lightweight semi-comedic romp like Androids Dream. It is a strange hybrid of Hollywood-satire, critique of popular media and alien invasion B-movie. Remarkably, considering its disparate elements, it mostly works.

In a nutshell the plot involves a young Hollywood agent on the rise who get's given the biggest client of his career in the form of an entire alien race who want him to smooth their introduction to humans on earth. The aliens have reasoned that the fact they look like snot and smell terrible might lead to negative reactions from humans and that they need an agent to help sell them as the peace loving creatures they really are. What follows is a wild ride that satirises the obessions of Hollywood, the way the media treats celebrity and our preconceptions of what first contact with an alien race is likely to be like.

It all makes for a hugely enjoyable, often very funny tale that romps along at a fair old pace. Some of the ideas Scalzi would use in later novels to great affect can be seen in embryonic form; scuh as the aliens who use very human modes of speech rather than portenious tones, the lack of any sort of obsession with technological minutae, the avoidance of negative stereotypes and the humanising of even the most inhuman or foolish character. Scalzi also, wisely in my opinion, keeps things simple. He doesn't attempt any stylistic trickery that is beyond his skills as a writer. This is a very linear tale, told logically and straightforwardly and is all the better for that.

Of course there are some minor niggles here and there as you would expect with a debutant author, but the only major issue I had with the book was the ending. Without spoiling it for future readers I simply didn't buy into the way Scalzi resolved his tale. I simply couldn't accept that the plan the aliens and the agent come up with would ever work. I know this might sound stupid when you're talking about a book that deals with space aliens hiring a Hollywood agent to represent them, but up until the final quarter of the book I was able to suspend my disbelief and go along with events on the page, but the means by which the aliens are introduced to the world was just a step too far for me. That's not to criticise the quality of the writing but simply to say that personally I just couldn't go with the final turns the plot took.

Still that wasn't enough to stop me thorougly enjoying 80-85% of Agent to the Stars and for me not to recommend it. Whether you're a sci-fi fan or not there is much to enjoy here, and if you like this I can also wholeheartedly recommend trying Scalzi's other novels.
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VINE VOICEon 22 June 2011
Sci-fi with humour, great fun read.

I loved the alien self-deprecating humour - very amusing - a brilliant holiday read.

I enjoyed the change of style and loved reading it.

Quite a decent plot line, although I did see the major theme coming; but executed very well.
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on 22 November 2013
John Scalzi's debut was his first foray into novel writing, originally posted free on his website as an e-book. With this conservative approach he has proven to be that rare combination of being a master at his craft, without the hubris that invariably accompanies it. His ability to write across genres, from sci-fi to personal finance to astronomy, while keeping the tone at once humorous, perceptive and scathing (in the nicest way), made Agent to the Stars an extremely enjoyable light read. It is not literature - it's too silly for that - but then it's not trying to be.

Wil Wheaton, the perfect foil to convey the borderline hysteria that fuels the Hollywood machine, narrates the audiobook. Apparently Wil has narrated other Scalzi books and I would recommend trying out audio versions.

Science fiction rarely features in my catholic reading choices, but glowing reviews motivated me to try it out. If you are like-minded, I encourage you to sample this gem, which entertained me on a long flight. This is sci-fi lite, focusing more on the entertainment industry.

There are enough other commentaries outlining plot and personalities. I echo their opinions of John Scalzi's breezy, effortless style. He doesn't preach - his injection of social commentary and opinion is decidedly palatable. The super-intelligent Yherajk, stuck in their time warp mannerisms, acquired via old sit-coms, epitomize the cheesy 50s and 60s first contact movies. Malodorous they may be, but refreshing nonetheless.

There are only two areas of criticism that I would level, if I am to be picky. The first is that everyone, including the aliens, has a similar turn of phrase and wry humor, despite a generation dividing their vernacular. The characters are rendered monochromatic and superficial.

The other is the unnecessarily repetitive "he said/she said" appended at the end of almost every sentence. With a competent narrator (such as Wil), one has the advantage of different accents or cadence to identify the characters. However, regardless of the format, if one is even halfway paying attention to the thread of dialog, it is easy to work out who is having a conversation. Trimming the excessively irritating "he said/she said" and creating discrete personalities would have elevated this to a 5* review.
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on 16 April 2011
When Hollywood agent Tom Stein is called into his bosses office for a talk, the last thing he expects is to be told his new client is a smelly blob from outer space and that he has to stage manage humanity's first contact with an alien species. This book is written with a light touch and the characters are ones you like. It takes all the alien stereotypes and turns them around. All the aliens really know about earth is from the TV they have intercepted on their way to earth and they figure Hollywood knows more about communication than any politician ever will. This was a good read and one I'd be willing to recommend to my friends. It doesn't take itself too seriously and it made a nice change of pace for me.
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on 6 January 2011
A number of other reviewers have described the general plot of the book. It's a novel about first contact on an individual and societal level. John Scalzi is my favorite sci-fi author and maybe of all time. His book 'Old Man's War' would have been my choice for Desert Island Discs, but maybe Agent to the Stars would replace.

The book is well paced, witty, insightful and the story very well told. I enjoyed, my wife enjoyed and my friends enjoyed too.
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on 21 June 2009
If you want off the wall entertainment READ THIS BOOK
If you like comedy,aliens,Hollywood at its best and worse READ THIS BOOK
If you love or hate Sci-Fi READ THIS BOOK
If you want to be totally absorbed in a well written, page turning, can not put down story with a brilliant plot READ THIS BOOK.
IF YOU JUST LIKE A GOOD READ THEN READ THIS BOOK
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on 3 January 2010
This book is OK but not bursting with brilliant ideas like The Android's Dream.
As Homer would say,"The Church of the Evolved Lamb is funny because it's true!"
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on 27 January 2009
A friend advised me to read some of Mr Scalzi's books, not normally a fan of sci-fi but this book is fantastic, I definitely recommend reading this. The slightly adjusted modernized version reads well.
Old mans war, the ghost brigades and androids dream are others Ive had the fortune of reading and they are all classics, Scalzi is a modern sci-fi writer that seems to have shaken the shackles of the ....ahem.... trekkies and has written books that are so damn vivid that u feel like youve just watched a film.
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on 17 August 2015
For a novel which the author claims was not really intended as a commercial project this is a cracker.
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