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This is a first book? John Scalzi, I hate you...and love you
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.