9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Slick, well crafted sci-fi fun,
This review is from: The Android's Dream (Mass Market Paperback)
One of my major gripes with most sci-fi and fantasy novels is the sheer volume of backstory and exposition they tend to contain. Having spent months or possibly years creating their future or alternative universes in extraordinary detail many authors feel it necessary to demonstrate all their hard work by providing so much detail that they end up drowning out critical elements such as plot or character or slowing down the narrative to the point that their book becomes a turgid trawl through the minutae of their imaginations. I love a bit of sci-fi or fantasy, but I don't need to have everything explained to me in mind numbing detail if doing so gets in the way of telling a well paced, exciting story.
Fortunately John Scalzi is one of those rare sci-fi authors who understands that when it comes to exposition less can often be more, and Androids Dream is a perfect example of that. Set in a future where an Earth that is recognisably similar to our own contemporary one (they still have shopping malls, politics is still a dirty business and no-one seems to wear one-piece jump suits) has made contact with other intelligent extra-terrestrial races and has joined a wider galactic confederation, it is an action packed, twisting and turning tale of political skulduggery (both human and alien), diplomatic manoeuvring, scientific and theological experimentation and above all, sheep. It is also by turns philosophical, satirical, exciting and deliberately funny, is packed full of real humanity and moves at a pace that keeps you well and truly hooked.
It manages the latter partly due to Scalzi's warm, amusing and fluid writing style and partly because the author never feels the need to show off about the possible future he has created. He provides just enough information, always imparted in an entertaining fashion, to explain or support events and to keep the reader informed, but does not deluge you with facts and detail. He assumes that readers are smart and imaginative enough to fill in the gaps for themselves where necessary. So for example, you never discover what year the book is set in because it doesn't matter. It's the future, there are aliens and they are a readily accepted fact of life; that all you need to know.
The same applies when it comes to technology. In the book we have interstellar travel via what are known as n-drives or n-jumps, but Scalzi doesn't feel it jejune to explain precisely how this works. Just as you accept that `hyper-space' in Star Wars works without details of the actual science Scalzi trusts his readers to accept n-jumps, n-drives and all the rest without further explanation. At one point he even explains that most scientists in his future universe don't really understand how it works, just that it does. Only when it pertinent to the actual plot will he provide some added depth to technical advancements, such as explaining how you blow out a window on an interstellar cruise ship, or to other fruits of his imagination such as the caste system of the alien race called the Nidu. When Scalzi does feel it necessary to fill in the blanks however, he always does so with wit and verve rather than simply offering large tracts of leaden exposition.
It's that wit that provides the extra icing to Androids Dream. This is a book where, due to a series of strange and never fully explained events, Quakers Oats has become the largest provider of IT systems on earth and insecti-scoidal alien judges at an interstellar court can be as cantankerous and sarcastic as any human member of the bar who had a really bad hangover. It's these little humorous details that round off what is a hugely entertaining book. If I had to draw comparisons I would say that Androids Dream is what a sci-fi novel would be like if written by Carl Hiassen, mixing as it does satire, humour, action and precision plotting into a potent whole. I cannot recommend it highly enough.