So who is John Scalzi? Well, he’s just the guy who renewed my interest in SF literature and restored my joy of reading, a joy I am forcing upon you all via this book of the month club. I used to read a lot as a kid, particularly scifi, but as I grew older my hours spent in the company of Asimov and Clarke lessened considerably. Given everything that was going on in my life, reading became an indulgence I no longer had time for. I would continue to read at a more leisurely pace, but I was no longer the voracious reader of my early youth when I would devour two or three books on a good week. Then, a couple of years ago, I sat back and took stock of things. Here I was, a fairly successful writer/producer who, unlike my co-workers, didn’t spend my free time golfing, playing video games, or traveling. So, what was I doing with my free time? Well, to be honest, I didn’t have a lot of it because I’d feel guilty if I wasn’t working on something or, at the very least, thinking about working on something. I realized that I was being ridiculous. I worked hard enough during the season to earn some downtime. I needed a hobby. Something I could enjoy guilt-free. Preferably something that would help me relax and yet, at the same time, keep my mind active. And that’s when it hit me. Reading! It offered the enjoyment and relaxation of a regular hobby but, in my case, also offered the benefit of serving as a means of research and education.
I joined an SF online book club, enjoyed the first two selections, and then along came John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I was blown away. It was fun. It was funny. And, most importantly, it was clever as hell! I loved it, and most everyone I have recommended the book to has loved it as well. So much so that they have often failed to return the copies I have lent them.
Which brings us to this month’s scifi BOTMC selection: The Android’s Dream. The first person I lent it to, executive producer Brad Wright, brought it back the very next day. “I couldn’t do it,”he informed me. “The first sentence just turned me right off.” And yet, a week later, Brad had a change of heart and gave it another go. The second time he returned the book, he enthusiastically declared it “Scalzi’s best”. Actor David Hewlett shares the same opinion. Well, with such glowing reviews, how could I not make it May’s book of the month club scifi selection?
Like Brad, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that first page. But what initially seems to be little more than a sophomoric gag quickly develops into a highly imaginative primer on alien culture and interstellar politics. One of the things that Scalzi did so well in Old Man’s War was in painting engaging pictures of extraterrestrial races. In The Android’s Dream, he is in memorable form as he introduces us to the Nidu with their hypersensitive sense of smell, their language of scent, and their penchant for Machiavellian scheming. Conceited, condescending, ruled by tradition and bureaucracy, they’re wonderful villains. And if this was your typical SF novel, it would develop into a fairly straightforward story pitting our protagonist, Harry Creek, against the machinating Nidu. But The Android’s Dream isn’t your typical novel. And it’s anything but straightforward.
Harry is dispatched to locate a special sheep essential to a Nidu ascension ceremony, but complications arise in the form of: elements within Earth’s own government seeking to sabotage the planet’s relations with the alien race, forces within the ranks of the Nidu poised to execute a coup, a wealthy and powerful church whose faith has been built on the insensible ramblings of a hack science fiction writer, and, oh yeah, the fact that the sheep Harry is sworn to protect and deliver happens to be a young woman, Robin Baker, who is (genetically speaking) 20% special sheep. And that’s when things really get weird. Double-crosses, triple-crosses, coups, futuristic running shoes to make an NBA player positively green with envy, twists, turns, and a lovable yet wholly terrifying alien named Takk given to swallowing victims whole and then letting his digestive juices do the rest.
The novel is fast-paced and fun, highly original and brimming with Scalzi’s trademark humor. In my view, no author provides a similarly accomplished mix of inventive science fiction ideas and all-out laughs. At one point in the book, an agent of The Church of the Evolved Lamb will be going undercover. As he is being prepped, the church’s bishop informs him that he will be sporting a wire. But not just any wire:
“In eyedrop form. Inside that liquid are millions of nanobots. Put the drops in your eyes and the nanobots migrate to your optic never and read and store the signals there.” The Bishop then instructs him about the scanner built into an innocuous vending machine: “Just so you know, the upload is sort of painful. It’s like an electrical shock to your optic nerve.” (PP.113-114, The Android’s Dream).
Later, after the agent locates the appropriate vending machine and presses selection B4 as instructed:
“It felt like someone had stabbed him directly in both eyeballs. Archie crumpled, banging his head on the vending machine on the way down.”
Sort of painful. Yeah.
The story moves quickly and the various players with their shifting alliances and motivations certainly kept this reader on his toes. That said, there were two things that did bump me. The first was the revelation that the cruise ship on which Harry and Robin find refuge just happens to be a veteran ship headed to Chagfun, the site of a battle that has haunted Harry for years. The second was the loophole in the ascension ceremony that allows Robin to turn the tables on the Nidu. These developments felt a little too convenient.
Still, these are only minor quibbles in what turned out to be a very entertaining read. Plenty of action, satire, off-beat characters, and an intricate plot make for an immensely enjoyable book. At the end of the day, I can’t say it trumps Old Man’s War (in all fairness, I have yet to read a new scifi book that does), but it’s certainly a novel I will highly recommend – and never expect to get back.
So, what did everyone else think? Let’s hear your thoughts on the book and any questions you may have for Mr. Scalzi who has kindly agreed to drop by and visit with us later in the week.
Shansgrl writes: “If you don’t have any other plans at the time, any interest in coming to Shore Leave?”
Answer: Believe it or not, I have no idea what that is.
Susanthetartanturtle writes: “Was there any bit of the poor wee lamb that you didn’t eat?”
Answer: Alas, no testicles.
Airelle writes: “Have you ever been asked to be a food critic?”
Answer: I do occasionally right food reviews for a Vancouver website.
Debra Levey writes: “Did you ever think about being a chef?”
Answer: I have thought about going to chef school once Stargate ends.
Cathie writes: “Have you ever eaten chocolate that you didn’t like?”
Answer: Plenty. I’m not a fan of white chocolate and most milks. Any chocolate/mint combination or chocolate/liquor mix.
Cathie also writes: “What is your favourite book that you have read recently or when you were a child or both?”
Answer: The Android’s Dream of course.
Crazymom writes: “You folks aren’t on any kind of hiatus there, are you?”
Answer: Not yet. We’ll be heading off for our month-long Summer hiatus in mid-June.
Narelle from Aus writes: “In the words of Cookie Monster, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy”. My Sony Reader just arrived. Have 5000 books just waiting to be uploaded.”
Answer: Yeah, Rob Cooper was talking about this today. So, were the 5000 titles included with the purchase of the reader? Did you get to pick some? If not, what kind of titles make up the library? How do you like it?
Arctic Goddess writes: “ How important is it to the actor to have first billing in a series?”
Answer: Is this some sort of trick question?
Kellie writes: “Don’t know if you’ve heard about the fires in the Northern California mountains but… we almost burned up!”
Answer: Hey, Kellie. Checked out your blog for the blow-by-blow account. Happy to hear you’re alright. Love the dogs. And the asocial cat.
Deeds writes: “Have you eaten at Metro, near Canada Place?”
Answer: Yep. It was hit and miss for us.
Beverly writes: “My beloved 17-year old cat passed away Friday, and I have been a basket case ever since.”
Answer: Sorry for your loss, Bev.
Michelle writes: “ Speaking of blogging, the NY Times magazine today features a cover story about a young woman who took “blog sharing” to extreme lengths and lived to regret it… What do you think — snappy writer or self-absorbed poser?”
Answer: I say very interesting reading. Thanks for the link.
Penny writes: “Did I miss the entry for June’s BOTM selection??”
Answer: Nope. It’s really more of a Book of the Month and a half Club as I try to give readers enough time to read all three selections if they so choose.