John Scalzi's _Agent to the Stars:_ funny, sometimes silly look at Hollywood -- and aliens

Aug 15, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Very funny, with a few good insights.

Cons:Not a lot of depth here, but it doesn't need to in order to work.

The Bottom Line: If you like a big dose of humour in your science fiction, this one does very well.

After a rather grim read, and hitting a time when nothing seemed to satisfy in my reading selections, I decided that something light and humourous would do the trick. And so I settled in to read John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars, knowing that I had enjoyed books of his in the past.

Tom Stein is an agent, one of those figures in Hollywood that scramble to get his clients plum roles on the big screen in return for a cut of the take. And with his small stable of talent, he's doing all right, if not great. Along with his trusty assistant Miranda, he's able to even cope with the difficult clients, especially Tea Reader, a woman who gives new meaning to the term 'difficult,' another who has the stage mother from Hell, and then there's Michelle Beck, who honestly couldn't act her way out of a wet paper sack.

Michelle at the moment is his biggest headache, wanting to move on from her cheesecake cameos to serious acting. Tom is gently trying to dissuade her from the idea, especially when the big role is that of Holocaust survivor turned civil rights activist. For one, Michelle is blonde, perky and pure skhiksa -- not exactly what the producers are looking for. But in the middle of all this, Tom is about to find his world change -- literally.

For his boss, Carl has a very special client for him, a client that will require Tom to drop everyone else, and just focus on him. Naturally, when Tom finds out who that client is -- Joshua -- who just happens to be an alien, it's a bit of a nasty shock. The job is simple, find a way for Joshua's race to be introduced to humanity. The problem with that however, is not easy -- the Yherajk are not at all pleasant to be around.

They look like piles and globs of dirty snot. And they smell like a fishing cannery that hasn't been cleaned in a century or two. Not to mention that when they communicate it's by smell, and very very nasty smells at that.

But when Tom's boss says do this, you do it. And gamely, Tom takes on the job, with a few sidebars about ditching bad clients, and a co-worker who's eagerly out to sabotage him. But as Tom discovers, once he gets to used to Joshua, sort of, he's really not a bad sort at all, even if he does smell a bit. His neighbor's dog, Ralph, an aging retriever, thinks the world of Joshua, and soon the pair are tearing around the backyard.

But things are about to get very complicated when suddenly Ralph starts to speak...

I had a blast with this book. I needed a good laugh, and this book certainly delivers them. There's just the right balance between the absurd and the serious to make you both chuckle and think, and often at the same time. Most science fiction and fantasy takes itself so deadly serious that it's a real relief at times to be able to laugh. Here Scalzi paints our modern society with a very broad brush, and reveals a great deal of the craziness underneath by using the medium of modern television and Hollywood to give a frame to the tale.

The theme here is xenophobia, of which our poor world has more than its fair share, and Scalzi never gets too preachy about it. Instead, he lets the characters and the situations do the speaking, and it works very well. While the use of modern culture does grate at times -- there's a great many mention of films and programmes and what have you that is already dated -- if you don't mind this sort of thing, you'll like it.

The story moves briskly along and this was a novel that was downed easily in an evening. It's one that does have a little bit of violence, but nothing that's too upsetting and should be just fine for teenagers to read, despite a bit of profanity here and there. (Chances are your teen already knows all those words already, and probably uses them when he or she thinks you're not listening.)

One caveat -- there is an introduction to this one, which I recommend skipping until after you finish the novel. It doesn't give any spoilers, but it does feel awkward knowing the history of the book before you read it.

All in all, this one gets a solid four star rating, and if you're in need of a good laugh, this one is a great one to try on. Very much recommended.

Other Books by John Scalzi:
Old Man's War
The Ghost Brigades
The Last Colony
Zoe's Tale

Agent to the Stars
John Scalzi
2005; Tor Books
ISBN 978-0-7653-1771-1

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