I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at FanLit.
Tom Stein is a young Hollywood agent who used to think that his clients were hard to handle. That was before Tom’s boss assigned him to represent the most important client any agent has ever had to deal with — the first aliens to contact the human race.
These aliens — the Yherajk — have been watching our TV broadcasts for years, so they know a lot about humans. They are peaceful and want to make a good impression, but they know it’ll be a hard sell. That’s because they look like The Blob, smell like sweaty sneakers, and have some powers that humans are going to find very disturbing. In other words, they seem more like fodder for our horror movies than friends. That’s why they’ve asked Tom Stein’s agency to represent them. So Tom gets to dump his difficult clients off on a junior agent so he can concentrate on figuring out how to give the aliens an image makeover before they’re marketed to the human public.
If you’re already a fan of John Scalzi’s writing, whether it’s his novels or his blog, you’re sure to enjoy Agent to the Stars. It’s non-stop entertainment that’s crackling with that snide humor he’s famous for. The whole Hollywood culture falls victim to his pen as Tom Stein and his competent assistant deal with divas, Hollywood has-beens, the mother of a pampered child star, nosey reporters, rabid fans, and a dumb blonde who wants to move up from playing beach bunny roles to playing a holocaust victim.
Yet even as Scalzi delights in poking fun at Hollywood, at the same time he illustrates its cultural significance and shows us how film can be a powerful tool for education, understanding, and social change. Specifically here he highlights the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. A few of these scenes were beautifully poignant.
Agent to the Stars, published in 2005, was John Scalzi’s first novel and it succeeds in every way. Audible Frontiers put it on audio in 2010 and Brilliance Audio released it in CD format last month. Wil Wheaton, who narrates some of Scalzi’s other work, is absolutely perfect here. Scalzi + Wheaton is a terrific combination. If you’re going to read Agent of the Stars, which you should, please please try the audio version!
"In this universe, experience counts."
"Guns don???t kill people. The aliens behind the triggers do."
John Perry is 75 years old, his wife is dead, and he has nothing left to live for. It???s a perfect time to join the army, and the Colonial Defense Force is recruiting. They need a lot of loyal human bodies to maintain the universe colonization project, so their preference is to recruit old people, rejuvenate their bodies (nobody on Earth knows exactly how this happens), and train them to fight for the human race. Most of them will be dead within a few years, but that???s all they were expecting on Earth anyway. The Colonial Defense Force gives them something valuable to do for humanity, and a chance for a new life.
Old Man???s War is one of the most enjoyable novels I???ve read this year. The premise ??? old people being rejuvenated ??? makes for an excellent twist on the usual alien-fighting theme. The elderly, as opposed to the usual young heroes we find in so many speculative fiction novels, have had a lifetime to accumulate knowledge, skills, wisdom, and experience. I found John Perry and his cohort to be mature heroes whom I could admire and enthusiastically cheer for. I cried for them, too, as they lost each other or ruminated on past loves. Perry???s explanation of why he missed being married was moving and reminded me of my graduate school days when I would have felt lonely and unsupported (and maybe quit) if it hadn???t been for my husband???s presence.
Scalzi???s villains, on the other hand ??? all those alien creatures ??? are absolutely horrifying! The humans usually have no idea what they???ll find on a new planet, which is why their mortality rate is so high. It could be an insectoid creature with razors for hands, or a jumping slime mold, or a virus... The diversity of alien life that Scalzi has created adds suspense and terror to his story.
Old Man???s War is not a comedy, but it???s often funny ??? very funny. I laughed hard and out loud many times. William Dufris, the narrator of the audiobook version I listened to, contributed to the humor by reading the funny parts in a perfect deadpan voice. Dufris was outstanding and I highly recommend Macmillan Audio???s version.
I will definitely be reading John Scalzi???s other books in this series. Old Man???s War was excellent.
Originally published at FanLit.
The first time Davy jumped was when his dad was beating him. The second time was when a trucker tried to rape him. Both times Davy ended up in his favorite place — the local public library. Soon Davy learned that he could control his teleportation, so he left home and started a new life in New York City. His new skill, the ability to instantly transport himself to any place he’s ever visited, helped him achieve the freedom he always desired. At first Davy lives for himself, happy to be away from school and his father, but when a terrorist attack affects him personally, he decides to use his talent to get revenge.
Jumper, by Steven Gould, is an action-packed exciting adventure about a likeable teenager who has an awesome superpower. Davy is mostly easy to believe in. He’s a little too urbane for his age and experience — he quickly transforms from high school dropout to fine-dining connoisseur, and I’ve never met a teenager as well-read as Davy — but other than that he acts like a normal kid. He’s a bit selfish and makes some impulsive mistakes, but he genuinely wants to be a good guy. He’s got an emo streak that’s a little annoying, but that’s understandable since he’s dealing with abuse and abandonment issues. He’s also worried that he could become an alcoholic like his father and he feels guilty about not telling his new girlfriend the truth about himself.
What I liked best about Davy’s story is that what Davy decides to do with his power is completely believable. Sometimes I read stories about people with really cool superpowers and I think “if I had that power, I’d do such and such” and I’m usually disappointed that the character didn’t think of that. Often the problem is that the character is just too ethical to do the fun stuff that normal teenagers would fantasize about doing if they had superpowers. But not Davy. Some of the things Davy does are selfish, some are vengeful, and some are just fun.
And fun is about all there is to Jumper. There’s an exciting plot and lots of cool tricks with the jumping, but there’s not much depth beyond that. There’s no explanation for the teleportation and there aren’t any other speculative elements, so the book hardly deserves the classification of “science fiction.” Nothing about Jumper changed me or made me think, but it definitely entertained me. When I finished Jumper I started the sequel, Reflex.
Jumper takes place around 1990 and was first published in 1992, before 9/11, so the way that Islam and terrorism were viewed and dealt with is very different than they are today. This, plus the lack of cell phones and Internet, will make Jumper feel a little dated to teen readers, but to me it just felt nostalgic since I was around Davy’s age at the time when the story takes place. However, Reflex takes place ten years later (published in 2004) and a third book, Impulse, was just published last month.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s version of Jumper which was narrated by the incredibly awesome Macleod Andrews. Macleod is so good that I’d forget he was narrating. It just felt like Davy was telling me his story — totally convincing. If you’re an audio reader, I’d recommend Jumper on audio. If you’re not an audio reader yet, this would be a good one to start with.
Jumper has been marketed to a YA audience but I won’t be giving it to my kids. The abuse and attempted rape are disturbing, it’s rather violent, and the language and sex aren’t really appropriate either. By the way, you probably know there is a movie based on Jumper. I haven’t seen it, but have heard it’s pretty bad, and those who have seen the movie and read the book report that the book is much different and much better.