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!
Originally published at FanLit.
The Last Colony, the third book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, returns us to the perspective of John Perry, the “old man” hero of the first novel in the series, Old Man’s War. John Perry is only mentioned in the second novel, The Ghost Brigades, which told the story of how the cyborg Special Forces soldiers found and defeated the scientist Charles Boutin, a traitor to the Colonial Union. On that mission they also found Zoe, Boutin’s young daughter. Zoe has been adopted by Jane Sagan and John Perry and the little family has been farming on one of Earth’s colonies where John and Jane are the leaders.
Life is easy for them until the Colonial Union comes calling — they need leaders for a new colonization effort and John and Jane have been selected. This new colony (named Roanoke…. hmmmm… I think I wouldn’t have signed up for that) will be comprised of people from several different human worlds and John and Jane are responsible for its success. However, the Colonial Union hasn’t been completely honest with them. It will be a lot more dangerous than the members of Roanoke have been led to believe. They are being played as political pawns and they don’t realize it until it’s too late. And it’s not just Roanoke that’s in danger, but the entire human race.
The Last Colony (I keep wanting to write “The Lost Colony”) has a different tone than Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. It takes place mainly on a planet, rather than in space, and deals mostly with domestic and political matters rather than space battles and espionage. Some of the political dialogue between characters we don’t know is dull, especially if you’re hoping for lasers and explosions, but Scalzi continues to explore the interesting theme of access to information and the problems that occur when the government controls the press. When and how should governments control information? That’s always a relevant topic, isn’t it?
Like its predecessors, The Last Colony features John Scalzi’s engaging writing style and ultra-competent well-developed characters. Some of these are characters we already know and love (John and Jane) one is a character we are happy we’re getting to know (Zoe) and some are new characters that Scalzi makes it easy for us to love (e.g., the Mennonite leader, Hickory and Dickory) or hate (e.g., the journalists). And some are there to show us that our first impressions aren’t always correct.
I mentioned in my review of The Ghost Brigades that the political situation was getting murky and it gets even murkier here. It is not clear to us (or to many of the characters) whose side we should be on. Readers may find it discomfiting to realize they are having trouble sympathizing with their home planet. It may be even more discomfiting to realize that Scalzi’s story doesn’t have to stretch the imagination too far. Sometimes “human nature” is not a pretty thing, but it’s what we know. What if someday we find ourselves needing to interact with beings who have a non-human nature?
You can probably read The Last Colony without having read the previous books, Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades, but you’ll have some catching up to do. It would be better to wait on this one until you’ve read its predecessors. They’re both great books, anyway. The fourth book in the OLD MAN’S WAR series is Zoe’s Tale which tells the story of Roanoke colony from Zoe’s perspective. It’s mostly the exact same plot as The Last Colony with a few side adventures for Zoe. If you’re only interested in the plot progression, you can skip Zoe’s Tale. If you’re interested in getting to know Zoe, you should read it.
I’m listening to William Dufris narrate OLD MAN’S WAR. I think he’s amazing. Macmillan Audio produced this installment.
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.