Agent to the Stars

John Scalzi
The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.So getting humanity’s trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He’s one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it’s quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he’s going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.


Reviewed: 2015-04-07
Sept 8 2011

I stayed up too late last night because I didn't want to stop reading this. First, it's entertaining as hell. There's an insider's view of movie-making as a business, there's science fiction, there's romance, there's a very complicated plot, there's snappy repartee, but just like His Girl Friday, there's also an examination of what duty we owe to humanity, of what fair play looks like. In this, Scalzi's first novel, as in his most recent one [b:Fuzzy Nation|9647532|Fuzzy Nation|John Scalzi||18280046], there is thoughtful consideration of what is best for everyone. I'd love to put Tom Stein in charge of running the world: he cares deeply about what is right, as well as what is good. He's a sweetheart: kind to animals, considerate of old people, literate, generous, thoughtful and observant. Weirdly, his virtues don't make him seem any less real.

So, when I finally, happily, finished the book, I spent a little time thinking about why I loved it so much, and what it had in common with others of my favorite books. And why some of my favorite books from 1990 have been culled from the list. First, it's funny. For some reason people seem to think humor and seriousness are incompatible, but as Shakespeare demonstrated, tragedy is more real and more moving if you aren't entirely bogged down in the gloom. A lot of Agent is an exploration of what it means to be human, from the Holocaust and the US civil rights struggle of the 50s and 60s, to our small interactions with neighbors and co-workers. And humor is one of the things that gets us through each day. The dialogue is zippy and amusing and keeps the pace up.

I love that there aren't any villains here. There's conflict, because that's where the drama lies, but there aren't any black hats. People do things which are stupid or vengeful or mean, but not because they're bad people.

So, this is going to be a favorite for some time I expect. It's going up there with [b:Good Omens|12067|Good Omens The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch|Terry Pratchett||4110990], [b:Bluebeard|9601|Bluebeard|Kurt Vonnegut||6582745], [b:To Say Nothing of the Dog|77773|To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)|Connie Willis||696], and [b:Beauty Queens|9464733|Beauty Queens|Libba Bray||10808145] on my shelf of Books That Manage to Slide in Important Lessons in Behaving Humanely While Also Being Funny.

Library copy.

A note about the cover: a stranger walked up to me as I was reading over my lunch to ask me what kind of book it was, a mystery or a regular novel or what. I told her what it was about, and she thought it sounded great. That is a seriously enticing cover.
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