Friday, November 20, 2015

The Android's Dream - John Scalzi

   2006; 394 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Science Fiction; Thriller.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    It’s all about the sheep.

    But not just any old sheep; a very rare and genetically-engineered breed of sheep (it has blue wool) called the Android’s Dream.  The alien Nidu are demanding that Earth supply an Android’s Dream to them, as compensation for a diplomatic incident: one of our ambassadors murdered one of their ambassadors, and it falls upon the State Department’s Harry Creek to go find and procure one.

    There’s just one hitch.  There are only a few Android’s Dreams around, and someone seems to be bent on killing them all.  And when Harry gets in the way, well, they’ll just kill him as well.

What’s To Like...
    The opening two sentences of the book are “Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident.  But he was ready to find out.“  That should give you a heads up that The Android’s Dream is not going to be as serious as John Scalzi’s magnum opus, Old Man’s War (reviewed here).  But neither is it a total departure in form and genre – the trademark Scalzi space opera and action-thriller elements are still present.

    The character development is good.  Harry Creek is your classic protagonist, and there’s a typical love angle in the plotline.  But the secondary characters shine.  I especially liked Archie McClellan and Takk, and Brian Javna was a nice twist.  Even the evil characters are interesting, and they are just as resourceful and powerful as the good guys.  Similarly, should hostilities break out between we Terrans and the alien Nidu, the two sides are evenly matched, although both sides are relative wussies on a galactic scale.

    As always, John Scalzi’s wit, humor, and subtle social commentary are on display.  We can partake of Nugentian venison, get a good work-out playing wall-ball, and find spiritual guidance through the Church of the Evolved Lamb.  You may also learn a thing or two about legal and diplomatic wrangling, which may come in handy should we ever have to deal with space invaders.  And if using flatulence to make offensive remarks doesn’t tickle your funny bone, something’s wrong.

    There is an adequate amount of both action and intrigue.  This is space opera, so be prepared for some cussing, violence, and adult situations.  This is a standalone novel, and in the end everyone ultimately gets their just desserts.

Kewlest New Word ...
Collimate (v.) : to accurately align (an optical or other system).

    “The principle is simple,” Fixer said, handing the slightly curved thing to Moeller.  “You pass gas like you normally do, but instead of leaving your body, the gas enters into that forward compartment.  The compartment closes off, passes the gas into second department (sic), where additional chemical components are added, depending on the message you’re trying to send.  Then it’s shunted into the third compartment, where the whole mess waits for your signal.  Pop the cork, off it goes.  You interact with it through a wireless interface.  Everything is there.  All you have to do is install it.”
    “Does it hurt?” Moeller asked.  “The installation, I mean.”
    Fixer rolled his eyes.  “You’re shoving a miniature chemistry lab up your ass, Mr. Moeller,” Fixer said.  “Of course it’s going to hurt.”  And it did.  (pg. 9)

    Takk understood that Earth was positively littered with houses of worship and that people were always claiming that their god of choice wanted them to do one thing or another.  But in his personal experience the only time he heard people invoke their deity was when Takk was about to beat the hell out of them or turn them into a snack.  And even then, more than half the time they invoked defecation instead.  Takk found that inexplicable.  (pg. 276)

It’s hard to describe to anyone who is not in fact a sentient computer.  But imagine you’re a tapeworm, and then suddenly you’re Goethe.  (pg. 376)
    There are some quibbles.  The entertainingly madcap prologue – farting as a weapon -  was fantastic, but felt disjointed from the rest of the story, which was decidedly more focused on thrills-&-spills and political intrigue.  Scalzi wrote some of his novels as serial installments; perhaps The Android’s Dream is one of them.

    The ending felt contrived and for me was somewhat anticlimactic.  The Nidu, who appear to have the upper hand in the matter the whole way through, are all too easily persuaded to fight amongst themselves.

    But these are minor criticisms.  The major problem is something that Scalzi probably had no control over – a wretched job of editing by the publishing house, Tor.  The grammatically grating “He been…” was bad enough, but jeez, when you run into the misspelled word “supercede” (sic), it makes you wonder whether Tor even bothered to use Spellchecker when editing Scalzi’s manuscript.  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

    8 Stars.  This isn’t John Scalzi’s finest work, but it’s still a good read.  Add 1 star if you can ignore all the typos and errata.  I couldn’t.

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