In John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars we get fast paced, very humorous look at first contact between humans and aliens, the Yherajk (a gelatinous species that resemble Jell-O and speak with smells). While I’ve never read a Scalzi book before, I have sometime trafficked his Whatever blog (and have a collection of those postings in a book called Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, which I still have not read) and found his style often humors and very personable. Little of what he says, on the site or this book, seems wasted.
Unlike most first contact stories, Agent takes a different route, dealing with issues like mind control and whether there is a soul. But it also takes a unique way of looking at how an alien, in hopes of showing they’re not hostile, would want to be introduced to humans. Hiring a PR from Hollywood was a clever idea.
For us Southern California residents, the main character of Tom Stein visits many local venues outside of Los Angeles itself, and it often reminded me of Stephen King who sometimes did this. Still, King has often been criticized for using too much in the way of current cultural references such as TV shows and movies. Though there maybe a reason for this as Scalzi says in his forward this was his first book, and at the time, he never thought this would see the light of day. It was originally published online in 1999, then picked up and republished in 2005 by Subterranean as a limited edition, then republished by Tor in 2008 (though the first mass market edition did not hit until 2010)
The book loses its steam towards the end, and you could easily figure out how it was going to conclude, plus the whole plot is propped up almost entirely on coincidence –as a PR guy, he’s a bit dumb when it comes to real ideas, he sort of reacts to them. In the final analysis, the plausibility factor got skewered and its own internal logic slips the beam. And it took a while to get figure out the characters, as they seemed to talk alike (and because of that, at time I felt confused between the two female characters, Miranda and Michelle. They were not distinctly different, and having names start with the same letter added to the problem).
Again, it’s fast paced, at times really funny, and very readable. The concept of the aliens was interesting, but by the end, you realize that you’ve been caught up in a deus ex machine. Again.