Fantastic Reviews - Science Fiction Book Review
The Android's Dream cover art The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

Tor hardcover - 394 pages
Copyright 2006

Cover art by Shelley Eshkar
Book reviewed January 2007

Rating: 7/10  (Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          John Scalzi is a rising star of science fiction, winner of the 2006 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which he accepted with a memorably gracious speech consisting mostly of praise for his fellow nominees.  (Scalzi also has a hugely popular blog, Whatever, but if I mention that then I have to speculate on why the guy spends so much time sticking things to his cat and I don't want to go there.)  Scalzi won the Campbell Award largely on the strength of Old Man's War and its sequel The Ghost Brigades, both deliberately and successfully patterned after the style of Robert A. Heinlein.

The first thing you need to know about Scalzi's new novel, The Android's Dream, is that it is not the same sort of homage.  While the title pays tribute to Philip K. Dick, Scalzi makes no attempt to write in a phildickian style.  The many fans of the Old Man series will be happy to know that The Android's Dream is every bit as easy to read as those books and even more fun.

The Android's Dream is a futuristic spy thriller, played more for laughs than suspense.  The first chapter sets the tone.  An American diplomat with a grudge against an alien species that communicates in part through smell installs a device in his rectum to convert his gas into vile insults in their language.  At a negotiating session, he enrages his alien counterpart beyond endurance, while seeming to everyone else to behave perfectly innocently.  This is perhaps the funniest and surely the longest fart joke in the history of literature.  If you pretend to be above such humor, The Android's Dream may not be for you, but for the rest of us it is a barrel of laughs.

The star of the show is Harry Creek.  Creek is a war hero and computer genius, but he tired of all that and switched to a simple diplomatic job at which he is adept but very overqualified: he breaks bad news to aliens.  He is unwillingly sucked back into his past frenetic lifestyle when the State Department directs him to find an Android's Dream, a species of sheep genetically engineered for electric blue wool.  The U.S. State Department needs an outsider to find the sheep so as to keep it away from the notice of their deadly enemies...the U.S. Defense Department.  It seems Earth, the new kid on the galactic block, is in danger of being on the receiving end of an interstellar ass-kicking.  An Android's Dream sheep is required to prevent this interstellar war, for reasons too complicated and too silly to go into here.

Creek teams up with attractive pet store owner Robin Baker, a central figure in the search for an Android's Dream for reasons much too silly to go into here.  Creek and Baker are soon pursued by a host of deadly killers - some evil, some just working for the government.  Also on their trail, due to the profound religious significance of the Android's Dream sheep, is the Church of the Evolved Lamb, founded by mediocre science fiction writer M. Robbin Dwellin.  It turns out that none of the Church's members believe their founder was anything but a charlatan, but it suits their sense of irony to help bring his wacky prophecies to fruition, which is as good an explanation as I've seen of how the Church of Scientology could still exist today.

Creek and Baker dash from shopping malls to faraway planets, maneuvering through double agents, a kind-hearted alien assassin who swallows his victims whole, and a superpowerful sentient A.I.  Then Scalzi gets really far-fetched and shows a courtroom scene with a quick and just outcome.  The Android's Dream will stretch even the most limber suspension of disbelief faculty to its limits.

Of course, the story is not meant to be taken seriously, just to entertain, and at that it succeeds admirably.  Even a newcomer to science fiction should find it easy to enjoy.  Scalzi's humor is in fine form throughout, both in his outrageous story elements and his consistently witty dialogue.  This novel announces him as one of SF's best humorists, joining the likes of Connie Willis and Terry Bisson.  Scalzi also writes great action scenes, notably a terrific segment involving a pair of Air Jordans on steroids.

As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I could never muster much interest in the cloak and dagger aspects of the plot.  There is little depth to any of the characters aside from Creek and Baker, and the other players in this game of interstellar intrigue are all contemptible, so it is difficult to feel much concern about what happens whenever Creek and Baker are offstage.  This is only a minor quibble, however, and certainly will not keep me away from any future Harry Creek books.  (The Android's Dream stands alone, but the grapevine says Scalzi has more adventures planned for Creek.)

          If you are in the mood for some light and entertaining reading, I recommend The Android's Dream.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
vanaaron@excite.com
Copyright 2007 Aaron Hughes

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Our book club's web pages for John Scalzi books (includes Scalzi bibliography):
Old Man's War
Zoe's Tale

Links to other John Scalzi reviews, articles, and websites:
Scalzi.com -- The online home of writer John Scalzi
Whatever - John Scalzi's blog
John Scalzi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Locus Online: John Scalzi interview excerpts

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

This page was last updated - 20 June 2013