Monday, April 16, 2012

What We’re Reading

What if you were given a nearly impossible task to accomplish, in an equally impossible time frame, with the knowledge that if you were unsuccessful, Earth would be plunged into war with a technologically superior race? This is the scenario for The Android's Dream, by John Scalzi.

Harry Creek is an unassuming mid-level diplomat with Earth’s State Department. His job is delivering difficult/upsetting news to extraterrestrial ambassadors. He is also a veteran of an off-world military campaign and an expert with computers. So, when a human diplomat is accused of assassinating a Nidu counterpart, the only way to diffuse the growing hostilities is by procuring a very special, very rare sheep for an upcoming Nidu coronation. Creek finds himself charged with the task of finding and delivering the livestock in question. If he is unable to do so within a week, the Nidu--a race with vastly superior military technology--will declare war on Earth.

In The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi has taken elements typical to international and/or political thrillers, paired them with elements more typically found in science fiction novels, thrown in a couple of interesting plot twists, and then added a healthy dose of humor, making the book exciting, intriguing and, in places, laugh-out-loud funny. The plot is complex, but what political thriller isn’t? Scalzi mercilessly pokes fun at politics (while the stage in the book is universal, it’s clear there are contemporary Terran parallels) and organized religion (it’s up to the reader to figure out specifically which churches are being spoofed), but nothing and no one is safe from a good-natured ribbing in this book.

The characters are interestingly drawn and are strong, but also flawed. There are no traditional heroes in the book, and even some of the villains turn out to be surprisingly likeable by the conclusion. The result is a book filled with characters who seem more real than some from genre fiction, and this makes The Android’s Dream all the more enjoyable.

(If you want to go farther with the sci fi/sheep theme, also try Bellwether, by Connie Willis. Very funny.)

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