Agent to the Stars
© 1997, 2005 John Scalzi
They’re heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere. Extraterrestrials exist, and they’ve been watching our television. The good news is they don’t hold it against us — though they don’t want to meet any of our politicians. They’ve seen the debates. Who are they? They are the Yherjak, an amiable race of aliens who have the misfortune of looking like giant mounds of snot. They smell like fish. And…they’re aware that this will cause a little image problem in a first contact situation. Obviously, they need a good agent to finesse things — to maybe use Hollywood to introduce the planet the idea of repulsive-but-friendly aliens. Such is the setup for Agent to the Stars, a wonderfully funny light-SF tale that features sarcastic aliens, talking dogs, and a little Hollywood drama, including abducted paparazzi.
After reveling in the Star Trek spiff that was Redshirts, and especially in the codas which so transformed a comic novel into something seriously touching, I looked forward to this on its premise alone. Scalzi doesn’t disappoint. This is not ‘serious’ science fiction, or anything close to it; our aliens are smelly blobs of goo that have learned everything they know on Earth by watching TV, and their language is laced with culture references and sitcom quips. Their interactions with humans — main character Tom Stein, rising talent agent, is not the first — have helped them put things into perspective, and to realize that people don’t spontaneously have conversations in which they recommend laxatives to one another while watching TV — but their fanboy passion for television makes them goofy fun to hang around.
This is not purely a comedic novel; as with Redshirts there are serious moments, developing late in the novel when one character is involved in a serious accident that, tragic as it is, presents an opportunity if the morality of it can be worked through. Tangentially connected to the main story is Stein’s well-meaning attempt to help one of his starlets branch out by landing her a serious role as a Holocaust survivor who later becomes a civil rights activist in the US’s turbulent sixties. The movie is a biopic about a real-world survivor-activist, and her efforts to help people see the essential humanity of one another, looking past differences in appearance and culture, obviously gives the aliens’ desire to contact humanity and be received in brotherhood a little more oomph.
That aside, the novel is consistently funny throughout, and I’m going to keep poking around for more by Scalzi.