In his foreword, John says "I wrote this to see if I could actually write a novel. I never expected it to sell." Well, I'm here to say that it is, hands down, the finest first novel I've read in AT LEAST 20 years. It was not the first Scalzi I have read, but it was his first book written. I never buy trade paperbacks, they are too expensive for my wallet, and too big for my pocket. So, when wandering the racks at the local bookstore, suffering from terminal Scalzi withdrawal plus a total lack of ANYTHING that met my standards, seeing a "new" Scalzi on the shelf, I had to force myself to pass it by 3 times. $14.95 is two paperbacks at $7.99, after my discount. But I was desperate, jonesing, and flush with money (I had a full tank of gas, a $20 in my pocket, and $22 left on a gift card) so I finally gave in and forked over the card. I saved it for a week, savoring the anticipation, and re-read the "Old Man's War" series (reviewed yesterday). I started "Agent" Last night, at about 6:00pm, took a break to write the review of the series, then tried to read for a little. The kids interrupted, the dogs needed walking, then they needed drying (rain and snow), so it was near 11:00pm before I got back to it. At 4:30am I finally HAD to put it down and sleep a few. I woke up, fed the kids, and just finished the book 30 minutes ago. I COULD NOT put it down, except when forced to. And now, the rest of the story (sorry, channeling Paul Harvey for a minute, there)
Tom Stein is an up and coming movie agent. He is given a HUGE task. Make friendly aliens palatable to humanity. Wait, you say, how hard could that be? Well, pretty hard. You see, they are gelatinous masses, about the size of a 5 gallon water jug. They communicate with each other with farts. No, I'm not shitting you, farts. They can learn and speak English, but they absolutely REEK!! They learned English from TV telecasts, radio, and other electronic media beamed into space. (SETI broadcasts bored them). They have concluded, correctly, that smelly bags of goo, no matter how friendly, just won't float the boat when it comes to human interaction. Their decision? Get an agent, and let HIM make them palatable to us. This book is the result. I won't give away any more. It is gutwrenchingly funny, incredibly sad, and one of the best novels I have read in several years. Yesterday, I compared John to Heinlein, saying that in a few years, if he continues to write like that (referring to the "Old Man's War" universe), that he could truly be the next Heinlein. He just sealed the deal for me. Unless he starts to totally suck (and I don't see that happenning), he is Da Man to watch. This surely was the most original "First contact" novel I have ever read. You should read it too.