Friday, 8 March 2013

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

Lowdown: An intergalactic scam involving sheep and farts puts the future of humanity on the brink.
My affection for anything John Scalzi is world renowned. This is exactly why I deliberately kept a book of his, The Android's Dream unread: I needed something I could count on for the doldrums, those occasional seasonal winds that have me uninterested with the books currently at my disposal. In other words, if there is nothing good for me to read, I could count on John Scalzi to remedy the situation. Did my plan work this doldrums around?
As one can tell by the Blade Runner tribute of a title, The Android's Dream is a science fiction book. One cannot get more science fictiony than this book's beginning, telling us of a plot to derail human - Nadu (an alien race) relationship by planting a fart machine in the ass of the chief human negotiator. Yes, that is exactly how The Android's Dream starts us off with, and the rest is not that different (although some would say less silly). In other words, this is science fiction that's heavy on the humor, not shy of political incorrectness, and definitely not shy of introducing ideas common folk would dismiss as silly just because they didn't bother thinking about them before. That last point proved critical for me, because Scalzi or not I found myself putting this book to rest and venturing into what I thought were greener pastures, or less silly pastures; the book that was meant to save my reading seemed to have further deteriorated it instead.
Two weeks later I came back to it and after brief deliberations found myself cruising through The Android's Dream in that exact manner that made Scalzi such a favorite with me. You see, it's silly; but it is groundbreaking-ly silly in a world where silliness rules the day so badly we take it seriously. Allow me to explain.
Once the farts fade off with the wind and the intergalactic talks break, Washington stakeholders start fighting it out. Some see the crisis as an opportunity while others see it a danger; both sides pull into their sleeves to unleash some of their unethical arsenal just for the sake of being able to humiliate the other (or save humanity). In the book's particular case we have one side pulling off the first proper computer artificial intelligence ever while the other deploys a gang of killers featuring an alien assassin that eats its victims. What are they both fighting for? A sheep. A very special sheep, a sheep that holds the fate of humanity in its genes. Think about it: what is the difference between this book's politics and the politics of everyday life at a Western country, be it Scalzi's USA or my Australia? I would say the only difference is sheep. And even that is not always the case.
The Android's Dream does not spend its satiric criticism on politics alone. Joining the celebrations is religion, with some quintessential Judaism related question raised (like that of eating pigs in the age of genetically designed foods). Further words are directed at a religion created as a scam that sounds awfully like Scientology (albeit without ever mentioning the name of Scientology, the religion whose main expertise is filing lawsuits). Combine the thrills of the chase, of which there is much abound, to the almost film like three acts structure Scalzi is renowned for, and together with the previously discussed constructive criticism I found myself reading a hell of a book. Literally.
Overall: Look, this book is brilliant. Its only problem is that it is occasionally too crazy brilliant. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Uri said...

Told you.

That first part is a little too satisfied with itself. But once Harry enters the picture, things greatly improve.

I like this, and Agent to the Stars more than I do Old Man’s War and its sequels.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I agree that this is generally better than the Old Man's War series. I like the first of that series, but the sequels weren't as good; I was actually disappointed Scalzi's latest is an Old Man's War sequel.
Agent to the Stars, however, is far better than either.