John Scalzi,
The Android's Dream
(Booklocker, 2008)

I will start by saying, "Wow!" This book was the most fun I have had reading in a long time. It is just wild.

There are no androids in this book, nor is dreaming of any importance. The title means something completely different, as a pun or homage to another book, but I will not spoil the surprise for readers. What is in this story is political intrigue and plots, scheming and betrayal, ruthlessness and shifting alliances, status-seeking and espionage, all on an interstellar scale. In the future, humans have spread out into the galaxy and met many other species. We have colonies, they have colonies and there is plenty of competition.

One species that has a prominent role in the book is the Nidu. The Nidu are extremely caste-oriented, with many clans vying for dominance. The people of Earth, and the government of the United States, become pawns in this power game. Who will win? Who will survive? What does a small-town pet-shop owner have to do with any of it? Can two deceased people play a major role in this? All of these questions get answered in this great science-fiction thriller.

John Scalzi has done everything right in this novel. It is 398 pages, and I could have easily read twice that, given the quality. The characters are three-dimensional, diverse and just plain interesting. The good guys have flaws, and most of the bad guys have at least some redeeming qualities. One of the bad guys, a Gnach named Takk, is fascinating in his physiology, culture and personality. He also delivers several great surprises.

The pace of the novel is fast; it starts out mildly absurd and fun to read, and that just carries through until the last page. The culture of Nidu is described well and is definitely alien. The future American culture and government are quite foreseeably realistic.

I have read many good books, many of them being science fiction, in my life, and just in this year. This one ranks right up there with the best of them, and is certainly one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I have had. I have read four other books by this author (Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, The Sagan Diary) and I am part way through Agent to the Stars. Scalzi knows how to write and is establishing himself as a rival to the greats, like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

Is there anything wrong with this book? There was not for me, but some readers might be uncomfortable with some of the coarse language used. It is not replete with expletives, but they are not uncommon. Some of the violence would not be for the squeamish. If this were a movie -- and I would definitely see it if it were -- it would be rated R.

review by
Chris McCallister

2 May 2009

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