The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi
The Android’s Dream (2006) is one of John Scalzi’s earlier books, and a stand-alone rather than part of a series, so I couldn’t resist given the obvious Philip K. Dick reference in the title. I decided to go into this one without knowing anything about the plot or reading any reviews at all. I know Scalzi’s humor and style from the OLD MAN’S WAR series, Redshirts and Lock In, and I love the audio narration of Wil Wheaton, so I figured I’d give it a try.
Initially I was a bit nonplussed by the opening sequence, essentially the most elaborate “fart joke” in a tense human-alien diplomatic meeting in the history of the genre (tiny niche, I know). It suggests we’re in for something more along the lines of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy or The Fifth Element than the profound and melancholic ruminations on what separates humans from replicants in PDK’s classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep that I had expected from the title. But the story certainly throws out enough ideas, computer hackers, AIs, mercenaries, phony religious cults, secret government agencies, intense action sequences, and humorous quips sprinkled throughout, to provide the entertainment that Scalzi has become famous and very successful for delivering.
The plot involves a major diplomatic incident between the UNE (United Nations of Earth) and the Nidu, a more powerful alien race that is the ostensible ally of humanity, a new junior member of the Consolidated Confederation of Worlds, in which the Earth is sitting at the “loser’s table in high school,” as Scalzi puts it so succinctly.
So it is up to ex-military State Department “Xenosapient Facilitator” Harry Creek to track down an a rare species of blue sheep called Android’s Dream that holds the key to a major power struggle for succession on the Nidu homeworld.
What follows is a madcap, zany, action-packed, whirlwind adventure, from shopping mall shootouts to some pretty cool computer hacking by AIs, and leading up to a grand finale on the Nidu homeworld at the coronation ceremony, with the fate of the Earth and intergalactic war hanging in the balance.
As typical for Scalzi, The Android’s Dream produces dozens of eminently quotable quips about this future society, our own human foibles, etc. However, as the story frequently veers from snarky humor to intense action sequences, sometimes I felt like Scalzi was not quite in control of the tone of the story. It’s much like a Luc Besson movie, with frenetic action, slapstick humor, and then random moments of seriousness.
I also think the author was still finding his voice, though his debut novel Old Man’s War was a near-perfect pastiche of Heinlein that updated and improved on Starship Troopers. So I don’t think it really hung together in the end, despite being filled with promising elements. Still, if you are a fan of zany SF thrillers, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Well (referring to what Stuart said above), I am a fan of zany SF thrillers and, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. The audio edition of The Android’s Dream is so entertaining, starting with the hilarious fart scene that Stuart mentioned. There are some dark parts, too, though. I thought it was a good balance.
There were a couple of aspects of the novel that were out of balance, though. Scalzi has a tendency to get teachy and that can throw off the flow. Almost all of his characters have the same smart snarky voice — they all sound the same person (I’ve mentioned this in other reviews of Scalzi’s work).
The other imbalance is the lack of female characters. We meet lots of politicians, political aides, computer geeks, bad guys’ minions, alien leaders, etc, and they’re all men. When we finally meet a woman with a significant role, she’s the owner of a small pet shop. There’s one other woman with a significant part in the story, but she’s not really real. I’m sure that today Scalzi would have included more women in his story but I’m surprised that he didn’t think to do that back in 2006.