Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Android's Dream -- John Scalzi

I read and enjoyed John Scalzi's Old Man's War, and while I haven't read the sequels, I did pick up The Android's Dream the other day.

SF fans will recognize at once that the title is a riff on Philip K. Dick's
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and while the book doesn't owe much of a debt to Dick's work, Scalzi does play around with that book's title. See, there's this alien race, the Nidu, whose gubernatorial ceremony (the background here is very complicated, so don't ask me to explain it) requires a certain breed of sheep called "Android's Dream." Sheep of that breed have colored wool. The color is electric blue. Not that the color has anything to do with the plot.

Ah, the plot. Did I mention that the gubernatorial ceremony of the Nidu is complicated? That's just a tiny bit of the novel. Here's the best I can do: the ceremony's coming up. The Nidu need a sheep. All the sheep are dying (it's part of a plot). Harry Creek is engaged to find a sheep because the Earth government obligated to supply it. By the time Harry's on the job, the sheep are all dead. But wait! Because of a bizarre genetic experiment, there's a woman who's DNA is about 18% sheep. So Harry has to find her and keep her alive. And then he has to save the Earth.

Pretty succinct, but that leaves out the AI who's created from a brainscan of Harry's best friend, all kinds of government manuevering, plotting, double-crossing, and so on. It leaves out the cruise ship filled with veterans of a certain battle. It leaves out another AI, not to mention the church created by an old SF writer. Everybody knows the church is a fraud, but nobody cares, and its congregants are looking for the Revealed Lamb. And space battles. And so on.

I do have a couple of questions and a little more info for you. The book begins with what can only be called an extended (about 20 pages) fart joke. The joke is based on the fact that, to the Nidu, odors have meaning. But nothing's ever done with that fact in the rest of the book (unless I just missed it, which is certainly a possibility). The last line is certainly a reference to it, and it frames the story nicely. But that's it.

Scalzi's fast-paced story and readable style carry all this off pretty well. The book was too long, I thought, but then I think all books over 300 pages are too long. It reads quickly, so check it out.

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