Book Review: Agent to the Stars

“Ten million and five percent of the gross? For a cat? Are you out of your freakin’ feline mind?”

I just love headsets. They allow me to speak on the phone while leaving my hands free for the really important things, like scratching Hobo’s ears and opening cans of cat food.

“It’s a perfectly sane figure from my client’s point of view.”

“I can do five million and maybe one point of the net. The studio is riding me to take this 3D, and you know what that costs.”

Net points are a promise of profits the film makes, if the film makes it into the black and with Hollywood accounting, yeah right. Gross points are a straight percentage of the film’s take at the box office.

“Net points are for the naïve. You can give that to the screenwriter. Hobo is the star, and you can’t do ‘Hobo Finds a Home’ without the Hobo…”

Negotiating a good deal is tough: getting a great deal requires the best of agents, and that requires Thomas Stein. Thomas knows something about closing deals. He’s one of the hottest young agents in Hollywood, and that’s why he’s approached by the spacefaring Yherajk in Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi.

The Yherajk have a serious image problem. They are hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish, and Hollywood loves evil aliens. They just make for better films. Put in bad aliens and you get Independence Day or Predator. Put in good aliens and maybe you get lucky with a Close Encounters, but after all, we never really find out what happens to Richard Dreyfuss. Do we?

The Yjerajk have friendly intentions and have been learning about humanity by monitoring Earth’s television broadcasts, but they’ve seen The Blob, and have decided that before they appear to humanity, some arrangements need to be made. They’re going to need an agent to get the role of the friendly aliens.

The “First Contact” scenario is pretty standard fare in science fiction, but Agent to the Stars puts a fresh, comic spin to mankind’s first interstellar friendship with an irreverent look at Hollywood, the media, and celebrity culture. But just when you think John Scalzi is only aiming for the funny bone, he hits the head and the heart with an occasional poignant or serious moment. Agent to the Stars is a great first novel that delivers a predictable Hollywood ending in an unexpected way.

This novel had a strange journey into print. Though it was the author’s first novel, it was not his first novel sold, but rather a “practice” novel – that is, a novel he wrote to see if he could actually write a novel. He had no intention of selling it, but instead posted in on his personal website, offering it as “shareware” and encouraging readers to send him a dollar if they liked it. A publisher came across the book and the rest is history.

So, if you are an alien species thinking of dropping onto the White House lawn, remember – the American president can only speak for the American people, but American movies speak for the world. Now, let’s talk merchandising…

Have an agent? Or do you represent yourself? Comment and let me know!

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