Published by Tor
Author Web site: http://www.scalzi.com/whatever
John Scalzi’s third novel with Tor is something of a departure from his two previous novels. While those two novels were in the Military SF vein, The Android’s Dream is more of a futuristic political thriller, something of a caper, one might say. The skill Scalzi applied to both Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades can be seen on the pages here, albeit improved. In a future which mirrors our own, Earth is part of the Common Confederation (CC), effectively the United Nations of planets. Whereas the US is arguably one of the pre-eminent nations in the UN, Earth is one of the minor members of the CC, ranking down near the bottom of the totem pole. Our closest allies and effective mentor-planet, home of the lizard-like Nidu, aren’t much higher on the totem pole. The Nidu aren’t exactly the nurturing mentors one might typically hope for when picking names out of a hat; they would rather start a war with Earth than provide guidance to us in the 600+ membership of the CC.
At the heart of this interplanetary political space-scape are a handful of characters brought to great life by Scalzi’s deft hand. Harry Creek, the “man who is more than he seems,” fits the bill quite nicely as protagonist. Initially introduced as the UN’s official bearer of bad news, more is revealed about his character with each of his interactions with other characters, including a decorated military background and his great ability with computers. In fact, it is a bit disarming since Creek doesn’t quite come across as a protagonist at the outset of the novel. It seems more so the events John Scalzi throws at him shape him into a protagonist. As the story develops, Harry is brought in by Earth’s government to track down the titular Android’s Dream, a rare breed of sheep whose DNA sequence is owned by the Nidu, since the sheep is used in their coronation ceremony.
At the opposite end of Harry’s spectrum, humanly speaking, is Rod Acuna, himself a veteran, who seemingly serves his own agenda, manipulating events such that Harry is eventually chased by the Nidu, with his life on the line. Well, it is more than Harry whom Acuna is out to get, initially. Both men are searching for the Android’s Dream. Harry wants to find an Android’s Dream sheep so he may bring the unique sheep to the Nidu for their ceremony, Acuna so he can prevent the ceremony, which would throw the Nidu into a war for the crown, something that may prove advantageous to Earth, specifically Acuna’s personal interests.
So far this might seem something of a typical thriller novel; however, when one discovers that the last remaining Android’s Dream DNA is junk DNA in a human woman named Robin Baker, perspective might shift a bit. The manner in which Scalzi reveals Baker’s genetic heritage is fascinating and an all-too frighteningly plausible extrapolation of today’s deviant sexual behavior. One needs to look no further than one of the most popular television shows, CSI, to see a fictitious extrapolation of the deviant behavior going on today. While this may be over-the-top, once the reader gets past the humorous episode which set the events of the novel into motion, such a genetic heritage for one character should be par for the course.
This is not to say the book is without its flaws, though. The early part of the novel did take a bit to get moving. At times, the manner in which Scalzi presented some of the backstory/history of the world was almost like a dreaded infodump. This is always a tricky line for a writer to walk, because there is always a great deal of information to present, but it isn’t the part of the novel for the reader to skim over lightly. While it wasn’t enough of a distraction to only skim over, the exposition could have been handled a bit more smoothly.
That minor point aside, after about the first third of the novel, the action kicks into hyperdrive and the pages fly by, begging the reader not to stop reading. While the title is an allusion to Philip K. Dick’s seminal Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep, the style doesn’t hold too much in common, though the eternal question of “what is humanity?” is at the heart of both. Fans of Scalzi’s previous novels shouldn’t worry; the humor, storytelling, and skillful plotting that flavored those two novels flavors The Android’s Dream even more strongly. Three novels in such a short time from one writer is impressive, even more impressive is how John Scalzi is improving as a writer with each and delivering chock-full-of SF goodness that should appeal to readers across the genre.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford