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Agent to the Stars    by John Scalzi order for
Agent to the Stars
by John Scalzi
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars has an intriguing history, which he covers in the Introduction. He posted the book he called his practice novel as shareware on his personal website in 1999 - and at $1 a read he made $4000 over 5 years. It was published as a limited edition hardcover in 2005` and here it is again, 'this little book which just won't quit.' Once you start reading you quickly understand why.

The novel stars Thomas Stein, a hot young Hollywood agent who has just negotiated a twelve and a half million dollar contract for his main client, young - and engagingly dumb - blonde Michelle Beck, currently 'the biggest female star in Hollywood.' Tom's called in to a meeting with the agency's head honcho, Carl Lupo, where he's introduced to a new client with a very serious image problem - a Yherajk (a couple of thousand of whom are orbiting Earth). Tom's job is to make the planet ready for space-faring aliens who look like slime ('We have seen The Blob, and it is us') and smell like 'the offspring of a rotted sneaker and Velveeta.'

Following Carl's orders and with the help of his feisty administrative assistant Miranda Escalon, Tom begins divesting himself of lesser clients, carts home with him (squished into a five gallon water bottle) the alien representative who's been named Joshua, and gets to work. Of course there are complications. Michelle Beck wants to work on her craft with a vastly unsuitable role, that of 'a fortyish Jewish woman victimized in the Warsaw ghetto and Treblinka, who then fights racism in the United States.' Sleazy gossip journalist Jim Van Doren starts digging into Tom's life, wondering why he's dumping clients. And Joshua befriends the 'World's Oldest Retriever' next door, with shapechanging consequences.

So how does Tom meet this huge challenge? It takes a tragedy (or perhaps a tragi-comedy) and a Trojan horse, along with extended consultation with an ethical community of aliens whose conversations smell 'as if someone had fermented an entire horse stable.' And it helps that (as Van Doren reminds Tom) their country is 'not a world leader because we have nuclear missiles and submarines. We are because we have Bugs Bunny and Friends.' To sum this all up, Agent to the Stars is a must read for any SF fan with an intact sense of humor.

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