Tor, 2006, 397 pages
A human diplomat creates an interstellar incident when he kills an alien diplomat in a most unusual way. To avoid war, Earth's government must find an equally unusual object: A type of sheep ("The Android's Dream"), used in the alien race's coronation ceremony.
To find the sheep, the government turns to Harry Creek, ex-cop, war hero and hacker extraordinaire, who with the help of Brian Javna, a childhood friend turned artificial intelligence, scours the earth looking for the rare creature. And they find it, in the unknowing form of Robin Baker, pet store owner, whose genes contain traces of the sheep DNA. But there are others with plans for the sheep as well: Mercenaries employed by the military. Adherents of a secret religion based on the writings of a 21st century science-fiction author. And alien races, eager to start a revolution on their home world and a war on Earth.
To keep our planet from being enslaved, Harry will have to pull off the greatest diplomatic coup in history, a grand gambit that will take him from the halls of power to the lava-strewn battlefields of alien worlds. There's only one chance to get it right, to save the life of Robin Baker - and to protect the future of humanity.
The problem with John Scalzi is that I really like the guy and I like his blog, so I keep reading his books, and while I find them consistently okay, I have yet to read one that I really loved. Or even really, really liked. For me, his books are kind of like the Coke Zero of science fiction, a metaphor that he might or might not find offensive.
The Android's Dream begins by introducing us to the Nidu, a reptilian species whose physical and cultural characteristics are pretty much irrelevant except insofar as they serve the plot. (The Nidus' sense of smell is a plot point.) Earth once fought a war with the Nidu, but now they are trading partners and allies - a condition that some folks on Earth and Nidu alike would like to change.
When a rogue diplomat causes a major diplomatic incident, the Nidu must be placated, and it just so happens that their upcoming coronation ceremony requires a rare breed of sheep known as "The Android's Dream." Tasked with supplying a specimen, it turns out that the only available specimen is actually a human female who has sheep DNA in an improbable backstory that involves a twisted geneticist blackmailing politicians who have weird fetishes.
The story moves along quite briskly, with a few twists and turns and sudden but inevitable betrayals, so there's much fun to be had, but it's definitely sci-fi light. Scalzi injects a lot of humor in the form of wisecracks, banter, and satire that would not go over the head of your average twelve-year-old.
The Android's Dream is made-for-TV space opera. John Scalzi was a creative consultant for Stargate Universe, and he writes like someone whose greatest influence was shows like Stargate and Star Trek, where the universe is full of alien races who are all fundamentally the same under the rubber masks, their cultures defined largely by a few dominant quirks. Technological advantage is mostly defined as "Who has the biggest starships?" It's no problem for our war veteran protagonist to singlehandedly take out half a dozen Nidu marines, and loopholes in Confederation law and some well-timed trickery can overthrow an advanced interstellar civilization,
If the upcoming Old Man's War movie is a box office success, I expect The Android's Dream to get optioned pretty quickly (if it hasn't been already).
Verdict: If you like John Scalzi, then you probably know what you're getting. This is a humorous, not-quite-farcical space opera with action and interstellar cruise liners and planet-buster bombs and friendly and not-so-friendly aliens and sudden but inevitable betrayals, all wrapped up in a bow for the good guys with a touch of romance.
Also by John Scalzi: My review of The God Engines.