Saturday, July 19, 2014

Good Story 087: Agent to the Stars

Scott and Julie hire an agent but he spends all his time with a water bottle full of talking jello. So they while away the time talking about Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi.

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Gwedif pulled up to me as we walked. "I wish we had more time," he said. "This happened with Carl too. Barely time for introductions, and then off to decide the fate of our peoples. If nthing else, we've learned that you humans thrive on crisis."

"Anything worth doing is worth doing at a fevered pitch," I said.

"I don't know about that," Gwedif said. "I think the first place I'll go when I visit your planet—really visit your planet, I mean, not that little trip I took earlier—I think I'll go visit a monastery. Those people seem to have the right idea. Slow meditative spiritual contemplation."

"I think most of the monasteries these days are either making chant CDs or boutique wines," I said.

"Really?" Gwedif said. "Well, hell. What is it with you people?"


  1. I listened to this book with Audible had it as one of its daily deals. It was quite a bargain considering how good the book was. A fun idea taken to its potential but with a nice layer other than just being played for laughs.

    I first started t read his book when I saw Jerry Pournelle on his blog recommend "Old Man's War" which I really enjoyed as being Heinlein-esque (with a Heinlein morality). The rest of the books in the series were mostly worth reading, but you know a series is played out when the last book is a rewrite of a previous novel from another characters viewpoint.

    Still he has quite a lot of talent in the direction of comedy. I also really liked "The Android's Dream" which was also quite funny and good as a space opera.

    Fuzzy Nation is also very worthwhile. I reread that one recently and it was still a great story. H. Beam Piper's original novel was good, but Scalzi made better use of the idea.

    Redshirts was also quite fun and he turned a meme into something much more. You can tell he is having great fun with the idea and messing with the reader as the novel has several parts and plots. Certainly worthwhile for at least one read, maybe not another.

    Still "Agent to the Stars" has the most depth of all his novels.

    Now as to his blog and his politcal opinions, I pass.

    1. I remember enjoying Old Man's War but being a bit disappointed there wasn't a little more to it. Maybe that's because I read Agent to the Stars first. I've not been interested in Fuzzy Nation because I wasn't crazy about the first book. But now that you said it was better then I might try it. Thanks!

    2. I bought Fuzzy Nation when it first came out and like I said really enjoyed it. At Christmas that year I was gifted a copy of the Audible version and that was also quite worthwhile in that medium.

      By the way do you ever have an book/audiobook preference in regard to series. I find that if I started to read the series as text I don't want to go the audiobook route. If I started it as audio, I don't want to switch to text. Maybe I am just compulsive in keeping things as a set.

    3. I am surprised at how much I can switch back and forth. Sometimes audio, as I've mentioned, will be a gateway for me enjoying the work in text. I'm experiencing this now as I reread The Lord of the Rings yet again. I am relishing reading the text but glad that I mentally know how to pronounce the words thanks to hearing the audio.

      There are a few books where I've settled on audio such as the Joe Ledger books. In print they just aren't as good. Which probably says something about them overall, but I'm just not going to think about that! :-D

  2. This sounds like such a fun book. I'll have to add it to my list.

    The bit about suicide reminded me of a TED talk given by a former San Francisco cop who worked 20+ years patrolling the Golden Gate bridge that I listened to recently. He remarked that his job was both incredibly fulfilling but tragically difficult from day to day (I've only had to talk a friend out of jumping off a bridge once, and it was the most terrifying phone call I have ever received, so I can only imagine). Thankfully, he's seen very few people actually make the jump after counseling (read: listening). He's also been able to form relationships with the very few people who jumped, but survived the fall (remarkable from that height, even into the water). The officer says that without hesitation, every one of those individuals have told him that they knew they made the wrong choice as soon as the free fall began. Talk about the very last moment. The full talk is here:

    If you are open to suggestions about good 'long' book, I highly recommend Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. I first read it as a teenager, and it has remained one of my favorite books every since. There are a lot of good abridged editions out there if you don't want to dive in completely, but after reading the entire thing, the abridged texts just feel like so much is missing, since all the remarkable number of subplots actually coherently fit together. Like Dickens, Dumas was a master. It's even more amazing considering that it was first published as a serial, where reader would get a chapter or two every month for a few years. I cannot imagine having to wait between installments. It would have been like seeing the season finale cliffhangers of your favorite TV shows again and again and again (Oh, the agony!). The enduring story has made for many good film adaptations, but none of them can quite capture the massiveness and intricacy of the original novel.

    1. I thought I replied to this but see that I raced off to get the audio version of that Ted Talk so fast that I didn't hit Publish. JoAnna thank you for that insightful comment and the link!

      I have read The Three Musketeers but when I tried The Count I think it was just a bad time for me to be launching into a Dumas book. I'd be game to read it! Long books are fine. Just not so many at once! :-)

    2. Dumas is really quite a fun writer with great plotting. Did you know most of his books were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum? Not sure exactly what for, but there certainly is some dodgy theology in The Three Musketeers. Although I think montecristo was not placed on it.

    3. To follow up I am glad that the index has been done away with. It is certainly very helpful when bishop conferences and the Vatican point out serious theological errors in books dealing with theology and the faith. Not so much in the area of fiction.

      Still I was surprised that the index was still in force in Flannery's day and she sought permission to read some of the books on it.

    4. Steven Greydanus, in his review of the awesome Jim Caviezel film version, says that apparently "The Count of Monte Cristo" was on the list:

      "Dumas’ story of a seemingly all-powerful figure bringing absolute judgment may make for riveting reading, but there seems no way morally to avoid the conclusion that the protagonist was not only a terrible man but also quite possibly insane. (Small wonder that the novel was once on the Catholic Church’s now-defunct Index of Forbidden Books.)"

      I'm not really sure why it was on the list as it seems pretty obvious to me that he's not exactly a role model figure to be imitated. I've certainly read worse.

    5. I'd heard of that index but next bothered to seek it out. I, too, appreciate warnings of theological errors but in the world we're in I come across so many everywhere that I figure I can sift them out of books and movies for myself.

      I like the point that Flannery sought permission to read the banned books. Obedience. So important and so hard. And yet she would abide by it. A great example, really, for my own life.

      JD - I also loved the Jim Caviezel film. Our youngest daughter, Rose, who loves the book said as we watched the credits roll in the theater (as I've doubtless told everyone too many times, "The book, the movie, the sandwich. All so different. But I love them all!"

    6. Jeff-I believe the main rationale for Monte Cristo's inclusion was the prominent feature of dueling, among other things.

  3. ::shudder:: I read Three Musketeers after falling so in love with Count of Monte Cristo. And I hated it. The 'kiddie' versions we hear as kids are basically just a group of guys having fun with swords. The actual story does a lot of mocking clericalism (which, I guess, was not entirely misplaced), but does so in a way I found extremely upsetting-not just with Cardinal Richelieu, but with the caricature of that one musketeer (I forget which one), who is always swinging between religious life and the good life of a musketeer bachelor. It's not nearly the masterpiece that Monte Cristo is. I'll also add that the Caviezel film (which I loved!) is actually one good example of movie makers changing significant elements of the original story to turn it into a good 120 min. movie, instead of attempting a carbon copy of the book. I concur with Rose! And yes, Greydanus' assessment is pretty accurate-you are much more liable to think of the Count as a terrible man after you've read the novel.

    I'm not exactly an 'authority' on the Index, but it is a fascinating subject, and one that is hopelessly cliched, misunderstood, and given little proper attention, even in academia. I touch on it lightly from time to time in my blog (here: and here: Most people superficially cite it as the ultimate symbol of censorship and intellectual oppression, but if you actually take a look at it, you will see that the vast majority of books it lists are just really dodgy works of theology or philosophy-even in a 1940s copy (which I own), there are just a handful of novels (most of them French, coincidentally, including Musketeers and Monte Cristo, but hardly any others that would be recognizable to a modern reader). It's development over time is a fascinating example of the Church experimenting with the best ways to moderate the moral challenges posed by the products of new technologies (i.e., the printing press), and more or less the 20th c. it just became to unwieldy to continue to maintain and actual list.

    Contrary to popular belief, the Index has not actually been abolished; it is merely no longer enforced-Pope Paul VI did this intentionally, so as not to negate its 'moral force' (that is, it is still of the utmost importance to carefully consider the moral & spiritual implications of our media consumption). An old philosophy professor of mine described his university days in the UK (ca. 1950) by saying that although the Index was still in force, getting permission was almost a laughable formality-you just had to get the chaplain's signature, which he gave almost by default...but you still had to get permission, which was the point. I really love what he has to say about the Index toward the end of this lecture-here's a link to the transcript: (I've been working on getting the video up for a while too). You're little bit of history for the day :]

    1. How fascinating! Thank you for that JoAnna! :-)

      Maybe it says something about the sort of reader I am that I liked the Three Musketeers and couldn't make it through The Count of Monte Cristo. Simpler, more adventurous and straight forward grabbed me and I just didn't care that much about the count. Of course, that was also several years ago. :-)

  4. I loved this audio book, it was a quick and easy listen that had me laughing literally out loud so many times!

    If you haven't checked out Redshirts yet, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Agent to the Stars. I got it as an Audible Daily Deal because it was so cheap and put off listening to it for a while. Redshirts seems like the sort of book that tells you all you need to know with the title- that was a big misconception! I won't say anything else about it, just that the less you know going in, the better I think it will be.