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The Android's Dream by John Scalzi
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765309416
Date: 31 October, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Earth, in the not too distant future, has been granted membership in a galactic confederation, not unlike the one in David Brin's Startide series, or perhaps in Keith Laumer's Retief stories. A variety of aliens with their own agendas have embassies in Washington, including the friendly canineiform Paquils, the reproductively disgusting (and profligate) Kathungi, and those weaselly little carnivore control freaks, the Nidu. The Nidu are a rung or two up the galactic caste system from us, and not to be trusted further than you can throw a Panda, which they'd probably enjoy barbecued, and who communicate nuance by exuding various scents at each other. When a Terran diplomat kills the head of the Nidu trade delegation by (there's really no delicate way to say this) farting foul phrases at him, Earth finds itself looking at the wrong end of a fleet of Nidu battleships. We're seriously outgunned, so pretty much anything they want is an offer we can't refuse. Fortunately, all they want is a little favor.

It so happens that the Nidu need a sheep for their next coronation ceremony, and not just any sheep...they need one genetically provable to be from a strain known as (wait for it) The Android's Dream. Unfortunately the breed is dying off faster than fleas in sheep dip. Now, if all this strains the reader's credibility, that's ok, because it totally boggles the mind of the book's protagonist, Harry Creek, one time soldier, long time hacker and official deliverer of bad news to alien ambassadors. But that's ok, it's politics. And as you should all know by now, politics may not make sense...but only because the real game is kept out of view.

With the help of the AI reincarnation of his best friend Brian, who died during a battle fought for our allies the Nidu, Harry sets out to find the required sheep. Somebody is a step ahead of him, and pretty soon every flock on the planet has been wiped out. What the bad guys don't know, and Harry's AI buddy manages to figure out, is that there's still one last reservoir of the genuine genome alive, even if it's not traditionally packaged. Suddenly pet store owner Robin Baker, who is the offspring of some truly weird Isle of Dr. Moreau style experiments and some deeply kinky debauchery, is the most wanted girl in the galaxy. Before Harry has a chance to break the bad news to her, she asks him for a date to the mall. For a first date it goes pretty well, considering that he has to fend off a team of hitmen and take on the job of shepherd in order to keep her alive. Then he has to figure out what to do with her, especially considering that the coronation ceremony has traditionally resulted in the sacrifice of the sheep, and both Robin and Harry agree that would be baaaad.

But wait, there's more.

Add to the mix a coup attempt (or several), the actions of a secret religious cult based on the writings of a 21st century SF author, interdepartmental warfare within the DC Beltway, a cruise ship full of veterans of the battle of Pajhmi, a crone in a computer that's either going to jump Harry's AI's bones or teach it a lesson is won't forget, and a war between an entire planet and a single sovereign sheep. Stir well and enjoy.

What I liked about The Android's Dream, apart from the engaging characters and action that are a hallmark of the author's work, was the way it all built up to its punchline. Though I've enjoyed the two previous novels, Old Man's War and The Shadow Brigade, I thought each started off with a good idea and trailed off a bit. The Android's Dream does the opposite, wandering around in the meadow for a while before being corralled by the sheepdog of a plot and taking off at a gallop. I'm convinced that this book was written from the punch line backwards to the beginning, which is the only way all the disparate elements could have tied together so well at the end. In terms of the action, the only regret I have is that the author didn't make more use of the cruise ship of vets, though it's not like they don't get in a few good licks.

If you're a fan of Keith Laumer's Retief of the CDC, or Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry of the Terran Empire, or just John Scalzi's writing, be it book or blog, you'll enjoy the highjinks in The Android's Dream. Despite the improbable circumstances of the story, it's a great read, and nothing to be sheepish about liking.

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