When You Shouldn’t Read John Scalzi

Like many readers, I became a fan of John Scalzi after reading his Old Man’s War. It’s a wonderful book and it led me on to his others. I’ve now read most of his novels and even had the pleasure of writing the introduction to a collection of his film essays, 24 Frames into the Future: Scalzi on Science Fiction Films. However as I told him when we met at a World Con, I could not read Agent to the Stars.Why? As a science fiction/Hollywood satire it was made for me. That was the problem. I was working on my own science fiction/Hollywood satire and I didn’t want to be influenced by someone else’s. I recalled the story of William Gibson running out of a movie theater showing “Blade Runner” because, at the time, he was in the middle of working on Neuromancer and he didn’t want the competing vision in his head.

However in January my novel Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide finally came out and at last I was free. I’ve just finished Scalzi’s book and while it’s a very different story there are enough similarities that I might have become seriously disillusioned if I had read it prior to finishing mine.

I’m not going to offer a side by side comparison. I found it an enjoyable spoof of the movie business from an odd angle (the protagonist, Tom Stein, is a talent agent) with a genuinely likable, if unusual, alien in Joshua, a shapeless blob who is able to meld with other creatures. One thing we do share in our respective books is a desire to make the aliens not only friendly but possessing a real sense of humor.

Ultimately Scalzi (in his introduction) calls this an early work, where he was trying to see if he could write a novel. He has since proven that many times over. I’m glad I finally got to read it and I can only hope if I get another idea for a novel, he doesn’t get there first.

(This article originally appeared on Daniel M. Kimmel’s GoodRead’s blog.)

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