Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.
So begins John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream: with a fart joke. This might seem like a bad sign, but the situation that plays out in the first chapter manages to turn it into a believable setup for the story, and instead it sets the tone for the rest of the novel as a light, fun affair.
Following the deaths of two minor diplomats in the midst of trade negotiations, Earth finds itself on the brink of war with their alien allies, the Nidu. The only way to diffuse the situation is to provide the Nidu with an item essential for their coronation ceremony: a sheep, of the genetically engineered Android’s Dream breed.
The person chosen to save earth from impending alien occupation is Harry Creek – former soldier, computer whiz, and currently content to work in his inconsequential job as the bearer of bad news. What should be a simple search for livestock, however, soon turns out to be much more difficult: people are out to stop it happening, and the sheep is not quite what anyone was expecting.
The Android’s Dream touches a lot of classic action and sci-fi tropes, from the shootout in a mall (with a twist) and fight through the decks of a cruise ship against boarding soldiers, to interplanetary political scheming, to cyberpunk-style artificial intelligences. Scalzi keeps a good balance between the action, humour, and the more serious details of the plot. The result is a fun, fast-paced read with plenty of interesting ideas, and certainly a lot more to it than a fart joke.