In 1997, John Scalzi wrote Agent to the Stars as a “practice book” to figure out if he could write a novel. What a great debut novel it is!
An alien race called the Yherajk (you’ll have to read the book to find out how to pronounce it) starts receiving television broadcasts from Earth, shows like Bonanza, I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch and whatever else fare was on television in the fifties and sixties. Through our television programs, they eventually puzzle together the English language and try to figure out our culture and history. Then they outfit a star ship with a crew of 2000 and set off on a journey to Earth that takes several decades.
Their purpose for the trip is to extend intergalactic friendship to the human race. They are a highly advanced civilization with a superior technology and, of course, interstellar travel. However, when they arrive here they decide they can’t just land on the White House lawn and ask: “Take me to your leader.” There is a little problem – their appearance.
The Yherajk individuals are gelatinous blobs that would fit approximately into a five-gallon paint bucket. They move by extending tentacles out of their bodies and pulling themselves forward by shifting their weight. They can make sounds and “speak” by creating vibrations on their surfaces. But natively they communicate with each other by odors. These odors are perceived as horrible stench by humans. Due to this image problem, they decide that rather than make a big entrance to Earth by landing a spaceship and slithering out stinking things up, they engage a Hollywood agent to prepare Earth for them first.
This agent is Tom Stein, the protagonist of Agent to the Stars, and the novel is narrated from his point of view in the first person.
John Scalzi does a wonderful job creating a story and parading colorful characters, both human and alien, in front of us. Reading this had me laughing out lout at times. I was amused and entertained. What an astonishingly good first novel.