Starter Villain by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
John Scalzi has a reputation for writing fast-paced, breezy science fiction with snarky characters and snappy repartee, and this book will only add to that. A couple of his books (
) tackle weightier themes while still carrying on that tradition, and I prefer those books. But this one is certainly entertaining enough, and I laughed out loud several times.
For this particular book, both the title and cover are spot-on at conveying the contents, even if you don't make the connections in the story right away. Charlie Fitzer is a down on his luck substitute teacher trying to regroup after a divorce who comes into a questionable inheritance from his estranged uncle Jake Baldwin. Jake, as it turns out, is a secretive wheeler-dealer trillionaire and supervillain working behind the scenes to manipulate world events and economies, and after his death Charlie, his only surviving relative, gets dragged into the family "business." This not only involves a very Mafia-like underground cabal, but intelligent genetically engineered talking dolphins and typing cats, and a "volcano lair" in the Caribbean.
Charlie is an ordinary guy thrown into an extraordinary mess, and for the most part he handles it with aplomb. (I can't imagine my reaction to learning my own cat is a sentient being who has been spying on me for years.) He nearly gets killed a couple of times, has to bargain with other supervillains for his life, and discovers he very much does not want to be a part of this world. The story has a very James Bond-ian vibe to it, written in the author's style of dialogue-heavy and description-light. There is an absurdist edge to many of the incidents that inspire laughter, but there is also a fair amount of suspense, especially at the climax. Scalzi is an old pro at that sort of balancing act, and the book is well paced. I don't know if it will (or should) win any awards, but it's a solid, entertaining read.
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