Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, but times are tough in Chicago and he is struggling to make ends meet. His job is bound by strict rules, after all murdering people in order to save their lives is a complicated business, but when the bills start to stack up some of those "grey area" gigs become more attractive. As we experienced in the first novella, The Dispatcher, for an unknown reason it has become almost impossible to murder anyone as 99.9% of the time when someone is murdered their body disappears and they find themselves back at home alive and well with full knowledge of their death. Society has had 12 years to come to grips with this new reality and people are starting to get creative in how they take advantage of this phenomenon. This makes life complicated for Tony and his potential side gigs because he really could use the money.
Nobody can explain why, but it has become almost impossible to murder someone. In this new reality for humankind, 999 times out of 1000 when a person is murdered their body just disappears and they reappear back in their home, alive and well. They have full memory of the events that led to their death but in all other ways they are in the physical state they were in 12-24 hours prior to their demise. Of course this fundamentally changes human society and this short novella tells the story of a "missing person" police investigation which takes place within this interesting new world.
Fuzzy Nation is a modern take on the classic tale of a large corporation exploiting natural resources for profit, destroying the environment in the process, and then running into an environmental snag. In this case the exploitation happens to be occurring on a distant planet and the snag is the discovery of a new life form that mucks up the works. Because these new creatures are small and furry they are given the name "Fuzzies" and the bulk of this story is the ensuing legal battle between scientists and lawyers over whether or not the Fuzzies are sapient. Of course if they are deemed sapient then interplanetary law dictates that the corporation must stop exploiting their home world and leave it to them, so vast sums of money are at stake on the outcome. Don't be fooled into thinking that a legal battle must be boring as John Scalzi injects his usual amount of humor into the tale and makes this a fun short story that doesn't outstay its welcome.
Book 3 of the Old Man's War series unites the main characters from the first 2 books, John Perry and Jane Sagan, and jumps ahead to their retirement on the peaceful colony of Huckleberry. Of course their relaxed existence is disrupted as interstellar politics and conspiracies take over and they find themselves facing one impossible challenge after another. The Conclave plot line from earlier in the series finally picks up steam and the stakes get ever larger as the story goes on. All of this makes for an interesting enough premise but in the end author John Scalzi just didn't keep me immersed this time around.
This is the second book in the Old Man’s War series but it is a stand-alone story that can be read on its own. I still recommend that you read Old Man's War first just to have additional context about the universe although only a few characters appear in both books. The main character from the first book is CDF soldier John Perry and in that story the legendary Special Forces only play a background role, but in this book the Special Forces take over the main storyline. Known only as the Ghost Brigades, the Special Forces are composed of an elite breed of human soldier enhanced by a myriad of "upgrades." Very little is actually known about these soldiers throughout the rest of the CDF so it is time to find out what they are actually capable of.
The Yherjak are an alien race that has traveled for many years across the galaxy to reach Earth with a plan to make first contact with us. Being a benevolent people they decide take it slowly and they spend time monitoring our communications in order to figure out how best to proceed with reaching out. After careful study of our culture they realize that their appearance, a translucent gelatinous mess, combined with the fact that they communicate through smells, bad ones at that, will likely result in a poor first contact scenario. Since the Yherjak have dedicated many years of their lives to making successful contact with us they are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure it goes well. Of course that means that they hire a top Hollywood agent to represent them and handle their introduction to the rest of the planet. :)
No? How about if they could make you young again? In the future, the Colonial Defense Force recruits 75 year olds to fill their ranks. Rumor has it that if you sign up for a tour of duty then they will make you young again; however, since nobody that joins the CDF ever returns to Earth, it's hard to know for sure. Joining the CDF is a minimum 2 year commitment that can be extended for up to 10 years and not surprisingly, many people decide to go for it. After all, isn't it worth trading your next 10 years on Earth as a 75 year old up for 10 years of combat in space? It sure is worth it but what if the rumors aren't true? Well, there is only one way to find out for sure.
There is a lot to like about Redshirts and John Scalzi creates an interesting meta-universe that gives a backstory to all of the disposable extras the filled many an episode of Star Trek. The book pokes fun at a storied television franchise and goes from silly to absurd as the junior crew members do what they can to avoid going on away missions. These crew members are more savvy than the original redshirts and they fully understand their odds of returning from an away mission when they go down to a planet along with more important ship personnel. Seeing things from the perspective of an "extra" is somewhat unique and one inside joke after another keeps things entertaining.