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“Meet the new boss.”

starter villain

In John Scalzi’s novel Starter Villain, Charlie, our central protagonist and all-around average guy,(Cries) Havoc!and lets slip the (cats) of war…

Anyone who has ever had a cat knows that the pernicious and devious felines of the world, no matter the breed, could be either plotting your death or coming for snuggles. And in that same vein of thought, it is not a massive stretch of the imagination that the cats could be the information-gathering entities working for supervillains or that they can talk, own property, or kill you with one claw…etc. I know it is not possible, per se. But it is possible, which makes Starter Villain so much fun to read.

“I didn’t need another cat. At this point in my brilliant career as an itinerant educator I could barely afford to feed myself. But then, no one ever needs a cat these days. That’s not why we have cats. We have cats because they amuse us and because otherwise our clothes would lack the texture only cat hair can provide.” 

The premise of Starter Villains is a straightforward fish-out-of-water story. Our everyman, Charlie, is a divorced substitute teacher trying to keep himself afloat. This simplicity of the idea makes the story easy to follow and latch on to. We like Charlie; readers cheer, including myself, for the kind-hearted underdog, so when Charlie’s long-lost uncle Jake dies and leaves his supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair) to Charlie, I was thinking,yes, go get it Charlie. Go be that badass.” “It’s up to Charlie to win the war his uncle started against a league of supervillains. But with unionized dolphins, hyperintelligent talking spy cats, and a terrifying henchperson at his side, going bad is starting to look pretty good.”

So, what we have here is a James Bond-like setting with a fish out of water named Charlie trying to survive. The pacing is terrific. The story is relatively short but is packed with every conceivable James Bond-like thing you can think of, including talking dolphins. Wise ass shit-talking dolphins, and frankly, any book that has shit-talking dolphins is probably an automatic must-read. I mean.. come on.

“Can we start with the cat?I asked, sitting. CATS, Hera typed. PERSEPHONE IS MY INTERN. Persephone looked at me and mewed.Paid internship, I hope,I joked. OF COURSE, Hera typed back. WE’RE ANIMALS, NOT MONSTERS. I paused.Do you actually get paid?I asked my cat. YES.How much?MORE THAN YOU.” 

Scalzi’s versatility as a writer is truly remarkable. He effortlessly transitions from deep science fiction to light-hearted comedy, engaging readers with his plots, world-building, characters, and pacing. This is why Old Man’s War, a book I read a decade ago, remains one of my favorites. It’s also why I’m not surprised that Starter Villain has been nominated for prestigious awards like the Goodreads Choice award, Locus award, and a Hugo. Please read his books, and most certainly this one.

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

Starter Villain

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