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"Starter Villain" | Reviewed by Nelson Appell

What would you do if your Uncle Jake died and left his business to you? What if, at the funeral, the mourners seemed more interested in stabbing your uncle’s corpse to make sure he was dead than actually mourning Uncle Jake? What if you began to suspect there was more to your uncle’s business than parking garage real estate, and your suspicions were confirmed by your newly-inherited island with a volcano lair? Oh—and there was far more to your cat, Hera, than you could have ever guessed?

If you were everyman Charlie, heading towards imminent homelessness, you would listen to the various pitches that came your way, try to avoid being killed, and figure out how to handle being the heir to a villain’s empire. And you might want to table the labor dispute conversation with the foul-mouthed dolphins.

“Starter Villain” by John Scalzi is a snarky and smart sci-fi thriller featuring cognizant cats, dolphins with attitude, a fish-out-of-water protagonist, and a society of evil billionaires called the Lombardy Convocation.

Charlie has a problem. More than one, actually. But the biggest problem he has is that he has no experience running a billionaire’s empire, particularly when that empire is at odds with the evil Lombardy Convocation, formed as response to the ending of the Boer War in 1902. (War is important business for evil people.) Being assassinated is suddenly a job hazard. What he really wants to do is purchase his favorite pub. What he gets is a lesson in international economics, war and politics. Most of the characters in a John Scalzi novel talk like John Scalzi. That would be a problem if Scalzi wasn’t so smart and funny. It’s a pleasure to watch all these character banter, scheme and snark at each other. It also gives Scalzi a chance to have his characters discuss his takes on the economic theory of assured mutual destruction, labor unions and capitalism, and an intriguing funding request presentation forum known as the “Pitch and Pitch,” among other things.

“Starter Villain” is fast, fun, breezy and smart. There’s a lot going on in the novel, so much so that you don’t notice what is Really going on. There are surprises in store by the time you reach the end.

This novel has cross-over appeal. It should be appreciated by people outside the sci-fi genre.

Give this one a try. Highly Recommended.

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