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Literature / The Android's Dream

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The Android's Dream is a 2006 science fiction novel by John Scalzi.

20 Minutes into the Future, Earth and its colonies are a low-ranking member of the Common Confederation, a multi-species galactic political union, similar to the old United Nations, having completed its probationary period only a few decades ago. Among humanity's trade partners and military allies are the Nidu, a reptilian empire with a strict hierarchical clan-based social structure. The Nidu themselves are seen by most CC members as a Third World nation, but humanity is an even weaker Third World nation.

During routine trade negotiations between the United Nations of Earth and the Nidu, a human diplomat kills a Nidu dignitary in a very... unusual manner, himself dying from a heart attack moments later, brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle coupled with a hysterical bout of laughter. The Nidu ambassador to Earth informs the UNE government that the only way make things nice between the two races is to provide the Nidu an extremely rare breed of genetically-engineered sheep, called the Android's Dream, for the coronation of the new Nidu Fehen. Without the sheep, the coronation cannot proceed, and the resulting infighting among the Nidu clans will likely spill over onto Earth and its colonies. The coronation is set to take place in a week, giving the government very little time in which to find and deliver one of the rare sheep.


Ben Javna, an aide to the Secretary of State Jim Heffer, is tasked with finding the sheep, while keeping the whole thing under wraps. Ben asks an old childhood friend, an ex-soldier named Harry Creek, to do the search, as Ben himself is too high profile a figure. Harry, with the help of an AI made from a digitized copy of the brain of Brian Javna, Ben's younger brother and Harry's best friend, who was killed in battle years ago, starts looking, unaware of just how many players are involved in this particular interstellar game.


The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Harry Creek is introduced giving two bad news to the Kathungi Cultural Attache: his wife's visa has been denied; the reason why it was denied is because she has entered into her fertility cycle... something that can only be initiated by a male.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: At the beginning a cult called the Nugentians is mentioned who practice bow hunting as a sacred act and keep the preserved body of their founder as a relic, dressed in a loincloth
  • All Men Are Perverts: Averted with Brian, at least as an AI. While he tends to usually think of himself as a virtual person, he's really just an incredibly complex computer program. One of the first offers that Andrea makes to Brian upon meeting (and hacking) him is whether he would be interested in a "fuck". At that point, Brian is too shocked to be thinking of sex, even if it's, basically, two computer programs just pretending.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Archie's lover and fellow church member Sam Berlant is never referred to by gender pronouns, making it unclear if they're a homosexual or heterosexual couple.
  • Apologetic Attacker: After getting to know Archie and bonding over their respective spiritual quests, Takk is really regretful over being forced to eat him. Archie forgives him, though, merely asking him to let his lover Sam know that he loves them.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: While the Nidu ambassador to Earth Narf-win-Getag is not that bad (besides the fact that he's a Magnificent Bastard, who has been working with Jean Schroeder to start a war between humanity and the Nidu), Lars-win-Getag, a trade delegate, has a history of starting fights with random humans over perceived slights, mostly caused by him misinterpreting smells unintentionally given off by them as deliberate insults. Dirk Moeller exploits this by deliberately giving off specially-modulated smells that drive Lars into an uncontrollable rage, resulting in a brain aneurysm.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Secretary of Defense Pope lets himself be used by Schroeder to help sabotage Human-Nidu relations due to recognizing that being associated with the unpopular (yet still stronger) Nidu society is turning humanity into an intergalactic joke. Once those relations are thoroughly sabotaged, the Nidu send their entire armada (which could annihilate the humans space navy without even trying to blockade Earth. To his credit, Pope is quick to admit how badly he's screwed up and join Ben in trying to salvage the mess.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Arthur Montgomery creates a menagerie of animal-human hybrids catering to some...very specific tastes. When he's murdered and the news gets out, a large number of his "clients" commit suicide rather than face a world that knows their predilections.
  • Bluff the Impostor: At one point, Harry Creek (Caucasian) is in hiding on a cruise ship for veterans of the Battle of Pajmhi under the name of "Hiroki Toshima". He claims to be adopted, but the other attendees rightly consider this extremely suspicious, and try to trip him up by mentioning some fake commanding officers he might have known. Since Creek actually was a veteran of this battle, he is able to answer these questions correctly. He still doesn't end up fooling anyone that he's really Toshima, but it earns him the chance to explain himself later rather than being immediately confronted or arrested.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: As part of Narf-win-Getag's coup, two auf-Getag officials are killed by those closest to them (trusted bodyguards in one case and a long-time butler in another) thanks to Narf promising planetary governorships to the bodyguards and the butler finding out about his master's xenophiliac preferences.
  • Brain Uploading: When they were in high school, Harry and Brian snuck into a lab and scanned Brian's brain with a quantum imager. After Brian's death, Harry used the extremely-detailed scans to design a one-of-a-kind "intelligence agent" with Brian's personality.
    • Brian later encounters Andrea Hayter-Ross, a billionaire who also underwent a similar procedure a century earlier, although without quantum imagers, the process was long, painful, and extremely taxing, resulting in Andrea's physical death (she was near death anyway). Upon "awakening" as a virtual entity, Andrea immediately hid her presence from everyone, preferring to stay out of worldly affairs and observe people.
    • By the end of the novel, Brian takes over the Nidu computer network and holds the Nidu military and government hostage until they recognize Robin as their new Fehen. Since he is considered to be a member of the Robin Baker Clan, there is no way for any Nidu clan to wipe out the Robin Baker Clan, as that would necessitate destroying, pretty much, every networked piece of technology in Nidu territory.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Robin's adoptive parents came from a town with only five families and a lot of inbreeding. They promptly moved away but were told that they had enough common DNA to make their doctor strongly advise against conceiving a child, causing them to become foster parents instead.
  • Contrived Coincidence: After Harry and Robin manage to escape the planet on a cruise liner rented out by the veterans of the Battle of Pajmhi (and Harry happens to be one), they figure they're in the clear, until one of the other vets takes a group photo and sends it to his regiment newsletter. The newsletter then sends out the picture to all ex-rangers, including Rod Acuna, who happens to be looking for them.
  • Cool Starship: Glar-class destroyers are the most powerful warships in the Nidu Space Navy. While the Nidu are a sub-par power on a galactic scale, these destroyers were designed by the Hamgp, a race known for producing the best ships in the known galaxy. The Nidu have eight of them, which cost them a significant percentage of their GDP, and they make up a huge portion of the Nidu military strength. According to UNE military analysts, the most favorable simulations of how well Earth's flagship the UNES John Paul Jones would stand up in a fight against a Glar have it lasting sixteen whole minutes before being overwhelmed, and even those assume a freak power loss on the enemy ship, which is extremely unlikely to happen.
    • After becoming Fehen, Robin has two of these gifted to Earth as reparations for the hostilities, thus significantly raising humanity's status in the CC, while simultaneously lowering the Nidu's, since this leaves them with only four (two having been destroyed during the coup attempt).
  • The Cracker: Archie McClellan is a hacker (whose parents named him after a search engine), whose day job is that of a contractor for various state departments, specializing in legacy systems.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Battle of Pajmhi turned out this way for UNE forces. The planet Chagfun, where the battle took place, is a Nidu colony, whose natives, along with the Nidu garrison there, rebelled against Nidu rule. Since Earth has a military alliance with the Nidu, the Nidu called in a marker, resulting in hundreds of thousands of human men and women being sent there to defeat the rebels. However, the Nidu demanded to have overall command of the campaign, not realizing that the rebels were spying on their military network. So, when the UNE forces made planetfall on the plain of Pajmhi, the rebels ambushed them and slaughtered tens of thousands of soldiers before the rest were pulled out. The UNE then told the Nidu to clean up their own mess, resulting in the Nidu employing their patented planet crackers, turning the entire area into a smoldering volcano and causing a mini ice age on the planet. Harry Creek is a survivor of that battle, but he is suffering from Survivor's Guilt, especially since his best friend Brian Javna died there. Brian's brother Ben is grateful to Harry that he managed to return Brian's body to Earth for a proper burial, since so many bodies were left on Chagfun.
    • As weak as the Nidu are on the galactic scale, they are still far stronger than humanity. It's stated that, if even one of their Glar-class destroyers attacks Earth, the only possible way Earth's entire military would be able to stop it is through a series of Contrived Coincidences. Two Glars would lay waste to the planet and make it uninhabitable with planet crackers. Everyone in the UNE government gives a massive Oh, Crap! upon learning that no less than six Glar-class destroyers have left their station and jumped into null space.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Or rather embarrassing origins of a first name. Archie's twin sister Veronica was also named after a search engine, something that she apparently worked hard to hide from her friends in the popular crowd. This was subverted with Archie himself, who found the origins of his name to be cool.
  • Everything Is Online: Intentionally done with the Nidu computer network. After being gifted it by a human company, the Nidu Fehen decrees that all Nidu technology be tied into the network, thus enforcing the strict hierarchy of the Nidu. The Fehen is capable of shutting off a particular piece of technology anywhere in Nidu territory or do it on the scale of a planet. Even Nidu soldiers are unable to use their weapons in battle, unless the officer in command unlocks them first through the network. While the network has excellent security to protect it from outside attacks, Robin intentionally tells the network to allow the AI known as Brian Javna to enter it, allowing Brian to take over the network and paralyze the Nidu society in a matter of seconds.
  • Evil Plan: Narf-win-Getag's plot to take over Nidu and Earth, and Harry Creek's plot to thwart the Nidu.
  • The Federation: The Common Confederation (CC for short) is a loose multi-species union similar to the modern-day UN.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Real meat, from an actual animal, is said to be vanishingly rare, with most people preferring to eat "vatted meat," a lab-grown meatlike substance that "never required the butchering of an animal, or even the participation of any sort of animal outside of the purely mythical."
  • Future Slang: Not really slang, but the terms for certain devices (which we already have) seem to have changed by the time the novel takes place. This includes calling smartphones "communicators" (although, to be fair, this is the term already used in several languages for the device) and 3D printers "fabricators".
  • Gunship Rescue: Just as a Nidu gunship is about to blast Harry and Robin's Escape Pod, the UNES British Columbia arrives to block the smaller ship.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Robin Baker, a pet store owner, turns out to be 18% sheep, specifically of the Android's Dream genotype. Her mother was a genetically-engineered human/sheep hybrid, bred to satisfy the sexual preferences of certain people. The same man who created the hybrid also induced the hybrid's pregnancy, tweaking the fetus's DNA to be mostly human. In fact, Robin looks, acts, and feels completely human. The sheep DNA is all of the "junk" kind (i.e. inactive). When the Nidu find out, they sue the UNE for ownership of Robin. Ben Javna counters by pointing out that Robin is not human but a member of a new species and is thus protected under Common Confederation law.
  • Happily Adopted: Robin had a good relationship with her adoptive parents.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Just as Acuna is about to shoot Creek, Takk decides that he's done working for the bad guys and swallows Acuna whole. He then becomes a devout follower of the Church of the Evolved Lamb and Robin's personal bodyguard.
    • Corrupt Bureaucrat Phipps also starts displaying more integrity once the Nidu Fleet is threatening Earth, earnestly discussing how to handle Robin's court case with Ben, and refusing to join Schroeder after being told his entire plan and offered a place in it.
  • Hidden Wire: When asked to work on a secret project involving the Android's Dream sheep, Archie turns to his superiors in the Church of the Evolved Lamb, who advice him to take the job but also use a recording device to secretly notify the Church of his findings. Instead of a wire, it's a vial of eye drops with recording nanobots. In order to transmit the data, he has to walk up to the nearest vending machine (most of which are owned by one of the Church's companies) and press the B-4 button, which will trigger the download process (extremely painful). The "wire" is eventually discovered by Rod Acuna, after he witnesses Archie writhing on the floor when the button is pressed. He then proceeds to press it several dozen more times to torture Archie for information.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Dirk Moeller's father died of a heart attack, largely caused by his all-meat-all-the-time diet. However, Dirk has always blamed the Nidu. He then continued to stick to his father's diet, ignoring doctors and everyone around him. When he manages to avenge his father by killing a Nidu dignitary, the excitement and a bout of laughter results in him following in his father's footsteps all the way into the grave.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Dave Phipps, the aide to the Secretary of Defense, refuses to go along with Jean Schroeder and Narf-win-Getag's plan to cause a war between humanity and the Nidu to put both Magnificent Bastards in charge of their respective races. When Dave expresses doubt that Jean would kill him, Jean simply has Narf do it by impaling Dave with two Nidu spears from the back. After all, Narf is the Nidu ambassador to Earth and thus has diplomatic immunity.
  • In a Single Bound: When Robin asks Harry out on a date, she invites him to the Arlington Mall to try out a new sport called WallBall, which is an odd mix of basketball coupled with special shoes that allow you to jump really high. During the fight with Acuna and his men, Harry successfully uses the shoes offensively to both jump to and from the mall's second floor and launch himself at his enemies. The shoes are designed to stop working a certain distance away from the glass cube where the game takes place.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Andrea explains to Brian that, over the century of being a virtual person, she has gotten lonely and horny, usually relieving the need by manifesting virtual partners for sex. She does admit, though, that it's just a fancy way to masturbate and wonders if Brian would be interested in having sex with her.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: It's revealed that Brian Javna's death at the Battle of Pajmhi was partly his own fault, as he charged a retreating enemy, ignoring his sergeant and Harry screaming at him to get back, only to fall into an ambush.
  • Lizard Folk: The Nidu are an upright-walking reptilian race. While they primarily communicate by speaking, they can also communicate subtext via precisely-modulated odors. They are a clan-based society, with the ruling clan imposing a strict hierarchy and exerting a totalitarian control over everything.
  • Loophole Abuse: After discovering the existence of Robin Baker, the Nidu sue the Earth government for ownership of "the hybrid", claiming that she's not human and is thus the property of the Nidu government. Ben Javna represents UNE in CC court on the matter. He ends up one-upping the Nidu representative by declaring that Robin Baker is not human and that she's a new sentient species and is thus protected under CC law. The judge can't resist Ben's tempting suggestion to create a precedent (in the long history of CC, there has not been a need for new precedents in many centuries) and rules in his favor. On the flipside, this would still allow the Nidu to get their hands on Robin, as they can now declare war on her as a foreign nation and take her as prisoner.
  • Murder-Suicide: Corrupt Corporate Executive Arthur Montgomery attempts to blackmail another CEO, Zach Porter, with the information that Porter has been frequenting what amounts to a zoophiliac brothel and, in doing so, has impregnated a sheep/human hybrid; rather than fold, Porter chooses this option.
    • Narf-win-Getag blackmails an auf-Getag official with the knowledge that said official likes having sex with aliens (a big taboo in Nidu culture) and then informs his more conservative butler. The butler lets his master know of his displeasure with a shotgun blast to the face and then, as befits a proper Nidu servant, turns the gun on himself.
  • Noodle Incident: Apparently, there is a long and detailed story behind how Quaker Oats became the largest mainstream information and technology system in the world, but the narrative doesn't elaborate beyond that.
  • Realpolitik: Hubu-auf-Getag, the next in line for the title of Fehen, is a realist above all. After Robin Baker becomes Fehen and he is told that she will need a capable governor to handle all Nidu affairs in her stead, he agrees to her conditions and accepts her as his Fehen.
  • Retired Badass: Harry Creek may not look it, but he's ex-army and a survivor of the bloodiest battle in UNE history. His current job involves giving bad news to alien visitors (frequently in regards to denied visas). This is demonstrated at the fight in the Arlington Mall, when he manages to single-handedly beat the crap out of Rod Acuna and his people despite not being armed.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After killing Dave Phipps, Narf-Win-Getag asks Jean Schroeder what he would have done if Phipps had decided to join them. Jean says he would have had him killed anyway, since he took bribes, and therefore couldn't be trusted. Narf-Win-Getag points out that Phipps took bribes from Jean, which Jean says is how he knows how untrustworthy Phipps was.
  • Scam Religion: The Church of the Evolved Lamb started out as one, and they don't deny it. But a number of them genuinely believe that the con artist who wrote the so-called "prophecies" may have accidentally tapped into some universal truth and are determined to make them come true. The others believe that it's all hogwash and are just waiting for the rest to see it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The name of the novel and the titular sheep breed is a reference to the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Within the novel itself, the Nidu ambassador briefly comments on the sheep breed name being somehow significant but that he doesn't recall how.
    • Colonel Jim Van Doren is briefly mentioned later in the novel. This is a reference to Scalzi's own Agent to the Stars, where an Intrepid Reporter of the same name plays a crucial part in the plot.
    • The feckless Secretary of Trade is a Mr. Theodore Logan Preston Soram VI.
  • Smart Gun: All Nidu military technology (except grenades) is linked into a single strictly hierarchical network (designed by humans, no less). A Nidu soldier can't fire his gun without requesting and receiving approval from his superior officer. The Nidu Fehen has ultimate authority on the network and can disable a particular weapon anywhere in Nidu space. A Nidu soldier's rifle is biometrically coded to the soldier it has been issued to. Borrowed Biometric Bypass is an option, though.
  • Space Navy: Earth has a fledgling battle fleet that can't hope to stand up to any serious (or even semi-serious) galactic power. Even someone as low-ranked as the Nidu is likely to crush UNE ships without too much effort. It's mentioned that, with a more defense-minded government and several decades of development and military expansion, Earth's military would easily rival that of the Nidu, whose own Space Navy is primarily focused on the eight Glar-class destroyers they have purchased from the Hamgp. Interestingly, the most powerful ships in the Nidu fleet are called "destroyers", while the UNE fleet has battlecruisers, which are hardly equal to the Glars.
  • Succession Crisis: By Nidu custom, after the death of the Fehen, his successor (from the same clan) must perform the coronation ceremony exactly in order to affirm his status. The ceremony is set up by each new clan when it comes to power. The current royal auf-Getag clan has incorporated sheep of the Android's Dream genotype into the ceremony and has claimed that all sheep of that kind are exclusive property of the auf-Getag clan on the pain of death. Should the royal clan fail to perform the ceremony properly, the several closest clans are then given the opportunity to do the same. If one of them succeeds, then this clan becomes the new royal clan (and set up a new ceremony, usually involving a clan-specific relic). If they also fail, then the challenge is opened to up all Nidu clans. If it's utterly impossible for any clan to perform the ceremony, then the crisis can lead to a civil war. Narf-win-Getag has set up this current crisis by having his associates poison every Android's Dream sheep owned by the auf-Getag clan. His human accomplices then do the same with every illegal Android's Dream sheep on Earth and its colonies. Narf then plans to use Robin Baker to complete the ceremony, thus putting the win-Getag clan in power and crowning himself as Fehen. The crisis is eventually resolved (sort of) when Robin declares herself the new Fehen.
  • Swallowed Whole: Nagch males are able to split themselves open and stuff an entire human into their huge digestive cavity. It takes several minutes for the hydrochloric acid to completely digest a person, although certain things don't get digested, requiring the Nagch to spit them out afterwards. While they normally don't consume sentient beings, young males are typically sent out on a pilgrimage of sorts, during which killing and eating sentient beings does not count as a sin in their culture (it's still a crime, though).
  • Thrown from the Zeppelin'': When the Big Bad tries to recruit sleazy State Department official Phipps into his conspiracy. Phipps denounces him as a traitor and offers him a chance at redemption. A minute later, Phipps is dead, although the Big Bad suggests that he would have killed him even if he’d said yes, due to being unable to trust a man who took bribes.
    Schroeder: Last chance, pal. Join the club.
    Phipps: Or what? You're going to kill me? Be serious, Jean. If it came to that, I could break your neck while you were still trying to get up off that chair.
    Schroeder: Oh yes, you were Special Forces, and I'm just a soft Ivy Leaguer. I remember that. You're right, of course. I could never kill you. It would be foolish of me to try. I could never get away with it. But I know someone who could.
    Cue Phipps being stabbed In the Back.
  • United Nations Is a Superpower: The modern-day UN has grown into the much more powerful United Nations of Earth (UNE) with its own government structure and military forces. The old nation-states still exist, but UNE authority supersedes theirs, even extending to off-world colonies.
  • Virtual Sidekick: Harry Creek creates an AI version of his dead best friend Brian in order to help him on his quest to find the last Android's Dream sheep.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: After discovering the existence of Robin Baker, the Nidu file charges with the Common Confederation District Court to have her declared their property due to 18% of her DNA having come from the Android's Dream sheep genotype, the exclusive property of the royal auf-Getag clan. Ben Javna counters by claiming that Robin Baker is not human, and that she is a members of an entirely new species and is thus protected by CC law.
    • Zach Porter's widow and in-laws, who are fundamentalist Christians and vocally anti-abortion, refuse to let the authorities terminate the pregnancy of the sheep hybrid on the grounds that it's a human life. However, neither the doctor nor the veterinarian overseeing the birth seem unduly pressed about saving the sheep hybrid herself, and she dies giving birth.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The entire series of events, dating back many decades, have been orchestrated by the Church of the Evolved Lamb to bring about their Messiah and fulfill their main prophecy. This includes giving the Nidu their all-encompassing computer network via one of their child companies.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Narf-win-Getag personally chokes Jean Schroeder to death, when Harry demands that he cut Schroeder out. The latter protests, and Narf calmly tells him that he no longer needs the human.
    • Also, after blackmailing a high-ranking member of the Nidu government, Narf has the man's own butler shoot him.