Accodording to Wikipedia, Scalzi first published this in 1999 on his website for free, asking for a $1 donation from those who enjoyed the book. This was his first attempt at a novel. I’m not sure if the current edition has changed much since that initial self-publishing, but as it’s written now this is a fantastic debut.
I wonder if he started with the title and worked back from there? It feels a bit that way, but it worked if that’s the case, so no complaints here. The premise is goofy, but Scalzi doesn’t try to take it too seriously, and once the story gets going you forget all that. A Hollywood agent, Tom Stein, and his boss are recruited by an alien race as they reach earth. In their alien form, they’re unattractive slime and communicate through disgusting, to the human nose, smells. They’ve been studying our media, and have noticed that peaceful aliens tend to be depicted as basically humanoid in appearance, and that every other form of alien is shown with fear and violence. To try and pacify what they think our reaction will be to them, they want these agents to manage their first contact.
I was fully on-board and loving this novel until the last third, where the main character, who up until this point was essentially the voice of reason, starting making decisions that seemed completely out of character. It felt like he was making decisions that Scalzi needed him to make in order to drive the plot forward, rather than decisions that he would actually make, which always rips me right out of a novel. Not only were the decisions morally out of whack, but they would absolutely be detrimental to peacefully introducing the aliens to human society. I wouldn’t say it ruined the book for me, and I get what he was trying to do, but it’s just always disappointing when you’re distracted from enjoying a story by seeing the dodgy mechanics at work underneath.
Apparently Mike Krahulik, of Penny Arcade, illustrated the cover for this novel when it was properly released in 2005. I listened to Wil Wheaton’s narration for the audio book of this, so I unfortunately didn’t get to actually see the cover, but I have no regrets! The audio book was a great listen, the Scalzi/Wheaton team really works for me (except for Redshirts), so I’d certainly recommend that.