The fate of a cult-like religion, an alien race's noble class, and interstellar stability in general all hinge on finding a particular sheep in John Scalzi's The Android's Dream.
It started with flatulence. Admittedly, it was carefully scented flatulence emitted by a technologically-enhanced rectum, but the principle is the same. A traitorous official emitted a grave scent-based insult to the senior-most trade delegate of Earth's greatest ally, the Nidu. After both parties end up dead on the floor (though perhaps not as one would expect), the Nidu offer the government of Earth one chance to head off an interstellar incident: bring them a sheep. To successfully complete their coronation ceremony, they need a genetically-modified, 'Android's Dream' sheep.
But someone's been killing off these sheep. Rather efficiently, in fact. All the specimens the Nidu have were wiped out by a virus, and a band of sheep-assassins have been cleaning up the remaining hybrids on Earth.
Harry Creek is a veteran of one of the most brutal slaughters in the history of Earth's interstellar military. He now has a rather unenviable job for the government, but he's good at it and doesn't mind it terribly much. One of his old military buddies calls him in to find one last creature with the Android's Dream DNA. But beyond her unruly curly hair, she doesn't have all that much in common with her mother.
There's a lot going on in this book, but the best part is turning the pages to see what comes next. To keep from ruining any of the surprises, I'll simply say that the story involves a ghost in the machine (or two...), two religions spun off of the same hoax, and an alien on a spiritual journey which seems to involve eating quite a few people.
Best known for his 'Old Man's War' series, John Scalzi has combined humor, satire and science fiction in a way that most people fail miserably at. With laugh out loud absurdity reminiscent of Douglas Adams at his finest, The Android's Dream is a modern science fiction classic.
Highs: The portrayal of Judge Sn at the tribunal is spot-on for many lower-level members of the bar out there.
Lows:The reader is hit with so many ideas so fast that whiplash is a definite possibility.
Verdict: In the genre of science fiction humor, this belongs in the top tier.
Further Reading: Divine Misfortune, Judge Sn Goes Golfing