When prospector Jack Holloway uncovers a seam of sunstones on a planet owned by the Zarathustra Corporation, he thinks he’s set for life. Sunstones are incredibly rare and valuable and his find is quite possibly the largest cache ever found. That is until he meets the ‘Fuzzies’, a cat-like race of creatures never before seen on the planet.
While Jack at first thinks the Fuzzies are cute critters, his feeling begins to change after more observation. The Fuzzies might be smarter than previously thought. They might even be sentient. And therein lies the problem – a sentient race means Zarathustra Corp has to stop exploiting the sunstones, a prospect that neither the corporation nor Jack finds too appealing and that some are willing to go to extremes to prevent.
Thus we are introduced to Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s 1963 Hugo-nominated novel Little Fuzzy. On his website (and an author’s note at the front of the book), Scalzi makes clear that Fuzzy Nation is a “reimagining of story and events” of the original story. Little Fuzzy, technically, falls into the public domain but Scalzi went the extra step to get the permission of the Piper estate. Fuzzy Nation, however, stands alone and does not require any knowledge of Piper’s work to enjoy.
The protagonist, Jack Holloway, is a complex character – a man with a checkered past and his own set of morals that remain a question up until the very last pages. He is not a good man, as he would say, but he is the right man. Aside from Jack, we’re introduced to a well-rounded cast including an ex-girlfriend biologist, an assortment of company lawyers (some good, some bad), and the usual corporate evil-doers. While the book is too short for serious character development (it clocks in at 304 pages), each of the characters works well and serves their purpose. By far my favorite was Judge Soltan, a dead-ringer of Judge Sn from Scalzi’s earlier work, The Android’s Dream.
The plot of Fuzzy Nation is somewhat straightforward, and I knew what was going to eventually happen, but it left me turning pages until I was a late-night book-zombie. The last half of the book practically zooms by with the stakes growing ever larger and the drama rising.
Is Fuzzy Nation Scalzi’s best work? No. There are occasional flaws, but overall he always produces something highly entertaining and thought-provoking. As a stand-alone, it took me for an fun, enjoyable ride.
And for me, well, that is why I read books.
Astute readers might notice that I failed to mention comparisons to the original Little Fuzzy. There’s a good reason for that – I’ve never read it. Growing up, I was more of a fantasy fan than science-fiction so the name H. Beam Piper never came up nor did it when I later got into sci-fi.
I also purposely did not want to read the original until after having read Scalzi’s adaptation. In part, I didn’t want any spoilers and also, I wanted to see if the new story could draw me in. Think of it as my test to see if a new reader could get into the universe. I got the chance to read Little Fuzzy only after reading the ARC I received of Fuzzy Nation. The characters are slightly different as is the plot but neither of those really mattered. Most importantly, reading one does not spoil the other.
I’m fairly confident when I say that fans of the original will be happy with Fuzzy Nation. It is a faithful adaptation and updating, written with the humor and style we’ve come to expect from Scalzi and a touch of Piper. A challenging task, but fortunately Scalzi is an author who can pull it off and he does not disappoint.
Fuzzy Nation hits stores on May 10th and is a perfect fit for the shelf that enjoys smart stories and a throwback to the olden days of sci-fi.