7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Title: Fuzzy Nation

Author: John Scalzi

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: May 2011
Hardcover: 304 Pages

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped–trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute–shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

Stand alone or series: A stand alone novel; reboot of the classic 1963 novel Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

How did I get this book: Review Copy from BEA (and signed by the illustrious Mr. Scalzi himself – whee!)

Why did I read this book: I was in the mood for something different. With a title like Fuzzy Nation, different definitely seemed to be on the docket. Having not read the original novel (or series) on which this reboot is based, I went into Fuzzy Nation with no preconceived notions (or biases) about what to expect…except, well, fuzzies.

Review:

Jack Holloway has always been the best at one thing: looking out for himself. With his latest contract with formidable intergalactic juggernaut ZaraCorp as a prospector on a class III planet hundreds of light years away from Earth, Jack and his trusty dog Carl (whom Jack has taught to detonate explosives) survey the planet for the next big mineral deposit to be explored and exploited for copious amounts of profit. When Jack accidentally blows up a cliff face – much to the frustration of the already PR-beleaguered ZaraCorp – he hits the jackpot. Jack has discovered a seam of the incredibly rare and precious gem sunstones, and as a disbarred lawyer that knows how to finagle his way into the best possible contract, Jack will soon become filthily, disgustingly rich. All that’s left to do is sit back and relax as the credits start rolling in.

Except there’s one small, slightly furry problem. When Jack returns to his makeshift home, he discovers that a strange feline-looking creature has broken in. Offering the admittedly adorable creature food and shelter, the little “fuzzy” soon leads his family to Jack’s outpost. In an attempt to get back on his ex-girlfriend’s good side, Jack invites Isabel (who also happens to be the resident biologist on Zarathustra XXIII) to check out the new, adorable mammalian species. Much to Jack’s chagrin, however, Isabel’s study of the fuzzies leads her to believe that the species is much more than just a new adorable species of intelligent pets. She believes they are sapient – which poses huge problems for ZaraCorp, and for Jack. Should the fuzzies turn out to be sapient creatures, capable of complex thought, reason and communication, ZaraCorp’s E & E license will be revoked immediately, leaving Jack’s potential fortune (and ZaraCorp’s billions of credits of financial security) in sunstone gems untouched. Jack’s got a big decision to make – but will he choose to look out for himself, once again? Or will he become champion of the Fuzzy Nation?

Well, color me impressed. Fuzzy Nation is flat-out fun. It’s the quintessential beach read for the geekish, for the lover of ewoks, for the champion of fanfic. As someone that loves all of these things (yes, even ewoks), reading Fuzzy Nation was a blast. The plot itself is simple and familiar – Big Bad Corporation wants to mine a relatively primitive planet for its incredibly rich resources. Species X – in this case, fuzzies – stands in Big Bad Corp’s way. A fringe group of humans, sympathetic to the fuzzies’ cause, also throw a wrench in the BBC’s machinations. At the end of the day, the greedy bad guys lose, the fuzzy-lovers win, and karmic balance is restored to the Force.[1. Yes, this is the plot of Avatar. It’s also similar to the plots of Pocahontas, Ferngully, Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, and so on and so forth.] Clearly, John Scalzi is pretty damn adept at plotting and storytelling, and Fuzzy Nation is no exception. Effectively playing on familiar tropes and somehow humanizing adorable furry creatures (there’s one section near the end of the book that seriously had me fistpumping in triumph for Papa Fuzzy), this novel completes the task it set out to accomplish by entertaining and emotionally engaging its readers.

But what about those tropes, you ask? You’re tired of reading about big bad ecologically corrupt corporations and righteous aliens and their human lovers, you cry![2. Not to imply that any humans and Fuzzies get it on blue alien style in this book. No. I meant love in the platonic sense, people. Yeesh.] Even if you are tired of this particular type of story, rest assured true believers, that Fuzzy Nation holds a few unexpected and very welcome deviations from the norm. What differentiates this novel from the rabble lies with Mr. Scalzi’s ambiguously motivated protagonist, and in the unexpected courtroom drama aspect of the novel (yes, you read that correctly). Jack Holloway, our intrepid protagonist, is kind of a puzzle. Though he claims to have been disbarred for noble purposes, though he is kind to his dog Carl and a generally easygoing, smarmy type of dude, Jack has a selfish streak. More similar to, say, Han Solo or Sawyer (from Lost), Jack is best at looking out for numero uno, and there are many times over the course of this book where I personally had no idea what exactly Jack would do. Almost more than anything, money seems to motivate Jack Holloway – even the kind actions he performs for the Fuzzies are questionably tainted by the betterment of his own self-interests. This ambiguity is a welcome trait, especially for a protagonist in this type of story (because, let’s face it – the selfless hero type is never as much fun as the renegade with a heart that just might be bought with gold).

The other unexpected and completely welcome aspect to Fuzzy Nation is the courtroom intrigue that colors and determines the fate of the eponymous Fuzzies. As a former corporate lawyer, Jack knows his way around courtrooms and cases, and it’s intriguing that unlike almost every other book or film that uses the Big Bad Corporation vs. Primitive/Indigenous Creatures trope, Fuzzy Nation climaxes not on a battlefield, but in a courtroom. The winners of this war accomplish their feat through bureaucracy, not bloodshed. It’s a pretty cool conceit (even if it is almost completely, utterly unbelievable).

Overall, Fuzzy Nation is a solid, completely entertaining read. One can’t help but wonder if Mr. Scalzi will go the route of Mr. Piper before him, and expand on a fuzzy universe. I’d certainly be up for reading more.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

Jack Holloway set the skimmer to HOVER, swiveled his seat around, and looked at Carl. He shook his head sadly.

“I can’t believe we have to go through this again,” Holloway said. “It’s not that I don’t value you as part of this team, Carl. I do. Really, I do. But I can’t help but think that in some way, I’m just not getting through to you. We’ve gone over this how many times now? A dozen? Two? And yet every time we come out here, it’s like you forget everything you’ve been taught. It’s really very discouraging. Tell me you get what I’m saying to you.”

Carl stared up at Holloway and barked. He was a dog.

“Fine,” Holloway said. “Then maybe this time it will stick.” He reached down into a storage bin and hoisted a mound of putty in one hand. “This is acoustical blasting putty. What do we do with it?”

Carl cocked his head.

“Come on, Carl,” Holloway said. “This is the first thing I taught you. We put it on the side of the cliff at strategic points,” Holloway said. “Just like I already did earlier today. You remember. You were there.” He pointed in the direction of Carl’s Cliff, a massive outcropping of rock, two hundred meters high, with geological striations peeking out of the vegetation covering most of the rock face. Carl followed Holloway’s finger with his eyes, more interested in the finger than in the cliff his master had named for him.

Holloway set down the putty and picked up another, smaller object. “And this is the remote-controlled blasting cap,” he said. “Which we attach to the acoustical blasting putty, so we don’t have to be near the acoustical blasting putty when we set it off. Because that’s boom. How do we feel about boom, Carl?”

Carl got a concerned look on his doggy face. Boom was a word he knew. Carl was not fond of boom.

“Right,” Holloway said. He set down the blasting cap, making sure it was nowhere near the blasting putty, and that the cap receiver was inactive. He picked up a third object.

“And this is the remote detonator,” Holloway said. “You remember this, right, Carl?”

Carl barked.

“What’s that, Carl?” Holloway said. “You want to set off the acoustical blasting putty?”

Carl barked again.

“I don’t know,” Holloway said, doubtfully. “Technically it is a violation of Zarathustra Corporation safe labor practices to allow a nonsentient species member to set off high explosives.”

Carl came up to Holloway and licked his face with a whine that said please please oh please.

“Oh, all right,” Holloway said, fending off the dog. “But this is the last time. At least until you grasp all the fundamentals of the job. No more slacking off and leaving all the hard work to me. I’m paid to supervise. Are we clear?”

Carl barked once more and then backed off, tail wagging. He knew what was coming next.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Additional Thoughts: As mentioned above, Fuzzy Nation is a reboot of Piper’s Hugo nominated Little Fuzzy (which I will be checking out sometime soon).

Gotta love that dated awesomeness.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Heaven’s Shadow by David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt

 

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, nook, kobo, & sony

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11 Comments

  • Christine
    July 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I read Little Fuzzy way back in the dark ages. The idea of a “reboot” by a different author makes me feel…offended. In a “Where does he get off?!” kind of way. It may be a very good book on its own, but I think my loyalty to the original will stand in the way of me ever reading it.

  • janicu
    July 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    This sounds good. It is on the TBR because of BEA, but this review is bumping it up. I love ewoks and a good self-serving hero. Also.. he taught his dog to detonate explosives?! What. I have to read that.

    I recall the panel at BEA where John Scalzi spoke about this book, and he was very funny. I was also wondering about this “reboot”, but he seems to be a real fan of the original and has the blessing of the Piper Estate for FUZZY NATION. Maybe that will allay Christine’s concerns a bit?

  • Thea
    July 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Christine – As I haven’t read the original, I can’t really comment on the treatment of the source material. That said, I have to echo Janicu’s comment above. Scalzi is very clear about his feelings of admiration for the original book, and goes so far as to explain his loving rework in the book’s foreword.

    And sometimes reboots are good! Battlestar Galactica! Star Trek! I hope you get the chance to give Fuzzy Nation a shot – but of course, completely understand if you don’t feel comfortable reading this one.

    Janicu – DUDE. I think you’ll enjoy Fuzzy Naton a lot. (Yes, Carl learns how to detonate explosives – it’s a matter of contention in the book, too. Very fun.) I can’t wait to see what you think!

  • Estara
    July 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Did you see the cool Papa Fuzzy puppet that Mary Robinette Kowal build for John Scalzi?
    http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/process-shots-building-papa-fuzzy-for-john-scalzi/
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/05/18/seattle-surprises/

  • David H.
    July 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    I think anyone who’s offended by this reboot should read what Scalzi himself wrote about it, as Thea said above, it’s clearly a labor of love. He wrote it originally as basically a fan fiction project, happened to mention it to his agent, and they spoke to the H. Beam Piper estate (and/or whoever holds the publishing rights to the sequels, as Little Fuzzy in in the public domain), and got their blessings before selling the book to Tor.

    And honestly, I never even heard of “Little Fuzzy” until Scalzi mentioned he wrote a reboot of it, and I went out and read it. So you should thank him at least for getting people like me to actually look into this author. I read “Fuzzy Nation” a few weeks ago, and while I liked it, I liked it in a different way than Piper’s work. It’s not a REPLACEMENT, after all.

  • Elaine Willis
    July 6, 2011 at 2:15 am

    I agree with Christine. I am not sure I can bring myself to read a reboot of some of my favorite books. However, I am going to dig through my shelves and find the originals for a reread.

  • Gillian Wiseman
    July 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I’ve read the original Little Fuzzy and its sequels many times; H. Beam Piper is a long-time favorite of mine. Personally, while I didn’t dislike “Fuzzy Nation”, I was disappointed by it as a reboot of the original. I thought it missed much of the charm of the Fuzzies themselves, and while the book does suffer from some technological obsolescence, the story is perfectly contemporary in most respects. Anyone who liked this retelling, please read the originals! The courtroom scenes in Little Fuzzy are even MORE dramatic and believable in the original.

  • Genevieve
    February 28, 2012 at 10:38 am

    I’ve read both, the reboot and the original, and I agree with Gillian, it was not as good as the original. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and the author obviously enjoyed writing it. But there were issues I had with it. For example, I did not think changing Holloway from an older loner/adventurer to the morally ambiguous young guy was an improvement on the story. Sure, you could sell this to a movie studio easier than the original, but I’m not going to be cynical and suggest that as a motivation. As a woman in her mid-twenties, I loved that the original hero of the story was an older loner. This reboot makes him into Han Solo, or a thief turned hero which is a theme that seems to pop up in how many fantasy/sci-fi works? Seemingly predominant lately. H Beam Piper’s version is thus somehow more original.

    It’s interesting that lately more and more book authors and screenwriters are rebooting the classics. Whether it’s a lack of imagination or a failure of courage by the industries, I don’t know. However, what’s very interesting is that many reboots or remakes aren’t nearly as successful as the originals. I’m not talking “Star Trek” reboot (even though I know a ton of people who didn’t like it as much as well, most everyone else). But many ventures from “Charade” a few years back to “Arthur” and “Conan” and “Superman” just fell flat. Just because you spiff up the graphics or “bring a story up to modern times” doesn’t mean it’s better. It can still be good and fun, don’t get me wrong, but rarely is it as good or better. The story at heart is most essential, and no matter how cool the scenes around the premise, simpler straightforward storytelling can often sing truer.

    I think artists, publishers, and studios should trust themselves more to go in their own directions. Imagine if FOX had trusted Whedon with “Firefly”. It’s so hard to get new stories out because publishing houses and studios want the sure buck. I’ve read Scalzi’s other work. He’s good. Better than what he produced for “Fuzzy Nation”.

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