Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

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.

Review

Fuzzy Nation is based on Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. It follows the plot of the original book fairly closely and includes many of the same themes as Little Fuzzy. You don’t really need to know that, though. What to do need to know is that John Scalzi has worked his magic on the story, revolutionised it and brought it shouting and cavorting in to the 21st century.

The plot is still more or less the same. Jack Holloway, a prospector on a remote planet entirely owned and populated by Zarathustra Corporation employees, discovers a thitherto unknown race of little fuzzy creatures, which may or may not be sentient. This begins a legal tussle, the results of which will have broad impacts not only for the planet, but also for the corporation too. There are a few things which have changed too. Jack Holloway is seemingly far younger (although his age in never explicitly mentioned), less patriarchal and far, far more cunning and devious. He’s also an ex-lawyer who was disbarred several years ago (“Not for not knowing the law!”). The remainder of the cast is less sprawling, more compact and streamlined. There are not as many names and titles to remember, and thus the book is far easier to read and more enjoyable for the change.

The Fuzzies themselves, the creatures that Jack Holloway discovers, have had more ambiguity as to their sentience placed on them throughout the book. For first time readers, this makes the outcome of the court case more uncertain. And speaking of the court case! Scalzi has done his space science fiction lawyer thing again, and has enlivened the legal proceedings considerably. He has also lengthened them. This is appropriate, considering that the trial is the focus and climax of the book. And what a climax it is! You really must read it and see for yourself.

There are a few other Scalzifications to the story; the gentle humour of Little Fuzzy has been replaced by the slightly more in-your-face snappy repartee, one-liners and ridiculous situations that are Scalzi’s trademark. This also has the side-benefit of making the plot seem to move much faster and feel like it’s dragging less. In fact, it feels like a slick and well-oiled eel. The fact is that Fuzzy Nation is slightly longer than Little Fuzzy, but feels like it is much shorter.

Scalzi has done his work wonderfully, and has not only modernised the ideas of the original story for modern sensibilities, but has also modernised the overall flow of the narrative. By upping the pace, having fewer characters with whom to contend, and also by increasing the level and frequency of humour present, Fuzzy Nation is a true delight to read. That having been said, Fuzzy Nation still manages to have the same message as Little Fuzzy; humanity’s indiscriminate destruction and rampant corporatism are harmful things which may forever annihilate something altogether unexpected and beautiful.

Fuzzy Nation is an excellent book to read, whether or not you have read Little Fuzzy. It is fast, snappy and engaging. It is also very funny and thought provoking; just like Scalzi’s other books.

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Demographic: Young Adult and up
  • Rating Out of Five: 5
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: May 2010

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