by John Scalzi
Cover Artist: Kenkai Kotaki
Review by Gayle Surrette
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765328540
Date: 10 May 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation is a reboot of the H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. I read Little Fuzzy mumble-mumble years ago and while I can't comment on how Scalzi's and Piper's books compare along story lines or with characters, not having taken the time to reread the originals prior to reading Fuzzy Nation. I can unequivocally state that it gave me the same feelings of awe and wonder as when I read the original books of Piper because I still fondly remember reading the Little Fuzzy. In an introduction, Scalzi states that he kept most of the character names and the major plot points.
It starts off setting the tone for the entire book:
"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."Holloway is the main character, and while the reader is never allowed to know his internal thoughts, we've got a very close seat to the action. As the snippet above shows, Holloway is the type of man who talks to his dog and treats him like a person, almost. You later learn that Holloway is a loner. He's also a contract surveyor and prospector for Zarathustra Corporation, known as ZaraCorp, on the planet Zara XXIII. Most people who know Holloway and Carl, love Carl and barely tolerate Holloway. He plays fast and loose with the environmental regs and trained his dog to set off explosives – a trick that lost him his girlfriend. He's always pushing the limits but never enough to get kicked off planet.
Not a hero kind of guy by any stretch of the imagination, but on the day he finds the richest deposit of sunstones in the history of ZaraCorp mining, he also finds a fuzzy cat-like creature in his tree-house. Before long a family group of the creatures moves in and Holloway's troubles begin -- big time.
The charter under which ZaraCorp mines the planet is on the condition that there is no sentient life currently existing on Zara XXIII. The more Holloway interacts with the Fuzzy family (Papa, Mama, Pinto, and Baby), the more he is convinced that they are smart, very smart. But are they smart enough to be declared sentient and lose him his share of the sunstone find. Holloway's not sure but someone is not taking any chances and life gets very dangerous when you live hours away from any other surveyors or the company town.
Scalzi keeps the reader not only invested in the story but concerned and emotionally invested in the Fuzzys and their fate. Will Holloway sell them out? Or, will he help to protect them? You'd think that would be easy to figure out, but Jack Holloway isn't your standard main character – you never know what he's thinking and all his actions are surprises until after the fact when they happen and you think about them. It's a neat trick to keep the reader going, and difficult to do well, and Scalzi excels - this is a treasure of a reboot to a group of characters that deserve to be brought to the attention of modern readers. (And, it wouldn't hurt to get a copy of H. Beam Piper's books (Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens, and Fuzzies and Other People) to understand just what Scalzi is rebooting – I intend to.)