Scalzi admits this book could have wound up being little more than a lengthy bit of fanfic. I say that because Scalzi admits he wrote this reboot of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy with no idea what would happen to it. Fortunately, Piper’s estate, who really had no say in the matter as the original fell into public domain, gave their blessing. Good thing, too, because what Scalzi has written definitely pays its respects to the original. Fuzzy Nation owes its existence, even most of its elements, to Little Fuzzy, but these are not the same book or even part of the same story.
What’s happened is Scalzi has written a modern take on an old tale, no different than reboots of Batman and James Bond, or the new Sherlock Holmes movies. What it is not is a reboot along the lines of Battlestar Galactica, where the new show – good as it was – was almost unrecognizable from the original source.
But let me back up and explain the book on its own, as I’ve only read a synopsis of Piper’s original. (Which means I could turn around and be completely outraged when I read the full text.) Our protag, Jack Holloway, is a prospector on planet Zarathustra XXIII, an earthlike mining planet with no known sentient life. In his search for valuable minerals, Holloway manages to blow up an entire cliff. That does not please the Zarathrustra Corp representative, who terminates his contract. When Holloway sees that he has exposed a seam of sunstones, the rarest gem in the universe, he uses his now-unemployed status to claim the seam for himself – worth trillions – and get reinstated. Since Jake is an admitted asshole, he has no qualms screwing his employer. Since he is a talented but disbarred lawyer, he has no trouble with the screwage.
With me so far? Good. Turns out Zarathustra Corp’s heir apparent to the CEO’s job, Wheaton Aubrey VII, is on the planet and proceeds to lecture Holloway how his measly 2% stake is worth trillions, only to discover Holloway has already taken the company for more. And he’s not finished. He is, in fact, ready to take them for more. Which puts him afoul of ZaraCorp’s thuggish security drone, Joe DeLise, who soon spends a considerable amount of time trying to kill Holloway. This might be a spoiler, but fairly early in the book, DeLise begins doing a horrible job proving his innocence. I spent the rest of the book praying he’d come face to face with Zarathustra XXIII’s best known predator, the zararaptor, which views these alien interlopers as snack food. (It would not be a Scalzi book without someone somewhere considering humans as part of a nutritious breakfast, even if it’s the alien equivalent of a bear or a large jungle cat in this case.) Does he?
Well, now, that’s a spoiler I’m not prepared to reveal.
What throws a monkey wrench into everyone’s schemes is the presence of several rather smart catlike creatures Holloway dubs “fuzzies.” (Hence the title of both the original and this book.) The fuzzies settle into Holloway’s home and proceed to do something no one would expect: Demonstrate sentience. They don’t speak, at least in anyway humans can detect, but they have a clear family unit and have taken a liking to his dog, the explosives-detonating wonderdog Carl.
When the fuzzies arrive, Holloway enlists the aid of Isabel, the company biologist and his ex-girlfriend. When she determines the fuzzies are, in fact, people, it hits the fan at ZaraCorp, since intelligent life means all mining stops on the planet. No ands, ifs, or buts.
The corporate trappings and workings of government are pure Scalzi, laced with a kind of pragmatic cynicism and sensibility that marks not only most of his fiction but his blog as well. Holloway is an anti-hero, someone who’d be at home in crime fiction, something I’ve accused Scalzi of in the past with The Android’s Dream. But Holloway, being likeably unlikeable, gives this book its sense of humor. The book does have a smart-ass tone, and Holloway, to the very end, denies an obvious streak of nobility he’d just as soon not know about.
I absolutely hated DeLise and had visions of the “Cupcake” from JJ Abrams Star Trek beating the living snot out of him. Hell, I had visions of a few of my own characters beating the snot out of him, and some of them were my bad guys. DeLise has zero redeeming qualities, but believably so. He is one of those guys who is so angry at the world that he’s willing to kill just to make himself feel better.
Wheaton Aubrey VII (Gee, which former Star Trek actor inspired that name?) gave me problems. He’s supposed to be the young son of a CEO with an undeserved sense of entitlement and little regard for whether he’s killing the goose whose laying his golden eggs. I say he gave me problems because I kept picturing the older Carter Pewterschmidt III from Family Guy. They have the same personality. For that, I blame Seth McFarland. That said, he does come off as a cross between Pewterschmidt and one of the smarter Habsburg offspring. One character does, in fact, refer to the Aubreys as modern-day Habsburgs, but at least there’s not a Habsburg lip or drooling idiot in sight.
Since I only know a little about the original, I was very happy with this effort. I thought it was actually better than The Last Colony/Zoe’s Tale, clearly Scalzi’s best efforts to date. The underlying battle over the fuzzies and the fuzzies’ own response to it really give this book a depth it might otherwise not have had.