Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

fuzzy-nationUntil my friend gave me Fuzzy Nation for Christmas, I had never heard of Little Fuzzy, nor had I heard of an author “rebooting” another’s work. Happens all the time in movies, but I had never heard of it happening with novels.

From the author’s acknowledgement, it seemed like Scalzi was just as interested in paying homage to the original story as he was in making it his own. And after reading it, I have to say not only did he make it his own, but he’s piqued my interest enough that I’d like to find the original and give it a go.

Synopsis courtesy Goodreads:

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.

First off? I loved Jack. He’s a very interesting character in that he’s not exactly a “good” guy—he has a lot of traits that wouldn’t fall under that banner—but you still end up rooting for him. He’s got a great sense of humor, and the back and forth between him and his contact at ZaraCorp at the beginning was a lot of fun to read.

For example, look at this exchange after Holloway accidentally causes the cliff collapse, which he attempts to claim is an earthquake:

“Who are you going to believe,” Holloway said. “I’m here. They’re there.”

“They’re here with roughly twenty-five million credits’ worth of equipment,” Bourne said. “You’ve got an infopanel and a history of bad surveying practices.”

“Alleged bad surveying practices,” Holloway said.

“Jack, you let your dog blow shit up,” Bourne said.

I also loved that all the stuff on the back cover of the book happened within the first three chapters. It meant I had no idea where the story was going to go next (particularly since I’d never read the original), and I adored it, because a lot of the fun of the novel was in the discovery of it. Very little went the way I expected, which was a nice surprise.

Also, the Fuzzy family? Some of the most adorable potentially sentient beings ever put on paper. You just want to squeeze them. Their interactions among themselves, with the humans, and with Carl the dog are just great. You can’t help but fall in love with them, and soon you’re just as invested in their safety as Jack and his friends are.

If there were any failings, it was that sometimes I felt a bit removed from Jack—like I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in his head or how he felt about some of the events of the story. This might be for a couple of reasons: one, that he’s not an overly emotional guy, or two, that he was making up his big plan and in order to surprise the reader, he couldn’t think about it. It did occasionally make me feel like there was a wall between us, though.

If you haven’t read Scalzi before, I would say either Old Man’s War or Fuzzy Nation is a good place to start. I might edge toward Old Man’s War just because it is his first book, but Fuzzy Nation is just as good (maybe even better in some respects).

It balances being laugh-out-loud hilarious with some absolutely heartbreaking scenes, and it kept me reading for an entire day when I intended to only read it for an hour. If you’re a sci-fi fan, put it on your TBR list.