As Scalzi flags in the Author’s Note at the beginning of this book, ‘Fuzzy Nation is a reimagining of the story and events in Little Fuzzy, the 1962 Hugo-nominated novel by H. Beam Piper.’ I haven’t yet read Little Fuzzy, but immediately scooped this one off the shelves as I’ve enjoyed Scalzi’s military science fiction series, Old Man’s War – see my review of The Last Colony here.
Jack Holloway works alone for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. One hundred seventy-eight light-years from ZaraCorp’s head office on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor on the planet Zarathustra, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. In the wake of a cliff collapse he accidentally caused, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels. Although his share of the potential wealth is negligible in percentage terms, according to his Contract, it will still allow him to live in comfort for the rest of his life. But there’s a wrinkle. ZaraCorp’s – and Jack’s – entire legal right to exploit Zarathustra is based on being able to certify that the planet is devoid of any sentient life. So… those ridiculously cute creatures who moved into Jack’s home may be very, very smart – but they couldn’t be as clever as humans, could they? And if they are – what will Jack do?
Apparently in Little Fuzzy, Jack was an elderly crusty loner who fell hook, line and sinker for the charms of the Fuzzies – but Scalzi’s protagonist is younger and a whole lot more edgier. A disbarred ex-lawyer, who has also lied at a hearing when his then-girlfriend claimed he’d trained his dog to detonate explosive charges – this version of Jack is morally ambiguous. During the last section of the book, which is a court room drama, a large chunk of the narrative tension revolves around exactly how Jack will react when confronted with losing a fortune, versus the fate of the Fuzzies.
Scalzi’s breezy style belies a darker undertone to this book – a couple of the murders that take place left me winded. And a lot of the humour is of the sharper sort. So – is Jack an appealing protagonist? Yes – I fully identified with him right from the word go, and enjoyed the fact that Scalzi manages to portray the Fuzzies as beguiling without too much treacle.
He is also a very deft storyteller, who moves the action along at a fair clip and gives us a cast of interesting and enjoyable characters – even if a couple of them seem a bit OTT to be wholly credible. Not that I particularly minded – it all adds to the slightly madcap, surreal tone of the book. While the narrative arc is smoothly concluded, there were a couple of dangling plot points and I’d love to think that Scalzi is all set to visit this world again.