Saturday, September 15, 2012

John Scalzi - Fuzzy Nation

John Scalzi, Fuzzy Nation, Tor, 2011.

This book is a "reboot" of a classic novel, Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper (1962). With permission, Scalzi took the story and characters from that novel and wrote his own take on those events. When I first heard about this, I read the original novel, and during the reading of Fuzzy Nation I could observe the differences. So this review will have to treat the novel on two levels: first as a work of fiction in its own right, and second as a reworking of an existing story.

This is a first contact story, set in a future where planets are exploited for their natural resources by ruthless corporations. When Jack Holloway, a contractor, discovers a new species and begins to realize they are sentient, this has implications for the planet's future. The story explores the moral and legal implications of this discovery, while focusing on the relationships and power struggles between the humans involved.

Holloway is not really a very sympathetic character. At first, he seems to be motivated by money, hoping to become very rich from his discovery of a valuable resource. We discover that he has a short temper and a history of violence and lying. His past actions led to him being disbarred as a lawyer (a profession not inspiring much identification for most readers, but relevant to the story), and to harming his former girlfriend Isabel's career. Also, the story focuses more on what he does than on what he is thinking, so his motivations only become clear after the events have taken place. This is a useful technique.

Instead of identifying with the main character, the reader's sympathies lie with the new species, as is often the case when the setting is quite black-and-white, with the powers of capitalistic greed ranged against these smaller and seemingly helpless creatures, which resemble cats and are portrayed as "cute". This identification might have been more difficult to achieve with aliens of a less "cuddly" type, which might have made the story more interesting in some ways.

The story contains moments of physical danger, action, pathos, and much courtroom drama. Eventually a satisfying conclusion is reached, and Scalzi spells out explicitly some of the reader's concerns about Jack's character.

The tone is light and humorous, most of the time, with some touching emotional moments. Readers familiar with Scalzi's other novels, or with his blog Whatever, will enjoy his usual style. This would also be a good introduction to Scalzi for new readers.

Finally, compared with the book Little Fuzzy, I found this version gave a less patronizing and human-centric account of the "fuzzys", and seemed more in tune with current social and cultural expectations. The comparison demonstrated to me the extent to which authors' contemporary milieu influences their writing, even when the stories are set in a fictional future society.

No comments: