Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Fuzzy Nation
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy in the early 80s while I was in high school. I loved the Fuzzies and I wanted more. I found the second book of the trilogy (Fuzzy Sapiens), but got very frustrated with my book store when they did not have the third book available.

It was at this point that I discovered that Piper had died before publishing the third volume of the trilogy. GAH! I wanted to know how it ended!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Shortly after I read the first two, I discovered that author William Tuning had published his version of the final volume, called Fuzzy Bones. I read it. Then, yet another author—this time Ardath Mayhar—published yet another version of the final volume, called Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey. I read it.

I liked both of the non-Piper versions. But then, in 1984, Piper’s widow discovered the completed manuscript of the third novel in her husband’s effects. It was published as Fuzzies and Other People. Finally, at long last, the trilogy had not one, not two, but three complete, slightly different, third volumes.

I was skeptical when I heard Scalzi was rebooting the story. It reminded me of the silly attempts to remake “Planet of the Apes” and “Revenge of the Nerds”: Why tamper with something that’s already great as it is? Isn’t three endings enough?

I heard him interviewed on a couple of podcasts. He explained that the reboot was a labor of love and that it had been endorsed by the Piper estate. He said all he was trying to do was to update the story with more modern sensibilities, but that he tried to preserve the essence of the original.

I snapped up the novel the day it hit the book store. But before I could get a chance to start reading, a friend reminded me of something I had forgotten: Wil Wheaton had recorded the audio version of the novel.

Well. That clenched that. I’ve been a fan of Wheaton for a long time. I bought the audio version as well. (Hey, it would be hard for Scalzi to autograph the audio version if I ever meet him at Dragon*Con. I like to think of it as “planning ahead.”)

Not to mince words: I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Scalzi did exactly as he promised. The book is, in essence, the same story that Piper told nearly five decades ago, but updated to appeal to a more modern audience. This is the first Scalzi book I’ve read, so I can’t say much about his usual style, but if they’re all anything like this, I’ll be reading more, rest assured.

The character of Jack Holloway was deeply flawed, but also, at the core, a decent man. Maybe his motives weren’t noble, maybe his irreverent, sarcastic, f**k-you attitude toward everything made him come across as unlikable at some level. But you can’t help but pull for him. After all, he did have the Fuzzies’ best interest at heart. And so what if it benefitted him, as well? As flawed as the good guys were, the bad guys were truly evil. It wasn’t hard at all to dislike Wheaton Aubrey, Joe Delise, and the entirety of Zarathustra Corporation. But it also wasn’t at all difficult to believe that such people exist, because we all know people like them. Well, hopefully not just like them…

I loved Carl the dog. I don’t remember Piper’s characterization of Carl, but I think Scalzi did a great job of using Carl to make Jack come across as more human and less mercenary. It was just the right mix.

And the Fuzzies! Scalzi put so much depth of character into those little guys, you couldn’t help but love them. Just like the original books. Their wide-eyed, innocent cuteness hiding intelligent, feeling, sentient persons. When Papa Fuzzy testified in court…I admit, I not only laughed out loud, I pumped my fist in a “YES!” motion a few times, and shed a few tears, as well. On a plane. My seatmate edged away from me.

As good as Scalzi’s writing is, and as wonderful as I thought his characters were, I think Wil Wheaton’s performance really pushed my appreciation over the edge. He has just the right tone of voice for Holloway. And when he read that court scene where Papa Fuzzy testified…well, as I said above, it moved me in more than one way. With just his voice, Wheaton was able to turn in a fantastic performance that added so much depth to the story.

I do hope that this book does well enough to allow Scalzi to continue the trilogy, or even to turn it into a series. I look forward to reading more from him, and not just in the Fuzzy universe. I highly recommend the book—audio or otherwise—to anyone who likes science fiction with a twist of courtroom drama; cute, sentient aliens; intelligent dogs; or characters who know how to dish out just desserts.

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