Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi

John Scalzi ranks as one of the few science fiction authors whose books have earned my automatic purchase. His tongue-in-cheek humor, unique characters, and complex plot twists caught my attention from my first read. Old Man’s War had me on the first line: “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.”

Fuzzy Nation appeared on my Kindle in early May, thanks to my pre-order. This book is not set in Scalzi’s usual universe; it is as a writing exercise/tribute to a 1962 novel by H. Beam Piper, Little Fuzzy. Scalzi basically took the story, characters, and plot and re-wrote it, incorporating new characters, elements, and events. Because of this, Fuzzy Nation is different than his usual books in plot, tone, and pacing, but all of it with Scalzi’s usual flair for reveals and humor. 

Minor Spoiler Alert

Scalzi’s book draws you into the fuzzy universe from the beginning. By paragraph two, main character Jack Holloway is reading the riot act to his partner, Carl, for his inability to remember everything he has been taught. It is only after this diatribe that you learn Carl is in fact his dog. Carl is a very talented dog. He does not like boom, but he (allegedly) enjoys detonating explosives—for prospecting purposes only, of course. Holloway is a contractor working for ZaraCorp, a company intent on stripping the planet of resources, and yet they take a dim view of dogs detonating explosives.

We soon meet other characters. His beleaguered boss resents his lawyer grandstanding (Holloway is a lawyer turned prospector). His ex-girlfriend and company biologist dumped him for claiming, in a hearing, that she lied about Carl detonating explosives. Through them we learn that Holloway isn’t always a likable person.

Changing fortunes beset Holloway, and we alternately cheer and bemoan his fate. As a character, I found Holloway hard to sympathize with. Sometimes he seemed to be doing the right thing, but he always displayed a disturbing lack of morals.

A creature breaks into Holloway’s cabin. He looks through the window and sees a cat staring back at him. “It took him a second to remember that he didn’t own a cat. It took him a second after that to remember that cats didn’t usually stand on two legs.” Holloway names the cat things fuzzys.

The rest of the tale is taken up with determining if the fuzzys are very smart animals or people. How this is determined, and Holloway’s real motives, are worth the read. Along the way we find out why Holloway is prospecting instead of working as a lawyer. Is Holloway a good or bad person? Will the fuzzys be exterminated?

As a cat person, I enjoyed the fact that the “aliens” (the fuzzys) appeared to be extremely intelligent cats. I felt an immediate affinity for the creatures. My reaction to Holloway was more ambiguous throughout. Usually I, as the reader, come to empathize with the main character on some level. Being unable to do so in this book was somewhat disturbing, though ultimately refreshing for its novelty.

Fuzzy Nation has an involved and satisfying ending; however, it’s the ride, with its reveals and twists, that makes the story. While this book is certainly no Old Man’s War, it is a thoroughly fun, quick read.

Rating: Recommended

(Rating system: Recommended with reservations, Recommended, Highly recommended. I will not review books that I find unreadable.)

1 comment:

  1. As a relative novice to the science fiction genre (at least in book form) the most I've been exposed to lately is Phlip K. Dick (PKD). The imagery of 'Fuzzy Nation' is remimiscient of Dick's 'Beyond Lies the Wub' where a pig-like alien creature (a Wub) is being corralled on to a spaceship transport. The captain discusses openly of his desire to eat the Wub only to find out that the Wub can read minds and by doing so is immediately fluent in English. The creature then articulates its desire not to be consumed. His sentiments go unheeded and upon eating the creature the captain's persona assumes that of the Wub itself. I am quickly learning how fanciful and entertaining Sci-fi can be. Not everyone feels that way. There is a story of PKD once being observed in possession of a sci-fi novel was asked by a woman, "Do you really read that stuff?" He replied, "Lady not only do I read this stuff but I write it too!" I have PKD to thank for helping to ignite my interest in the genre of Sci-fi. Fuzzy Nation appears to be a ride though the truly fanciful imagination of John Scalzi that I am certain I would equally enjoy . Thanks for the review!