Little Fuzzy...and...Fuzzy Nation
BE WARNED - SPOILERS BELOW!!
By H. Beam Piper
By John Scalzi © 2011
TOR Books; Hardcover;
301 Pages; USD $24.99
A book review and comparison by Marianne Plumridge
One thing about the works of H.Beam Piper, they have never been long neglected in print, especially the beloved LITTLE FUZZY books. Since the first book, LITTLE FUZZY, was published in 1962, it and its sequels have been resurrected, repackaged, and reprinted each decade for a new audience. However it was only a matter of time before another author decided to add his ideas to the pantheon in the new millennium. Ardath Mayhar had already done so with GOLDEN DREAM in 1983, so it wasn’t a great stretch when author John Scalzi decided to write his FUZZY NATION. The difference lies in the fact that FUZZY NATION isn’t so much an addition to the works of Piper, but a whole ‘re-imagining’ of the first Fuzzy book to bring it up to date nearly four decades after the first one was published.
I have reacquainted myself with H.Beam Piper’s LITTLE FUZZY books every few years or so because they are unapologetically a nostalgic, endearing, as well as a decidedly funny return to the golden age of science fiction. Sure, the technology is a little outmoded due to progress in recent decades, some of the characters perhaps a mite quaint, the slang largely outdated, and the lifestyle and mannerisms firmly fixed in the 1950/60s along with the once popular but now antiquated ‘cocktail hour’, but the story still holds its charm. Humans have expanded to other worlds to explore and mine and have rarely encountered sentient life. The appearance of a family of diminutive golden haired ‘animals’ that prove more human than some of the humans they meet up with throw a huge spanner in the main Corporate works. Are they sentient or not? A deadly struggle of proof ensues until a Colonial Court settles the matter once and for all. Above it all, in Piper’s book, the Fuzzies are front and center and have distinct personalities – completely coming alive as an innocent, childlike species within the story. They share the lead with the main human protagonist, Jack Holloway because the story is about both humans and Fuzzies and one of the warmest, funniest, first contact stories in the annals of science fiction. Even after all of these years, the arguments on sapience, the subplots and inter-character relationships are still strong and based on a solid plot. LITTLE FUZZY remains a captivating story.
In John Scalzi’s FUZZY NATION, the fundamentals are the same, but there is a narrower cast of characters and focus, where the Fuzzies almost appear to take second place to the human action. The character of Jack Holloway is very much the protagonist of this book as well as the ‘devil’s advocate’. He doesn’t believe that the Fuzzies are sentient: somewhat contrary to Piper’s Holloway. It does make for a more layered character though, that a modern audience will appreciate. Some may miss the extensive layered, engaging antics that Piper’s Fuzzies got up to, and their learning process as the plot of his book progresses. The Fuzzies ‘presence’ in FUZZY NATION isn’t quite the same and personally feels a bit lacking in ‘character presence’. In LITTLE FUZZY there are eighteen Fuzzies creating mayhem by the time the reader reaches the climax, in FUZZY NATION there is a constant of only five majorly interactive Fuzzies for most of the story. In LITTLE FUZZY, the Fuzzies are constantly learning and using what they learn: this creates the bonds between them and the humans that study them – or in some humans who have other agendas, an antithesis and antagonism. In FUZZY NATION, the Fuzzies who arrive at John Holloway’s treetop camp already have a secret that isn’t revealed until much later. Two of the major revelations, including the Fuzzies’ secret are revealed in sudden, almost unheralded ‘bombshells’, and I for one had to think about them a bit before continuing to read. The hearing range of humans doesn’t encompass the supersonic or subsonic, so they couldn’t hear speech until Scalzi’s Jack Holloway had an instant of enlightened perception, developed that idea ‘off camera’, and then suddenly presented it as a fait accompli at the preliminary ‘sapience/non-sapience’ hearing for the Fuzzies. Further to that, and adding another shock, was the Fuzzies extensive understanding of human speech: that had a few hints along the way, plus a puzzle for Scalzi’s Holloway to work out. He does, and presents it just as abruptly as the previous revelation. It underscores just how independent the Fuzzies are…and that in and of itself is very, very different to Piper’s original portrayal of those little people. It will be interesting to see how this is received by fans and readers of the original LITTLE FUZZY book.
Another addition to the character list in FUZZY NATION is Jack Holloway’s dog, Carl. That fact that most of the other characters in the novel like Carl better than they like Jack is a running joke throughout the story. Carl is also a furry plot device that the author uses as a link to connect Jack to other characters. So we read a lot of Carl’s reactions to a variety of his master’s actions as well as reacting to the Fuzzies. That interaction inevitably leads to Jack making some latent discoveries regarding his new found friends. I really like Carl as a character, even if he is only a dog. However, I fear that some of Carl’s cuteness and personality has detracted a little from the Fuzzies cuteness in the novel, or at least competes with it somewhat. Perhaps the author sought a combination of Carl/Fuzzy shared cuteness as a suitable counterpoint for the very cute original Fuzzies in Piper’s book. It does seem to work very well in the context of Scalzi’s book.
Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed John Scalzi’s FUZZY NATION and consider it to be a wonderful addition to the Little Fuzzy canon. It is fast paced, witty, and cleverly plotted. Scalzi’s Jack Holloway is something of a complex antihero at times and the reader, let alone other characters are never quite sure what he’s going to do or say next. His actions are quite devastating in delivery and ultimately satisfying. This is a book very much worth reading.
Labels: fuzzy nation, H Beam Piper, john scalzi, little fuzzy