Fuzzy Nation reminded me a little of The Firm by John Grisham. Not because it has some elements of a legal thriller (though it does) but more generally because it’s a fast-paced, engaging read and what it does it does very well. It draws you in and is hard to put down. It’s a little light on substance but has a good story and likeable characters. In short, not what I expect from science fiction (not that I consider myself any kind of expert).
I haven’t read other Scalzi fiction, only his Hugo award-winning book of blog posts, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded. So I can’t tell you how this book compares to his other work, of which the most notable title is Old Man’s War. I said to my husband that this book felt a little like science fiction for the non-science-fiction reader, but he didn’t love that description. Still, there’s something to it. I find much science fiction to be overly technical, or heavy on the allegory or point-making. This book doesn’t do that.
Is it the most original story I’ve read? No, and for two reasons. The first is that it literally isn’t an original. Scalzi intends it to be a re-imagining of a classic 1962 science fiction novel, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper (with the full approval of Piper’s estate, in case you were wondering). Scalzi’s novel stands on its own, though he recommends you read the original as well.
When I read the cover description it reminded me of the movie Avatar. The main character, Jack Holloway, is an independent contractor working for a big corporation that is mining resources from a planet. The corporation is under strict rules to minimize all potential impact on area wildlife. Holloway discovers a small fuzzy creature, something like a cat that stands on two legs. The creature seems to be an intelligent being, yet none of the corporation’s scientists have ever seen it before. Will the discovery of this creature threaten the profit-making of the corporation? And if so, are the creature and Holloway at risk of foul play?
It sounds pretty straight-forward but the book does a nice job of making Holloway an interesting and at times somewhat ambiguous character. Scalzi also does a nice job explaining a complex subject like sentience in a way that doesn’t seem cumbersome or unrealistic. His dialogue, if a little too “snappy” sometimes (I can never come up with one-liners like Holloway does), for the most part feels very real.
Scalzi writes in a very visual way; in many ways it reads very like a movie. I could really visualize the characters and settings, like Holloway’s cabin in the woods. Scalzi keeps the technology pretty minimal, another reason I felt this book is more accessible to non-science fiction readers. The characters travel in skimmers and use “infopanels” but otherwise nothing too different from what we use now.
Scalzi introduces enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing (which I can’t say about the movie Avatar). I can fairly say I had a sense of where things were going without actually knowing what was going to happen and how things would be resolved.
I think you can expect to see this book turned into a movie in the near future, and it should be a good one. It could have had a little more science, or been a little more “weighty” in its discussion of the environmental and animal rights issues, but it didn’t have to, if that makes sense. I give this book a “thumbs-up” as an entertaining, thoughtful, better-than-expected summer read.