Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What We’re Reading: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

What if, on an otherwise ordinary day, something happened at your job that could make you rich beyond your wildest dreams? And what if, a few days after this event, you encountered an alien life form that might be sentient, but if it is, you would not be able to collect your recently acquired wealth? Would you give your support to the discovery of these creatures and the protection of their planet? Or would you try to hide them and protect your own interests? These are the questions explored by John Scalzi in Fuzzy Nation.

Jack Holloway is an independent contractor surveying the surface of Zarathustra XXIII. He lives and works alone, except for his dog, Carl, and has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to manage. So, when Jack accidentally causes a cliff face to collapse, Chad Bourne, his ZaraCorp contractor rep, cancels his contract due to the ecological impact of the disaster on the local environment. But within moments, Jack notices that beneath the cliff, now exposed, is a seam of sunstones--incredibly valuable gemstones found only on ZaraXXIII. When Jack claims the seam as his own (because he no longer works for Zarathustra Corporation), there ensues a short but intense period of legal wrangling that results in his sharing the seam with ZaraCorp, but also becoming almost unimaginably wealthy.

A few days later, Jack receives a notice from his home’s security system that there has been an unauthorized entry. When he arrives, he doesn’t find a burglar in the traditional sense—instead, he discovers a small furry (or Fuzzy) creature similar to a large cat that walks on two legs and has opposable thumbs. In a short period of time, Jack determines that the “Fuzzy,” as he calls it, is smart. The question is, how smart? Because if this new species is found to be sentient, all mining and extraction activities on ZaraXXIII must cease immediately. And that would mean Jack’s claim to the sunstone seam is no longer valid.

Fuzzy Nation is a reimagining, or “reboot” (in the tradition of 2004’s Battlestar Galactica and 2009’s Star Trek) of H. Beam Piper’s novels from the early 1960s by Hugo award-winning author John Scalzi. Scalzi has taken the basic structure of Little Fuzzy, the first of Piper’s novels about the Fuzzys, and has reworked the story and updated the science. The result is an entertaining novel that retains the charm of Piper’s original but also incorporates more contemporary themes of corporate greed, ecological devastation, and the rights of native peoples to their homes and resources. While Fuzzy Nation will never take the place of the original Piper novels, it does effectively introduce these charming creatures to a whole new group of readers and remind those already familiar with them why the Fuzzys have been science fiction classics for almost 50 years!

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