I went into Fuzzy Nation unsure of what to expect - I mean a novel reboot? - but I trusted in Scalzi. And he didn’t let me down. This is a smart, compelling science fiction novel with a bit of an offbeat nature. Far from the galaxy-wide military science fiction of Scalzi’s previous books, Fuzzy Nation concentrates on the fate of one small planet, on the fate of one small people, on the evaluation of what makes a species sentient or not. The varied, intelligent characters are effortlessly engaging carry us through this well executed story. It’s not perfect, but Scalzi’s latest comes close: diverse, thoughtful and just plain entertaining.
Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. One hundred seventy-eight light-years from ZaraCorp’s head office on Earth, hundreds of miles from their headquarters on-planet, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace.
Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal clam just as ZaraCorp cancels their contract with him. Briefly in the catbird seat, Jack pressures ZaraCorps into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.
But there’s another wrinkle in ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet is based on being able to certify to the authorities of Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.
Then a small furry biped - trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute - shows up at Jack’s outback home, followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that, despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is flimsy indeed... and that ZaraCrop may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.
Josh Holloway is a social outlier by choice - he doesn’t get along too well with people - yet he’s an appealing character from the start. Holloway carries Scalzi’s well-known humor and sarcastic dialogue, helping us overcome his unsocial ways and get closer to him through comic relief. How can you not like a character who in the first few pages of a book has his dog set off explosives for him? More than anything else, Holloway is entertaining. He might be a self-absorbed, anti-social man, but he’s a funny man and one that has the tendency to get confrontational with people in the most amusing manner.
Unlike Scalzi’s most famous work - his ‘Old Man’s War’ series - Fuzzy Nation is not military science fiction. That means no shoot-them-up action, space-side battles or planetary assaults, but rather an intimate look at the commercial and judicial turmoil that has arisen on an unexpectedly significant world. A surprising amount of the novel is dedicated to a court case, which is rather unusual for a science fiction novel. The trial in question, in fine Scalzi fashion, is riveting both inside of the court room where Holloway as an unconventional lawyer shines, and out with the intrigue surrounding the case.
One of the best parts of this book is that despite him being the main character, Scalzi doesn’t reveal all about Holloway’s motivations, leaving us to puzzle them out ourselves. It is clear that Scalzi was shooting for a level of ambiguity depicting him at times as self-centered and greedy, and on other occasions as uncommonly altruistic, but always with the chance of having ulterior motives. Not only does this make the outcome of the story less predictable, but when all is said and done, we can always have some doubts about Holloway’s integrity, which is not something that can be said of most protagonists. If nothing else it makes him intriguing and lends authenticity to his portrayal.
Fuzzy Nation moves at a hearty pace and, like all Scalzi novels, is a painless read, any flaws it might have quickly set aside in favor of the overall appeal. Some will wonder weather it lives up to Scalzi’s other novels, but such a comparison would ultimately be useless. Fuzzy Nation certainly has recognizable Sclazisms, but it’s a very different type of book from any of his others I’ve read. Fans aside, this fun, clever and absorbing novel should be a guaranteed read for any science fiction enthusiast with a mind to read a good novel. Fuzzy Nation was released in May by Tor Books in the US but is also available in the UK.
My Rating: 4.5 out 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
John Scalzi's Website: http://www.scalzi.com/
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