Book Review(s): Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

LittleFuzzyFuzzyNationI will admit that until John Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation, I had never heard of Little Fuzzy or even H. Beam Piper.  Piper wrote Little Fuzzy back in 1962 and was nominated for a Hugo Award. As the story goes, Little Fuzzy was one of John Scalzi favorite books of his younger years, and when another writing project fell apart, John decided to reboot this series for fun. This is not a sequel or a prequel, but a different take on the premise of the original story, updated with a more modern twist, and told the ‘Scalzi’ way.

I read Fuzzy Nation first, because a) I’m a big John Scalzi fan, b) I got the book at his Seattle appearance on his book tour (but did not get it signed because I had to get home to relieve the baby sitter). I read Little Fuzzy shortly thereafter on my iPhone. It’s in the public domain and available for free from Amazon Kindle, and I still don’t have a Kindle. Reading a book on an iPhone is still not a completely enjoyable experience, but I’ll try not to let that affect this review. I’ve covered that before.

Both stories center on a prospector name Jack Holloway, on a remote planet called Zarathustra, searching for precious gems called Sunstones. The planet is a Class III planet, which means there are critters of all sorts (many of them dangerous), but nothing that is sentient. A mega-corporation runs the planet to exploit it for all of its resources. The last thing the corporation wants to have happen is for something to be discovered that puts their claim in jeopardy. But Holloway does just that when he finds the Fuzzies, or rather they find them.

The concept for both plots is nearly identical. The resolutions are not. The characters, outside of Holloway, are substantially different. In Little Fuzzy, Jack Holloway is older, filled with a quiet authority and a long history of prospecting.  In Fuzzy Nation, Jack is younger, and has far less experience, and has a very complex past. The language used by the writers is very different. I’d compare reading Piper’s work to reading the Hardy Boys, full of outdated colloquialisms and stilted dialog. Scalzi is at his best when he writes conversations, and the rapid fire exchanges of conversation are both witty and poignant. The plot of Fuzzy Nation is more complex as well, with plenty of twists and turns that Scalzi is just a little better at presenting to the reader.

Both books are quite short, and very fast reads. You could easily read both in a day – in the same day – if you wanted to. I don’t recommend that. Both are very good books, and should be savored. I liked Scalzi’s just a bit better, but I will give Piper his due for coming up with the story in the first place, almost fifty years ago. Piper’s story is quite readable, and since the plots differ significantly, you won’t lose anything by reading both. Order doesn’t matter either.

This ‘reboot a book’ idea is a new concept for me. Movie studios do it all the time now, but it seems like rebooting a book, oddly, would be a lot of work. I worry that opening this avenue up to less talented authors could result in a deluge of ruined memories of the books of my childhood. But Scalzi does this really well, and respects the original work. It’s an homage, not a lazy man’s way to generate revenue. I applaud him for it, and it has opened my eyes to another author from the past who I will try to go back and read when I have the time.

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