John Scalzi: Fuzzy Nation (2011)

Fuzzy Nation

Sometimes I’m easy to please. It took John Scalzi less than one page to win me over with his novel Fuzzy Nation.

See for yourself:

Jack Holloway set the skimmer to HOVER, swiveled his seat around, and looked at Carl. He shook his head sadly.

“I can’t believe we have to go through this again,” Holloway said. “It’s not that I don’t value you as part of this team, Carl. I do. Really, I do. But I can’t help but think that in some way, I’m just not getting through       to you. We’ve gone over this how many times now? A dozen? Two? And yet every time we come out here, it’s like you forget everything you’ve been taught. It’s really very discouraging. Tell me you get what I’m saying to you.”

Carl stared up at Holloway and barked. Carl was a dog.

The idea that the book is told by a main narrator whose best friend is a dog to whom he speaks as if he was a human, amused me so much. The best thing however was that the whole book didn’t disappoint. It was not only a fun and charming read from beginning to end, but interesting and thought-provoking as well.

John Scalzi is said to be the most accessible Sci-Fi author writing today. I can see why. Not only does he write in an engaging way, but he has a knack for dialogue and great characters and a wonderful sense of humour. He’s also far more accessible than others because his world-building is minimal. Just a touch of description here and there to set the scene, but nothing that over stretches your imaginative muscles. As much as I like sci-fi, when the world-building is too detailed, my eyes glaze over and I simply can’t see the worlds that are described. Another reason why Scalzi is easy to read is his use of older material, which we may be familiar with. Fuzzy Nation, for example, is a “reboot” of Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper.

The central theme of Fuzzy Nation is the question: What makes a sentient being? Jack Holloway is a contractor for ZaraCorp a huge corporate company who exploits foreign planets. While working on the planet Zarathustra, Jack accidentally explodes a cliff and discovers a seam of unimaginably precious jewels. Legally, ZaraCorp is allowed to exploit this seam and give Holloway his share, but only if the planet is really not populated by sentient beings. So far only two other sentient species have been found in the universe.

Jack lives outside of the city, in a tree house, high above the raptors who populate the forest below. One day cute furry creatures come to stay at his house.  Jack is amazed how intelligent they are, but when his ex-girlfriend , biologist Isabel, tells him she thinks they are not animals but people, Jack is reluctant to accept that. He would never harm the Fuzzys. He would never harm any animal, but he doesn’t think they are people. After all, they don’t speak. Or do they? In any case, it would be awful for him, if they really were people, because he would lose the prospect of making millions.

Fuzzy Nation isn’t only an adventure story, in which cute little animal-people are suddenly in great danger and other people have to make some tough decisions, it’s also an exploration of what makes a human. Is it understanding, intelligence, dexterity, the aptitude to use machines or language? In any case, once you’re declared a sentient being, you have the right to possess things. Before that, everything you own can be taken and destroyed.

I have discovered a new favourite author and I’m sure I’ll read more of his novel in the future.

26 thoughts on “John Scalzi: Fuzzy Nation (2011)

  1. I read this last year via audio and it was so good! I really like books where animals play a central role without being weird about it. And, Scalzi made you feel for everyone: human, dog, or Fuzzy. And it was an original way to look at a bigger picture. Definitely a great book.

    • It was such a discovery. I totally loved it for the same reasons you mention. I’m sure not all of his books have animal charcaters, but I I want to read more of him anyway.
      I’ll be reading The Old Man’s War next.

  2. I have never read either Scalzi or the original Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. I think that I would want to give the original a try before reading this one. Still this does indeed sound like a charming book. I was looking at a list of Scazi’s books. They look impressive and clever.

    • This might not be the type of Sci-Fi you normally read, so maybe you’d like the original better. I enjoyed it a lot.
      His writing is very fluid. I’ll read The Old Man’s War next. A much darker topic. It will be interesting.

  3. Nice review, Caroline. Scalzi’s name rings a bell, but I can’t remember where I first read about him. Glad to know that you liked this book very much. I loved that passage you have quoted 🙂 Does the dog talk back to him? That would be interesting 🙂 It is nice to know that Scalzi writes in lean prose with minimalist descriptions. That would definitely make this book a very fast-paced and attractive read. I remember struggling through Joanna Russ’ ‘We Who Are About To’, because it wasn’t that way – that is, there was a lot of description and contemplation. It is odd, because, normally, I do like contemplative novels a lot. Hope you enjoy your next Scalzi novel. Happy reading!

    • Thanks, Vishy. I like descriptions but a lot of Sci-Fi is so technical it just doesn’t mean much to me.
      Scalzi’s prose is very dialogue driven, that’s why it’s so accessible.
      The dog doesn’t talk back. 🙂

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  5. Did I understand well? He’s on planet Zarathustra and Fuzzys don’t speak? I’m disappointed the dog’s name isn’t Friedrich. 🙂

    Sounds like a fun read even if I’m not into SF.

    The question about humanity (what defines human beings) is also explored in Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? Do Scalzi and Dick come to the same conclusion?

    • Hmm . . . I didn’t say the Fuzzy’s don’t speak. 🙂
      Yes, it’s fun and he writes in a very engaging way.
      You can’t really comepare him with Dick and the conclusions are very different.

  6. I confess I have never read anything that could be called sci-fi. It’s not that I wouldn’t on principle – I would if the right book came along. I’m not sure this is the one for me, but I did enjoy reading your review of it!

  7. I love how this one begins, what a great start. I have this one on my wish list already – it sounds right up my alley. I’m not a huge sci fi reader but I’ve been wanting to start reading more. Maybe Scalzi is a way in?

  8. I think I am maybe not the right audience for this one (though I really do need to broaden my reading horizons and try some sci fi this year), but I do love it when a book clicks like that–turns out to be just what you are in the mood to read and find it so compelling–that is just the sort of book I have been looking for….

    • It was a surprise. I’ve never read any reviews of this, I saw Redshirts on more than one best of list, so I thought I’ll pick the one that sounds the most appealing and it was great.

  9. The title makes me read your review…I love it already from your review. Will keep my eyes open is I ever see it here.

    I love good sci-fi and animal-people always interest me.

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