Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Hands up, everyone who read this and considered giving it an extra star just because of Carl the dog? Come on, be honest.

Because Carl is a truly great character, and I don't even like dogs. On the other hand, most of the characters in this book are entertaining, but Carl stands out.

Fuzzy Nation, a retelling of H. Beam Piper's classic Little Fuzzy, is a quick and fairly easy read, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would sit down, and fifty pages would fly by faster than it seemed they possibly could. Here is not dense narrative prose. This is straightforward, moves along well, and is often funny and always entertaining.

Holloway is a surveyor on a distant planet, about to become extraordinarily rich due to a recent claim and a confusion of contracts. Under law, however, if a sentient species is found on a planet, the corporation exploiting its resources is required to close up shop and leave the planet immediately. Of course, this gives them a vested interest in not discovering a sentient species.

But these little creature, fuzzies, show up on Holloway's doorstep, eat his sandwiches, train his dog, and watch his computer screens. Holloway's old squeeze, a biologist who is still pissed off that Holloway betrayed her during a disciplinary hearing, is convinced that these aren't just really intelligent pets. They qualify as sentient. Joe is skeptical, not least because of that large amount of money he won't be making.

And the corporation in question acts about the way we'd expect a corporation faced with losing vast profits would act, with intimidation, veiled and open bribes, and finally, outright violence. Holloway has to decide where he stands - and if he doesn't stand with the fuzzies, who will?

The fuzzies themselves are delightful characters, Holloway is interestingly self-interested, the biologist honest, and her new lawyer boyfriend not a jackass.

I truly love a good courtroom smackdown scene. I really do. And Fuzzy Nation has a doozy. There's something incredibly pleasurable about reading about a person, group of people, or company, who think they can buy and sell justice the way they buy and sell everything else gets systematically and legally eviscerated. It's part of why I found the third book in Stieg Larsson's series so deeply satisfying.

Fuzzy Nation is not going to set the world on fire with its prose. But it is witty, amusing, easy to read, and lingers in the memory. Scalzi creates great, memorable characters and has them do intelligent, interesting things. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it's not.

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