Years ago while I wandered around the library as a teenager I stumbled upon a little book called Little Fuzzy. It was probably one of the books that made me love reading and still holds a place of endearment along side books such as Dune and Magician. Having never read any of Mr Scalzi’s work I was extremely nervous heading into this one. The original is quite a book and manages to be many things all at once: a science fiction story, a story of a man finding himself and a purpose, and a piece on the importance of protecting the environment. Could this one live up to the original?
Yes in some ways, no in others. The author did a great job putting his own mark on another author’s IP, but this one did not venture into the deep mental processes of what was happening on the planet nor what could happen to the fuzzies. Sort of glosses over the issue of environment devastation in just a few short passages. The original, least to me the young reader, seem to have more weight and depth.
Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.
Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.
But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on 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 very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.
This retelling of the tale takes some departures from the original. Having not read the original in about twenty years my memory of that story is a little blurry but most notably thinking that Holloway was a bit of a turd. When I think about him these days, I am reminded of the character Bruce Willis played in the film The Last Boy Scout, a total burnt out and washed up waste of a man. Someone you did not know and did want to waste your time getting to know him. I remember that tale being one of redemption as Holloway does battle with the giant and powerful ZaraCorp to save his new friends. In the end he moves from the dark side to become their champion.
This books does the same thing but Holloway I thought was a bit softened. Scalzi’s writing is excellent and any thought I had of putting this book down was impossible. The interaction between Holloway and his dog Carl is a sheer joy to read and reminds me of my own dog. The life he breaths into these ‘voiceless’ characters, the dog and later the fuzzies themselves, is simply put, damn good writing. I am sure my neighbor heard me laugh out loud more than a few times at the hilarious interactions between Holloway, the dog, and the fuzzies.
As the story unfolds and pressures mount, Holloway turns into a bit of a master planer and organizer and outwit and out maneuvers the giant corporation almost to the point of unbelievably. This is only saved by Scalzi’s masterful writing ability. As the novel progresses it turns surprisingly into a very good page turning court room lawyering book. I tend to not like books that cover court room drama, but this one is just done so well that I hardly noticed I was reading about court room actions. Though the book is a familiar one, Scalzi still manages to put his own twists on situations and still have guessing what will happen next.
I did feel the book was a little short. The ending seemed a little rushed, but that could have just been my hands frantically trying to keep up flipping the pages as I tore through the book over two sittings. The very ending was a bit of a shock for me (and I would probably have left it out of the novel) and seemed a tad bit too much Walt Disney for me, but given the rest of the book was top notch, I will give it a pass.
For those looking for serious science fiction, this one is not that. It does have some elements of science fiction but Scaliz, wisely in my opinion, steers clear of the mumbo-jumbo of hard sci-fi and rather focuses on telling a compelling story. This book would be suitable for young readers, though a young teenager could probably better understand the morals of the story and protecting the fuzzies from those trying to rape their planet.