Friday, August 21, 2015

5 x 5 Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

1. So, once more the Summer Reading Program is featured on Thark. This work is John Scalzi's "reboot" of Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper's celebrated 1962 novel, which is now in the public domain. As might be inferred from my previous discussion of the beloved Bay Ridge library, I read the original work as a young man and have a dim memory of it. I recall that it was pretty good, but I daresay Fuzzy Nation is better.

2. In his author's note, Scalzi compares his re-imagining of the story to the recent Star Trek film reboot, and jokes that it should have better science. And he's right - the science part of this science-fiction story hits just the right notes. The technology pertinent to the story appears reasonable, plausible, and consistent, and to the extent that technological details matter to the plot, Scalzi always plays fair - there are no convenient rabbits out of hats. The bigger issues - interplanetary travel, for example - are hand-waved in a businesslike manner and don't distract from the main human story.

3. I'd put Scalzi up there with Arthur C. Clarke for his presentation of humans in space acting like real humans: they all have jobs with organizations or corporations, and work with bosses and colleagues, and deal with rules and regulations. They even pay bills. Scalzi creates a realistic versions of the bureaucratic infrastructure, political and commercial, that would both result from and be necessary for humanity's off-planet expansion.

4. Scalzi does a great job with the individual characters as well, in particular with the protagonist Jack Halloway. He keeps the reader guessing until the very end just exactly what kind of man he is and what his motivations are, while making him engaging and identifiable.

5. The oddest bit about this book is that in the end, it is really a legal thriller, like something that John Grisham might write if he tried his hand at SF. The protagonist is a disbarred lawyer and legal niceties play an integral role in the plot - the first precedent-setting court case is cited on page 23, and it's not the last. Climactic scenes take place in front of a judge. It's a fascinating bit of genre-blending, and not something I remember from the original. But perhaps I should go back and check.

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