The novel “Fuzzy Nation” by John Scalzi was published for the first time in 2011.
Jack Holloway is a sunstone prospector on the planet Zaratustra XXIII, Zara XXIII for simplicity, on behalf of the Zaratustra Corporation, ZaraCorp for simplicity. During his work, he discovers a trove of sunstone of really great value that could even give him more than he thought because of a legal loophole deriving from his complex relationships with ZaraCorp.
Shortly after, Jack Holloway stumbles into small creatures he decides to call Fuzzies and shows them to his ex-girlfriend Isabel, a biologist who works for ZaraCorp. The two of them start suspecting that the Fuzzies are intelligent creatures, an event that can dramatically change the status of the planet. ZaraCorp has a charter based on the fact that it’s not inhabited by sentient creatures, if the Fuzzies’ level of intelligence was established, the company would lose part of the control of the planet’s resources.
The novel “Fuzzy Nation” is a reboot of “Little Fuzzy” by H. Beam Piper. This is an operation common in the cinema world but practically unheard of in the literary field. This one started almost by accident, written by John Scalzi for fun and subsequently published with the permission of Piper estate.
“Fuzzy Nation” is far more than a remake of “Little Fuzzy” since the original story has been altered in many ways, both in the plot and in its characters. The author keeps its protagonist Jack Holloway but his characterization is very different and above all more complex compared to the original one.
John Scalzi is a fan of “Little Fuzzy” but H. Beam Piper’s novel has some flaws such as a poor character development. At the beginning of the 1960s this was acceptable, so much so that the novel was nominated for the Hugo Prize, today the stereotypes used make make the readers frown.
In “Fuzzy Nation” Jack Holloway is a complex man, a former lawyer whose past is slowly revealed. In some ways he may even be considered an anti-hero as his personality has various dark sides and this is particularly evident in his relationship with his ex girlfriend Isabel.
Another element that John Scalzi develops far more than H. Beam Piper is the nature and the operating way of a big corporation such as ZaraCorp. In fact, in “Fuzzy Nation” the ethical, moral, and legal problems in dealing with the Fuzzies are just a part of the more general ones related to the normal ZaraCorp operations.
In “Little Fuzzy” the Fuzzies are from the beginning the center of the attention, in “Fuzzy Nation” their presence seems initially marginal and only later becomes important. In the first part of John Scalzi’s novel the relationships between Jack Holloway and ZaraCorp, which means between him and various company’s executives and employees, are the important ones.
In “Fuzzy Nation”, John Scalzi points out that the reason why most large multinational corporations exist is simple: maximize shareholder value. This is a key point in the novel because it determines the actions of ZaraCorp’s executives, both towards Jack Holloway and the Fuzzies.
From these points of view, “Fuzzy Nation” is a really solid and well-developed novel that improves the original H. Beam Piper’s story. Through interpersonal relationships among human characters, John Scalzi’s novel offers us a complexity that goes beyond stereotypes and is at the same time realistic.
An element that, on the contrary, isn’t particularly developed by John Scalzi is the discussion of the characteristics that make a species sentient. From this point of view, in “Fuzzy Nation” the issue is resolved in a very different way compared to “Little Fuzzy” without resorting to neuroscience-related discussions or other themes connected to the recognition of alien intelligences.
Personally I’d have liked to have a greater depth in the subject of alien intelligence and what makes a species sentient but John Scalzi had other ideas for “Fuzzy Nation”, which is a medium-length novel for today’s standards and with a pace that’s generally fast. If for you that’s not a problem, I recommend reading it.