A Tale of Two Fuzzies

My science fiction and fantasy group met on Tuesday to discuss the theme of aliens, and it seemed that half of us had picked out books by John Scalzi. If you haven’t tried Scalzi, he’s a writer with a great throwback style, full of action, adventure and humor, reminiscent of Robert Heinlein and some other golden age of science fiction writers. Old Man’s War is a good starting point for exploring his work, or if humor is your first focus, try the The Android’s Dream or Agent to the Stars.

Scalzi’s latest book is Fuzzy Nation. It’s an excellent story about a disbarred lawyer turned off-planet miner/engineer who must decide between massive wealth from a discovery of “sunstones” or the protection of a new species of particularly cute aliens. His decision is complicated by threats from the interplanetary corporation by which he is employed. For a more extensive description of the book itself, read my post on another blog here.

What make Fuzzy particularly interesting is that it is a “re-boot” of an earlier writer’s work, that of  H. Beam Piper. Piper appeared on the scene in the late 1940s after many years of rejected work, publishing stories in John Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. In style, he was reminiscent of historical adventure writers like Rafael Sabatini or Robert Louis Stevenson, but in a science fiction context. In the early 1960s, Piper worked to make the transition from short stories to novels, a switch that genre writers of the time had to manage as the market for stories declined. Although his early novels were successful artistically, sale of them was difficult, and Piper’s money situation became unbearable. Never a good money manager (he liked clothes and guns), Piper found it difficult to ask for help from others; his fiction, after all, had always sung the virtues of being self-reliant. Sadly, he shot himself dead in November of 1964, ending his life only a few years before changing markets probably would have made him famous and financially comfortable.

Piper’s legacy, his writing, fell into the public domain in 2006. Scalzi, a long-time fan of Piper, re-read his classic novel Little Fuzzy and although he loved it, he couldn’t help but notice that some of the trappings of the novel had become dated. He re-worked the story, updating the dialog, making the protagonist a little younger and more in line with modern sensibilities, and changing the ending somewhat. Both books are quick reads and have their own merits. If you’d like to try it, The Complete Fuzzy is still in print, or you can download most of Piper’s work for free from Project Gutenberg, including Little Fuzzy.

It’s an approach that brings up interesting questions. Should writers engage in this kind of re-write? Scalzi does so with great skill, remains loyal to the spirit of the original, and is certainly not the first writer to re-imagine a public domain work. But would we feel supportive if his re-interpretation failed? All of the zombie mash-ups of recent years come to mind. Sometimes I wish that the original writers could rise from the grave to wreak vengeance on the cash-in specialists who have, so to speak, been cannibalizing the brains of deceased predecessors.

No matter whose version your read, the Fuzzies are cussedly cute, and both writers handle them in a way that even those with a precious phobia will find hard to reject. When you’re in the mood for a lightning-fast pleasure read that isn’t stupid, get Fuzzy.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "A Tale of Two Fuzzies"

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  1. digimust@yahoo.com.au' Peter Prokes says:

    The best thing about books is that you use your imaginations and not someone else’s.
    50 people can read the same book and come up with 50 different scenarios.
    You just have to love books and the amazingly talented writers.
    Jan Peter Prokes

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