I actually finished reading Fuzzy Nation several weeks ago and have meant to write a review, but you know, Skyrim came out and I've been in a black hole ever since. (Yeah, so I'm a video game junkie. Get over it).
Before I tell you about Fuzzy Nation and how wonderful a science fiction tale it is (and it is!) I want to tell you how I first discovered John Scalzi's blog, Whatever.
Back in 2005, three very significant things happened in my life, one of which affected a whole lot of other people, too. I graduated with my MSW, I couldn't find a job for eight months, and Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
When the hurricane hit, I was sitting glued to my computer screen, watching the massive storm aim itself at New Orleans and splash all over the impoverished Gulf Coast. The anger and frustration I felt at the lack of a suitable national, state and local government response was almost crippling, and I made up my mind to find a way to go down there and help with my newly minted (and useless to me at that time) degree.
While I was firming up the details of what proved to be a life changing visit to the inland areas of Alabama and Mississippi, I ran across the article Being Poor by John Scalzi, and the hundreds of comments it received. It was a beacon of light amid all the victim blaming garbage and slyly racist BS being spouted about the victims of the storm.
So lo and behold, Scalzi turns out to not be just a really insightful blogger who really gets what it is to struggle, he's also a gifted novelist who dipped into another writer's universe (with permission) and wrote a wonderful social science fiction procedural with good characters and great heart.
Because Fuzzy Nation is, at its core, a mystery, I don't want to give too much away. Scalzi says he was bored and between projects when he decided to dance in H Beam Piper's world and create something new. The main character, Jack Holloway, is deliciously ambivalent, not a guy you necessarily want to buddy up with, but someone you find yourself (grudgingly) respecting and (cautiously) trusting over time.
Jack is a curmudgeon who has alienated everyone except his dog, and has just struck it rich mining when he comes home and discovers an adorable little biped, not much bigger than a cat, making itself comfortable in his home.
The core of Fuzzy Nation isn't just, 'are the Fuzzies sentient' (and therefore creatures with rights) but 'how do we prove the Fuzzies are or aren't sentient?' in the face of several opposing forces and bits of evidence.
This is not epic fare. You are not being introduced to sweeping new vistas and huge casts of characters. This is a precision story that zeroes in on an idea and carries it through beautifully to its conclusion.
Perhaps the reason I took so long to write this review is because I struggled with how to get across how wonderful it is without giving up the key to it all. This story has its roots in Heinlein's social science fiction, with a touch of LeGuin for good measure. And it all centers around a core that is crucial to any fiction that postulates a functioning intergalactic government with the ability to adapt to new discoveries: The rule of law.
While it has become sexy and fashionable to talk about the 'go it alone' cowboys who buck the system and 'don't need no steenking sheriffs', it was refreshing to see how Scalzi's characters used law and precedent and a functioning but imperfect legal system to do what they felt they needed to do.
It made me nostalgic for the days when people understood the value of good government, even in a frontier. It made me nostalgic for the sort of science fiction that was written in the sixties and seventies, when we believed that humans and the governments and other entities they formed had the capacity to do great things together.
I loved Fuzzy Nation. My only regret is that it is short, and a one-off, so there (probably) won't be any sequels or companions in that universe. Now to go find some dusty old paperbacks by H. Beam Piper— and more books by Scalzi to round out.