by John Scalzi
Published by Tor Books
4 Out of 5 Stars
I have never read a John Scalzi novel before, but I certainly don't think this will be my last. Fuzzy Nation is apparently a "reboot" of an earlier science fiction classic, although that's a novel with which I am unfamiliar (so I can't offer any comparisons to how Scalzi's reimagining of the novel measures up to the original). What I can say is that Scalzi's novel is both humorous and thought-provoking.
Fuzzy Nation is set in a future where mankind has successfully managed deep space exploration to the point where we colonize other planets. Of course (and I don't think this is too far off the mark here because, as a species, we are avaricious bastards), our only interest in other planets is purely economic--we strip these planets of the natural resources we've depleted from earth and then we toss the planet aside like a banana peel and move on. This has led to the creation of mega-corporations, Zarathustra and Blue Sky, which make trillions off of their outer-planet mining industries. But ecologists have begun to take note and these corporations find their greedy little hands inconveniently bound by an ever-broadening range of EPA style rules and regulations, the most significant of which is that mining may not take place on planets that have been proven to have sentient life--at any stage in the evolutionary process.
Those who colonize these planets are migrant contractors and surveyors who move where the work is. Jack Holloway is one such contractor. Working for ZaraCorp, Jack is a misfit who seldom responds to anything appropriately, is purposefully antagonistic, and speaks sarcasm as if it's a second language. Jack is an asshole, a quality which I find endearing because he's amusing and you get a sense that, for all of his self-centered swagger, he's actually a moralistic asshole when it matters. The conflict of the novel centers on Jack, who has just discovered a seam of sunstone that could make him (and the generations who come after him) ridiculously wealthy. The problem? He has also just discovered the fuzzys, a cat-like animal that, as the novel goes on, may prove to be sentient. This pits Jack against his former girlfriend (the on-planet biologist), the corporation that must share the wealth with Jack (and whose ruthlessness may imperil Jack's life), and his own self-interest.
Where the novel goes depends upon whether Jack really is a good guy or not, a point that always seems debatable, which is why the use of an anti-hero as the main character is a stroke of genius. The reader hopes Jack will do the right thing, but can never be definitively certain that he will. The other bit of genius is that the evidence suggesting the fuzzys may be sentient is doubtful at best and this ambiguity also calls into question when and how do we decide that life is expendable and when it is not. Overall, I think Scalzi pulls off something very rare in fiction: a novel that makes you think about important issues without being overly preachy and also allows you to laugh along the way.