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Monday, May 16, 2011

Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi

I'm so excited about Fuzzy Nation, Hugo Award winner John Scalzi's latest novel. While it is an excellent novel, most of my excitement stems from the fact that he's pushing the expected boundaries of genre fiction. Fuzzy Nation and others like it are breaking the standard tropes that have pigeonholed the genre for the last thirty years. Rather than another military adventure, Scalzi offers a modern court room drama set in distant future.

By his own admission, Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation as a work of fan fiction in honor of Hugo Nominated Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. It's a modern reimagining of Piper's original. In fact, to publish the novel, Scalzi had to seek approval from Piper's estate. Nation can't escape the fact it's a cover, to steal a term from the music industry. That said, it's definitely in the mold of Whitney Houston's cover of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You. It may not be better than original, but it's a hell of a lot more appealing to today's audience.

To anyone who has read Scalzi before, the style will be familiar. He tells a crisp story full of vibrant characters. Jack Holloway - a cynical mineral surveyor who uses his dog to detonate explosives - has discovered a once in a life time vein of gems on the planet Zara XXIII. He stands to make himself, and the company that employs him, billions in credits. Unfortunately, Holloway has also discovered a new species that may or may not be sentient calling into question humanity's right to exploit the planet.

Holloway, along with the entire cast of characters, is laced with sarcasm. Almost every sentence has an eye roll, or veiled undertone attached to it. While all the dialogue is done with skill, I found myself wondering how so many witty people wound up on the same planet. It almost became a little tiresome when the characters continue to be flip with matters of life and death. Despite that, it's engaging and at times laugh out loud funny.

Some might read Fuzzy Nation with an eye toward ethnicity and subsequently civil rights. Some of that is certainly present, but Scalzi's main thrust is morality. Throughout the novel Halloway and others are forced to confront ethical dilemmas. By the end Scalzi clearly trumpets ethical relativism or maybe more accurately what might be called ethical selectivity. By that I mean the ethical solution is not always the right one.

To me, Fuzzy Nation is a big success. It has a charm that tends to be nonexistent in genre fiction reminding me of something by Christopher Moore. And that's why I'm excited. Scalzi has stimulated my love of the "fantasy" by setting his tale in the future, but simultaneously he satisfies my need for well written wit. That's a trick that just isn't seen everyday. I hope this is a signal to publishers that author's can do the unexpected and people will buy it. Thumbs up to John Scalzi and double thumbs up to Tor Books.

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