Got Fuzzy?

Ages ago, H. Beam Piper wrote a series of books that began with Little Fuzzy. They're showing their years: you know it's an old book when the hero is seen smoking. As a kid, I loved reading these ancient and battered paperbacks from my local library. As an adult I hunted down the omnibus for my own collection and still love them. The first book in the series is actually out of copyright so you can download and read it for free from the public domain books via Library2Go.  Under the weathered quaintness of them is just this spark - you forgive the out-dated tech. What comes through is the bright hope and the good side of human nature. Sometimes it's just nice to relax with a book where it's clear who the good guys are. They are, forgive me, I can't resist... warm and fuzzy novels.

Apparently I'm not the only closet fan of this series. John Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation for himself as a "reboot" of the original. It wasn't until he finished that he got permission to publish it from the Piper estate. He wrote that if he hadn't gotten the go-ahead, he would have just kept the book he wrote for his own pleasure. So, in a way, this book is fanfic... but by a top-notch writer.  In the last five years Scalzi has collected a generous handful of Hugo award nominations and has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Scalzi is best know for a string of military science fiction novels that are anything but warm and fuzzy, so I was curious to see what he would do. Fuzzy Nation won me over to the point that I finished it in one sitting.

The plot-line is similar to Piper's original. Humans have moved out into the stars. While we've meet a few less technologically advanced intelligent species we're almost alone. Jack Holloway is a prospector on a planet with no native intelligent life living in the wilderness (which has lots of huge toothy carnivorous threats) when a tiny, cute, furry biped turns up in his cabin. The tiny, physically helpless and non-threatening critter is too clever to be just a dumb animal. Jack has to figure out if it's a sapient being but still an animal or if it's actually a person. Human laws in this universe say that if there's no intelligent life we can take what we like from a planet. If there is intelligent life then the planet belongs to the native intelligence and we can't interfere. Here's where the two books diverge. Piper's tells an adventure story centered on exploring this world. Scalzi presents a courtroom drama with a take on what we, both as a species and as individuals, would do if we found cute, helpless, and intelligent life sitting on a nice rich new world.