Even big time SF authors can't resist doing fanfic. And why not? Our favorite writers are fans just like us. John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War and internet darling, probably read Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper as a kid. This tale of humans debating the intelligence of a cute, fuzzy alien species has charmed readers since 1962, was a Hugo Best Novel nominee, and was in many of our student bookbags along with the Heinlein juveniles and John Christopher's Tripod books.
Scalzi began this reboot as a personal project but was so delighted with the result he approached Mr. Piper's estate to publish Fuzzy Nation (Tor Books) and share it with other fans. This is a retelling, not a sequel.
Although it does not take place in the universes of neither Old Man's War nor Android's Dream, it has all the Scalzian hallmarks— good or ill— of a Scalzi novel; because it was written by John Scalzi. He can stretch and do something very different as we've seen in The God Engines, but this ain't it. This is a great deal like his first novel, Agent to the Stars, also a first contact story— but of course much more polished.
There are spoilers ahead. Even if you've never read Little Fuzzy, you don't really expect wild plot twists and deep thoughts from this light and entertaining novel, do you?
The setting resembles the original novel with some changes in nomenclature and science (no contragravity this time— good.). The primordial untouched planet Zarathustra XXIII is being heavily touched by human interests in the form of the greedy if unoriginally named ZaraCorp. These fat cats have an exclusive Explore and Exploit charter from Earth's Colonial Authority. They're allowed to strip this world of resources because there are no indigenous sapients, just lots of dumb reptilioids. The main exports of Zarathustra XXIII appear to be luxury goods such as exotic hardwoods and the coveted sunstones. ZaraCorp is also mining mountain-loads of anthracite coal. Really, Scalzi? Coal!? I figure it's either fuel for the spaceships of steampunk oligarchs or to fulfill the Evil Planet Raper clause of ZaraCorp's charter. At least one known species has a disturbing amount of manual dexterity, but who cares? Zararaptors (the name-making guys went all out here) eat hapless surveyors. Besides, lizards just aren't cute. Kill 'em all and let Darwin sort 'em out. The important thing is that there are no real people like us, so everything is up for grabs nice and legal-like.
Fuzzy Nation's protagonist Jack Holloway shares the same name as his 1962 incarnation, but that's about it. This time around he's younger, has a good dog named Carl, but lacks the Mark Twain mustache and moral restraint. He's also a lawyer; well,a disbarred lawyer, the kind of lawyer that makes other lawyers want to boil their hands in bleach after shaking his hand. Okay, I'll stop using the word "lawyer" for a few paragraphs now. Holloway is on contract with ZaraCorp as a surveyor to aid in the ecological rape and pillage. The novel opens as he and Carl have made a literally explosive discovery, a huge deposit of coveted thermoluminescent sunstones. This is the muthaeffer of all motherlodes. Despite his already tenuous relationship with ZaraCorp, this confident rugged individualist (read: selfish jerk) stands to become obscenely wealthy. Upon returning to his cozy jungle cabin lucky Jack makes another planet-shaking discovery. Inside trashing his bachelor pad, is an heretofore uncatalogued mammalian biped. It's about a cubit tall, vaguely feline in appearance, and covered in silky golden hair. This "little fuzzy" is friendly and quickly demonstrates self-awareness and problem-solving skills. Sure, the li'l fella's cute as the dickens but can't possibly be intelligent enough to ruin Jack and ZaraCorp's dreams of avarice.
In preadolescence, I devoured the original novel, Piper's sequel Fuzzy Sapiens, and Fuzzy Bones by William Tuning. In 1982, Ardath Mayhar wrote Golden Dreams: A Fuzzy Odyssey, a great retelling of the saga from the viewpoint of the Fuzzies. Scalzi fans will note that he did something similar in Zoe's Tale. These enjoyable, simple adventures appeal to the instinctual attraction we all have of adorable critters with Sharp Objects. They also confirmed my own feelings against racism and colonial imperialism without heavy-handed moralizing. Piper's main message is that sincere fair play is a good way to live. We should look out for the little guys, especially if they have Sharp Objects. John Scalzi has not strayed far from this basic truth.