Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton)
Jack Halloway–disbarred lawyer now contracted prospector on the planet Zarathustra–just wants to collect his massive amount of money from discovering a large sunstone vein. He seems to be doing fairly well at finagling ZaraCorp into giving him the sizable portion of the profits that he totally deserves, but one day some local creatures that he dubs Fuzzies invite themselves into his home. Small and cat-like, only with hands, the Fuzzy family quickly endear themselves to him. When he shows them to his ex-girlfriend, a biologist, she starts to suspect that they are sentient. And sentience would mean a cessation of all mining on the planet. What’s a morally ambiguous guy to do?
I picked this up for three reasons. 1) It was on sale at Audible. 2) I read John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream and found it hilarious. 3) It’s narrated by Wil Wheaton. It is certainly an entertaining read, but I must admit it was not quite up to the level that I was expecting from a Scalzi/Wheaton collaboration.
This book is interestingly a reimagining of a YA series written in the 1960s (starting with Little Fuzzy). I have not read the original but I can tell you that this is not a YA book. It is definitely your more general adult scifi. Scalzi explains this as a tradition in scifi movies and tv shows that he thinks should also be carried out in books.
Scalzi’s writing is humorous, although, with the exception of the first couple of chapters, not to the laugh out loud level found in The Android’s Dream. I particularly enjoy how good he is at giving personality to non-human characters, such as the Fuzzies and Jack’s dog. The first half of the book is hilarious and well-plotted, complete with adorable aliens, a dog who can trigger explosives, and velociraptor-like native creatures to add to the danger factor. The second half of the book, though, falls into this void of courtroom proceedings. I know some people enjoy reading that, but it felt so stark and lacking in life compared to the much more fun first half that included things like the Fuzzies making sandwiches from Jack’s limited Earth supplies. I’m not really a courtroom procedural reader myself, and frankly the two halves of the book almost felt like two separate books entirely. I’m not sure what else could be done, though, since the basic plot is proving the sentience of the Fuzzies, which given the parameters of the world that this takes place in, can basically only happen in the courtroom.
As an animal rights advocate, I appreciated the basic storyline that just because you can’t hear creatures communicating doesn’t mean they don’t have relationships and caring amongst themselves. I wasn’t a fan of the way that sentience was determined with such a human bias or that killing a Fuzzy is only considered truly heinous if it is established that they are sentient. I would have preferred an ultimate conclusion rejecting speciesism, rather than the quite conservative focus on proving the human-like qualities of the Fuzzies.
Wil Wheaton’s narration was great for the first half of the book. It’s Wil Wheaton. If you’re not sure if his acting style is for you, just look up his scenes in The Big Bang Theory. I found his narration very similar to his appearances there. My one complaint is a bit of a spoiler, so consider yourself warned. His voice for Papa Fuzzy really grated on my nerves. It was just so….blech. And not adorable Fuzzy-like. Otherwise though, he’s a good match for Scalzi’s work.
I don’t often comment on the cover, but I must say that I don’t think that this cover does the book justice. I particularly dislike it when a cover tries to draw out an alien creature that frankly comes across as much more adorable within the book. Also, even the background of the planet itself doesn’t look right.
Overall, this is a witty piece of scifi with adorable alien creatures that call to mind websites like Cute Overload. I recommend it to fans of scifi who also enjoy some courtroom proceedings in their reading.
4 out of 5 stars