When I saw the title of John Scalzi’s new book, Fuzzy Nation, it triggered warm memories of reading H. Beam Piper’s original book, Little Fuzzy. Published in 1962, just two years before his suicide, Little Fuzzy was the first of three books penned by Piper regarding a band of cute, furry creatures on the planet Zarathustra, the subsequent effort to establish the sapience of the species (an act opposed by an intergalactic mining company with resources to exploit), and the fallout of that effort.
Initially, I assumed Scalzi’s book was a long-time-coming sequel to Piper’s original Fuzzy books. There had already been two: Fuzzy Bones (1981) by William Tuning and Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey (1982) by Ardath Mayhar. As it turns out, such a sequel has been published this year—it just wasn’t Scalzi’s book. Fuzzy Ergo Sum by Wolfgang Diehr was published this March and hailed as “the first new Fuzzy novel in almost 30 years.”
No, it turns out that Fuzzy Nation is not a sequel. It’s not a shared-world anthology, nor is it even a rogue piece of self-published fan fiction. Instead, Fuzzy Nation is a fully authorized reboot of the series.
The idea of the reboot—telling a story afresh, discarding the previously established continuity and canon—is well-established in film, television and comic books. (Not surprisingly, many examples of film reboots have comic books as their original source.) But though there are numerous reboots of film and TV franchises necessitated by aging actors, dated source material or special effects (Star Trek, James Bond, Battlestar Galactica ), or by less-than-stellar predecessors (The Hulk, Judge Dredd), the reboot is not a term associated with non-serial fiction.
It’s easy to imagine a “reboot wave” sweeping through literary genres as publishers and literary estates, especially those who treat their properties exclusively as assets to exploit rather than treasures to preserve, see a chance to reinvigorate income streams by pairing a hot author with an aging text.
Therefore, it was with apprehension and even a smidge of antagonism that I started Fuzzy Nation. After all, this book could be a harbinger for the impending despoilment of many a childhood (and adulthood) classic! Alas, my fears quickly gave way before a simpler realization: Fuzzy Nation is a very good read. From the opening pages where prospector Jack Holloway (or his dog, Carl, depending on who you ask) blows up a cliff and discovers a fortune, to his meeting with Papa Fuzzy and the other members of the fuzzy family, to the riveting courtroom battle that will determine their fates—Scalzi delivers a story that unfailingly entertains.
The plot skips along deftly, bringing the reader along every step of the way, and it easily qualified as a “blew-past-my-bedtime” read. (Apparently, that’s not unusual for a Scalzi book—I plan on knocking out his Old Man’s War as soon as I get my hands on a copy.)
In the end, Fuzzy Nation is what every good reboot should be—a sensitive re-imagining by a talented author inspired by the original material. And though there is still ample cause for apprehension about the potential impact of a reboot trend on genre fiction, even should the worse come to pass, John Scalzi’s novel will stand as an exception rather than the rule.