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Fuzzy Nation: The Latest Power Ballad from John Scalzi

Fuzzy Nation cover

I must admit that when I heard hugely popular SF author John Scalzi, a multiple Hugo Award finalist, was writing a novel entitled Fuzzy Nation that riffed off of H. Beam Piper’s iconic creation, I was a little, dare I say it...fuzzy...on the details. It’d been awhile since I’d read H. Beam Piper, but I did remember liking the stories.

So if you’re thinking “Wait. What? Fuzzies?”, you may not be alone. Although Piper is known to core science fiction fans, his last Fuzzies book came out in 1964, the year of his death, with a posthumous collection published in 1984. Two additional Fuzzy books have been written, by Ardath Mayhar and William Turning, but Scalzi’s is significant for being a reboot of the original franchise—taking as its source material the original book, Little Fuzzy.

The Fuzzy books were part of Piper’s Terro-Human Future History series, which provides a detailed account of about six thousand years of human history, dating back to 1942, the year the first fissoon reactor was created (or, in Piper parlance, year 1 A.E., Atomic Era). In Piper’s future, part of it now our past, a nuclear war lays waste to Earth in 1973. This catastrophic event leads to the creation of a Terran Federation and the invention of anti-gravity space technology. In exploring the stars, humankind eventually comes across the Fuzzies: first contact with an intelligent alien species.

What, exactly, are Fuzzies? Small furry bipeds on the planet Zarathustra that turn out to have their own civilization, and are hugely misunderstood by the humans who encounter them. As in the original novel, this reboot features prospector Jack Holloway. Holloway works as an independent contractor for the huge ZaraCorp mining corporation. The potential conflict between Holloway’s maverick ways and ZaraCorp heats up because of the Fuzzies: the corporation’s right to exploit the planet is based entirely on being able to prove to Earth authorities that no intelligent species live there.

I interviewed Scalzi via email at the beginning of his book tour for Fuzzy Nation about the Fuzzies, about his reboot, and about the rather amazing power ballad created for the novel... Why Fuzzy, why now?Scalzi author photo

John Scalzi: Mostly because I thought it would be fun. I wrote Fuzzy Nation when I was between publishing projects, mostly for my own amusement, and not as something I actually intended for publication. It was only after it was finished that my agent said "Hey, I could work with this," and started the process of getting it published. That said, any time is a good time to help people make the acquaintance of the fuzzies, and of H. Beam Piper, the author who originally thought them up.  How are Fuzzies different from Ewoks, Plushies, and Softies?

John Scalzi: I think they're smarter and more complex than, say, the Ewoks, who are basically just furry cavemen. I think in both Piper's tale and my own, the motivations of the creatures aren't always obvious or straightforward -- they can be devious for their own ends when it suits them. They're more than just adorably marketable teddy-bear-like objects, which is one of the reasons for their longevity. H. Beam Piper probably isn’t a household name to the new generation of SF/F fans coming up. Thinking back to your reading growing up, who else would you recommend that might not be hugely known these days?

John Scalzi: In science fiction, I was a fan of Keith Laumer starting in my high school years; a number of folks see similarities between what Laumer was doing and what I do, especially in "The Android's Dream." Laumer had a sense of humor, and of irony, and a really nice way of getting across the fact that even in the future, some things will be absurd. If this is Fuzzy retro-fitted for the 21st century, what should we expect that’s the same and what’s different from the original Fuzzy fiction?

John Scalzi: What's the same: The very general plot line and the name of the main human character (and the name of the main Fuzzy). What's different: The actual character of the main human character. My Jack Holloway is substantially different from the one Piper had, and many if not most of the changes between the two books stem from the differences between those characters. It makes for a fun compare and contrast. What did the book allow you to explore that you haven’t in your other fiction?

John Scalzi: It allowed me to explore how another writer solved the same plot and character issues that I was encountering, because our tales were naturally so very similar. This was the writing equivalent of walking a mile in another writer’s shoes. Piper and I are different writers and I made different choices than he did in many places. But every change was another opportunity to walk with Piper and to learn a little from him. It was a very interesting experience. In what ways was Fuzzy Nation fun to write and in what ways was it hard work?

John Scalzi: It was fun to write because it was no pressure--since I didn't initially intend to sell it I didn't worry about the commercial prospects of what I was doing; I just focused on the pleasures of writing for the sake of writing. It's an exercise I recommend every writer do from time to time. How it was hard: For many reasons, the contracts and business end of this novel were more complex (and sometimes more annoying) than it usually is with books. That was a lot of work to sort out. Do you have a favorite scene or situation in the book?

John Scalzi: I like when Jack Holloway first meets a fuzzy. I play the scene for laughs in many ways (there's even a little bit of slapstick), but at the end of the day it's very much a "first contact" scenario, even if Jack doesn't know if this creature he's discovered is actually smart or not. Either way, it's new beginnings for both Jack and the fuzzy, and that's always a fun thing to work out in words. What about the Fuzzy suggested a power ballad?

John Scalzi: Are you kidding? EVERYTHING is better with a power ballad! Actually, I'd been thinking about the idea of commissioning a song for one of my books for a while, just to try it, and the musicians Paul and Storm had expressed interest in doing something with me before. So I thought, heck, why not now? If you can make a power ballad about small, adorable fuzzy creatures, you can do just about anything. What’s up next for the Scalzi Juggernaut?

John Scalzi: The Scalzi Juggernaut will continue to power through its tour, which ends in Phoenix in the end of May, and then it is going to spend a little bit of time doing nothing but relaxing with family and friends. Then polishing the novel slated for 2012 (already completed but not yet edited), and prepping the 2013 novel, not yet written. There are worse ways to live a life.


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