Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've never read Little Fuzzy, the book this is based on. But I did like the premise, and I was curious what Scalzi would do with it. This book didn't take it in the direction I expected, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Jack Holloway is a private contractor for ZaraCorp, an interplanetary mining corporation. When he returns to his remote home in an otherworldly jungle, he finds a bipedal creature that somewhat resembles a cat. He grabs video of it to share with his biologist ex-girlfriend, Isabel Wangai, because it's a new species that no one knows anyone about. She comes out to investigate, to find a family of five living with Jack. After some study, she comes to the conclusion they're sentient. But if they are, ZaraCorp has to stop exploiting their world's resources. Jack and Isabel take to the courts to argue in favor of the cute little guys. But that may target them for extinction, if previous sentience hearings are any indication.
Jack is not a likable guy. If I knew him, personally, he'd be the sort I'd barely tolerate, and avoid as much as I could. He's arrogant, self-serving, antagonistic, and unrepentant. The narrative does change his attitude in many ways, but he remains much the same. Interestingly, the character he gets along best with is Mark Sullivan, Isabel's lawyer boyfriend. Sullivan is well aware of Jack's personality and deficiencies, and he isn't afraid to call him on them. He saves Jack from himself more than once.
Of course, because Jack is so unlikable, his shining moments are all that much better. His moments of selflessness say a lot about those deserving of his goodwill. And because he's such a jerk, he has less of a problem than anyone else in the narrative taking underhanded tactics or calling people on their obvious ploys. I thought Jack was a good example of how characters needn't always be likable to carry a story.
Despite a third of this story's taking place in a courtroom, it's interesting and dynamic. John Scalzi knows how to withhold information for dramatic tension, and just when to reveal it. The characters populating the story all help carry it along, and do a lot of make up for Jack's jerk tendencies. I loved Judge Soltan. She was like an interstellar Judge Judy.
I don't know what Little Fuzzy might've lacked that this was making up for, but I'm glad John Scalzi saw that need. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I listened to this on audio, narrated by Wil Wheaton. Scalzi mentions in an introduction that he's especially glad Wheaton is narrating, for reasons the readers can glean. There's a character named Wheaton Aubrey VII, and Wil Wheaton captures his spoiled, bratty persona well. He does an excellent job narrating the rest of the story, too. He gets across the emotion in certain scenes so well, I teared up. From all the Scalzi books I've listened to audio, it seems like Wil Wheaton is his official narrator. I'm okay with that.
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