If I Can’t Hear You, Are You Really Speaking?

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (2011) – Being an independent contract prospector is the perfect job for Jack Holloway. It’s a job he can do alone. An exploratory explosion reveals a massive load of the planet’s most marketable jewel, sunstones. It means never working again. Until a small, furry native life form wanders into his camp. If it’s classified as an animal, Jack’s rich. If it’s a sentient being, everyone, including Jack, must leave the planet. And the sunstones as well. In the adventure that follows, Jack’s house will burn, there will be several attempts on his life, and that life will be changed forever. Based on the characters and setting of H. Beam Piper’s 1962 science fiction novel, “Little Fuzzy”.

Why I Liked It – It’s John Scalzi. That’s not enough? A nicely written examination of what makes people “people” and not just animals.

I mentioned last week that I’d been struggling with reading. The pandemic hit hard and one of the “victims” was my lifelong reading habit. I’ve fiddled with solutions for the last two years without success. The “solution” I hit on was simple. Go to the library. Check out books. Get a due date deadline to read books. That sounds idiotically simple, but it relies on a facet of my personality that you don’t know. I hate returning unread books. It bugs the snot out of me. So having a due date for this reading pushes that button.

Yes, I know that library due dates are flimsy deadlines. Libraries no longer charge late fees, there is no suspension of your lending rights. There’s not even a social stigma. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Not reading the books I check out is a failure. Failure is unwelcome here. (And, yes, I know that’s an issue in its own right. I’m working with what I got, OK?)

What to choose first? It felt like I should go with something I know I like. Get rolling with as little resistance as possible. It was almost two years ago exactly (November 2020), that I “discovered” Scalzi’s “Interdependency” novels (review HERE). They blew me away. So why not return to that vein of writing for a jumpstart to my reading again? It’s science fiction, which I love. It’s John Scalzi, upon whom I have something of a readerly crush. Turned out to be everything I hoped for.

How do we define sentience? Well, the lovely folks at Merriam-Webster define it this way:

…feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought…

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online)

Which kicks off a word-nerd issue. I think they’re using the wrong word here. The question is are the “Fuzzys”, as Holloway dubs them, a thinking race of “people” rather than just animals. The argument is easily made that a dog is sentient. It is aware of feelings and sensations. Generally, dogs are not considered on par with humans. Pet lovers, don’t come after me. I love my pets, but I would not include them in a discussion group or a governing body. They lack the kind of intelligence to create, operate, or maintain a complex society. What I think the question is about is “sapience”. That refers to the highest functioning of a mind, the ability to think, learn, and adapt based on the surrounding reality.


Holloway discovers the sunstones, then discovers the Fuzzys. Are they just cute little beasties, or are they capable of reason? If they can “think” then the planet and all that wealth belong to them. If not, then Jack and the Zarathustra Corporation are going to be rich at levels beyond imagination. All of it comes down to the question of language and its use. Which, as I type the words, sounds dull beyond imagination.

It’s not. Because it’s Scalzi. (Is the fanboy-ing getting a little weird? It feels like it’s getting a little weird. I’ll stop. But he’s really good.) Start with a classic concept from one of the greats (H. Beam Piper reading list), add in the skills of a modern master, and you get a book that sucks you right in.

Which is exactly what I wanted.

Rating – **** Recommended


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