I’m talking about John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s classic SF novel, Little Fuzzy. For context, I haven’t read Old Man’s War, his Hugo nominee, or anything else by Scalzi and I love H. Beam Piper.
So I was prepared to potentially hate this book very much. On the other hand, people of my generation are now used to seeing retconned classics, some of which have turned out to be suitable homages or credible artistic treatments in their own right. So I was also prepared to enjoy it for what it was, whatever it might be, if that in and of itself was enjoyable.
Spoilers below the fold…
I’m disappointed, but not terribly so, and there’s enough good points about the book to give it a thumb’s up. Like Piper’s original, the book reads fast and clean and is entertaining enough to consume in a single read, which is a nice feature in today’s market of 700-page books that aren’t self-contained. Scalzi’s Jack Holloway is in many ways a more interesting Jack Holloway than the original Jack Holloway, and I say that as a big fan of Piper’s Holloway.
However, one of the mechanisms that Scalzi used to make the book a little tighter was to take the cast of characters from the first book and compress them into three and a half characters in this book. There are elements of the old cast in the three main protagonists (Scalzi’s Jack is Piper’s Jack plus Piper’s Gus Brannhard, for example). So one of the reasons why Jack is more interesting is that he has more depth, but there’s no more Gus as a independent entity.
One of the things I like about Piper’s writing is an effective use of archetypes. You get to know George Lunt and Ben Rainsford and Ruth Ortheris in all of about three paragraphs, but Piper doesn’t condemn them to stereotypes, as there’s something interesting here and there for the reader to enjoy. Little amuse-bouches to give them depth without requiring him to sacrifice too much page count to his narrative, and Piper is always about the narrative over the characters.
Scalzi doesn’t do that here, his protagonist list is short and he spends some time getting to know them, and the book is far less about narrative than it is about them (and about Holloway, in particular).
One thing I did not like was the junking of the antagonist crew. Piper’s Victor Grego (the Industrialist who becomes a protagonist in his own right in the sequel) is gone, replaced by a boilerplate spoiled snot exhibiting all the worst possible stereotypical characteristics of the Corporate Tool + Inherited Wealth Bastard. There’s not much in the way of moral ambiguity or conflict for anyone other than Holloway: on the good guys side you have the principled scientist and a fight-the-good-fight lawyer, and on the bad side you have a corporate goon and the aforementioned corporate tool. In between you have Scalizi’s Jack, who is smarter and cagier and sneaker and less principled than Piper’s Holloway. He’s not as quick with the six-guns, though.
Now, you probably couldn’t have given a decent treatment to the bad guys and still had the story click along like the original unless you’re H. Beam Piper, so it’s hard to give Scalzi too much criticism for not being as good of a writer as H. Beam Piper. On the other hand, the guy did almost win the Hugo and he picked the story, so I don’t feel bad about giving the book an overall “You reached a bit too far and didn’t quite make it” rating.
And now I’m going to go read the original again. Enjoy your Friday, everybody.