Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
I read it as an: audiobook
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Source: my own collection
Publisher: Audible Studios
Humans have scattered across the galaxy and on the planet Zarathustra, they are mining for sunstones, incredibly rare gemstones. Jack Holloway, independent surveyor and contractor for ZaraCorp, has just discovered a giant seam of sunstones when he accidentally blew the face off a cliff at a survey site. Because of issues with his contract and legal maneuvering, it is unclear whether Holloway or ZaraCorp owns the seam, though the law is leaning in Holloway’s favor. ZaraCorp lawyers and owners are now out to bribe the hell out of Holloway to get him to play nice with them, even though they are willing to do anything to get their hands on that seam, including sabotaging his vehicles and putting his life in danger. If the legal machinations weren’t complicated enough, Holloway encounters adorable, fuzzy creatures on his property. Promptly naming the the Fuzzys, he contacts an old friend of his, who drops the bomb that the Fuzzys may actually be sentient beings. If true, it would mean that ZaraCorp and Holloway himself are invaders on a sovereign planet.
See, here’s the thing that I love so much about good sci-fi. You can read it on its surface, and it’s just a fun story. Fuzzy Nation is a fun story. It has action and creatures and bad guys and good guys (well, they’re all right) and it’s set on not!Earth and all the things the tick the boxes for fun sci-fi. But if you read even a little more deeply, this is also about so much more than just a fun story. There’s corporate greed, environmentalism, racism, and colonialism. Those are just the big ones. I’m sure there are dozens of other issues I could pick out, legalities or the way evidence is handled, for example. But this book tackles corporate greed head on. It shows how so often, giant corporations only seek to increase their own profits and don’t care a thing about the people or communities they disrupt or destroy. Money is the only thing that matters to them. The people in charge see the effects of their actions and decisions and make the decisions anyway, opting for more money instead of morality.
Environmentalism ties in to that, because in their desire to make more and more money, ZaraCorp twisted itself into Gordian knots trying to get around or find loopholes in environmental laws so it could continue to extract the gems. Their nod to keeping the environment healthy is to plant a few puny saplings when they leave a site. To some people, that might seem adequate, rather than leaving a place alone and not mining for a thing that isn’t a necessary commodity in the first place.
The major issues come when the Fuzzys show up. What determines sentience? What makes someone a person? Holloway recognized their intelligence right away, and his friend Isabelle realized they were likely sentient as soon as she saw them. But of course, ZaraCorp and its lawyers and LEOs argued otherwise. They don’t look, act, or, most importantly, talk like humans, so how could they possibly be people? History is riddled with examples of colonization being justified because the invaders were bringing civilization to the savages, who were of course not recognized as fully human because they didn’t look, act, or talk the same way as the invaders did who brought “civilization” with them. What a load of bullshit. But it is the course so much history has taken, and once humans make it to the stars, I can easily see the same thing happening with smaller, less advanced races like the Fuzzys. It will be the Long Walk or the Middle Passage all over again, because humans basically suck.
As a long-time Scalzi fan, I thought this was a terrific read. One of his best? Maybe not. But fun, certainly, and covering a lot of relevant topics. I never read Little Fuzzy, so I can’t compare the two, though in the intro, Scalzi said something about how that book was a product of its time and he wanted to update it. Yay, I guess. I get a little tired of rebooting old things, but since I never read the original, this was new to me so I’m not worn out on it. Whatever, I liked it and thought it was fun and thought-provoking, which is how I like my sci-fi anyway.