May 3 2011 9:30am

Fuzzy Nation (Excerpt)

Fuzzy Nation by John ScalziPlease enjoy this excerpt of Chapter One and Two from Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, out on May 10th from Tor Books. Like what you see? Check out io9.com for Chapter Three and Four! (Update: here now!)


Chapter One

Jack Holloway set the skimmer to HOVER, swiveled his seat around, and looked at Carl. He shook his head sadly.

“I can't believe we have to go through this again,” Holloway said. "It's not that I don't value you as part of this team, Carl. I do. Really, I do. But I can’t help but think that in some way, I’m just not getting through to you. We’ve gone over this how many times now? A dozen? Two? And yet every time we come out here, it’s like you forget everything you’ve been taught. It’s really very discouraging. Tell me you get what I’m saying to you.”

Carl stared up at Holloway and barked. He was a dog.

“Fine,” Holloway said. “Then maybe this time it will stick.” He reached down into a storage bin and hoisted a mound of putty in one hand. “This is acoustical blasting putty. What do we do with it?”

Carl cocked his head.

“Come on, Carl,” Holloway said. “This is the first thing I taught you. We put it on the side of the cliff at strategic points,” Holloway said. “Just like I already did earlier today. You remember. You were there.” He pointed in the direction of Carl’s Cliff, a massive outcropping of rock, two hundred meters high, with geological striations peeking out of the vegetation covering most of the rock face. Carl followed Holloway’s finger with his eyes, more interested in the finger than in the cliff his master had named for him.

Holloway set down the putty and picked up another, smaller object. “And this is the remote-controlled blasting cap,” he said. “Which we attach to the acoustical blasting putty, so we don’t have to be near the acoustical blasting putty when we set it off. Because that’s boom. How do we feel about boom, Carl?”

Carl got a concerned look on his doggy face. Boom was a word he knew. Carl was not fond of boom.

“Right,” Holloway said. He set down the blasting cap, making sure it was nowhere near the blasting putty, and that the cap receiver was inactive. He picked up a third object.

“And this is the remote detonator,” Holloway said. “You remember this, right, Carl?”

Carl barked.

“What’s that, Carl?” Holloway said. “You want to set off the acoustical blasting putty?”

Carl barked again.

“I don’t know,” Holloway said, doubtfully. “Technically it is a violation of Zarathustra Corporation safe labor practices to allow a nonsentient species member to set off high explosives.”

Carl came up to Holloway and licked his face with a whine that said please please oh please.

“Oh, all right,” Holloway said, fending off the dog. “But this is the last time. At least until you grasp all the fundamentals of the job. No more slacking off and leaving all the hard work to me. I’m paid to supervise. Are we clear?”

Carl barked once more and then backed off, tail wagging. He knew what was coming next.

Holloway glanced down at the detonator’s image panel and checked, for the third time since he placed the charges earlier in the day, that the detonator was keyed specifically to the blasting caps placed into the charges. He pressed the panel to answer YES to each of the automated safety questions and waited while the detonator confirmed by geolocation that it was, in fact, safely outside the blast radius of any charges. This could be overridden, but it took some hacking, and anyway, Holloway preferred not to blow himself up whenever possible. And Carl was not so fond of boom.


“Okay,” Holloway said, and set the detonator on the skimmer floor between him and Carl. Carl looked up expectantly.

“Wait for it,” Holloway said, and swiveled around in his chair to face the cliff. He could hear Carl’s tail thumping excitedly against a crate.

Wait for it,” Holloway said again, and tried to spy the places on the cliff he had drilled into earlier in the day, using the skimmer as a platform while he inserted and secured the charges into the drill holes.

Carl gave a little whine.

“Fire!” Holloway said, and heard the dog scramble forward.

The cliff puffed out in four spots, spewing rock and dirt and hurling vegetation for meters. The cliff face darkened as the birds (which is to say, the local flying animal equivalent to birds) that had been nesting in the cliff face’s vegetation took to the air, alarmed by the noise and sudden eruptions. A few seconds later, four closely spaced cracks snapped the air in the skimmer’s open cockpit, the sound of the explosions finally reaching Holloway and Carl—loud, but without the Carl-worrying boom.

Holloway glanced over to his right, where his information panel lay, sonic imaging program up and running. The sonic probes he’d placed on and around the cliff were spewing their raw feed into the program, which was collating and combining the data, turning it into a three-dimensional representation of the internal structure of the cliff.

“All right,” he said, and swiveled around to look at Carl, who still had his paw on the detonator, tongue lolling out of his mouth

“Good boy!” Holloway said, and dug into the storage bin to pull out a zararaptor bone, still heavy with meat. He unwrapped it from its storage film and tossed it at Carl, who fell on it happily. That was the deal: Press the detonator, get a bone. It had taken Holloway more than a few tries to get Carl to press the detonator accurately, but it had been worth the effort. Carl had to come on the surveying trips anyway. Might as well have him be useful, or at least entertaining.

Now, it really was a violation of Zarathustra Corporation safe labor practices to let a dog blow things up. But Holloway and Carl worked alone, hundreds of kilometers from ZaraCorp’s local headquarters on-planet and 178 light-years from its corporate headquarters on Earth. He wasn’t technically a ZaraCorp employee anyway; he was a contractor, just like every other prospector/surveyor here on Zara XXIII. It was cheaper that way.

Holloway reached down and rubbed Carl’s head affectionately. Carl, engrossed in the raptor bone, paid him not the slightest bit of mind.

An urgent beep came from Holloway’s infopanel. He picked it up to see that the data feeds were suddenly spiking through their bandwidth.

A low rumble thrummed its way into the skimmer cockpit, getting louder the longer it lasted. Carl looked up from his bone and whined. This noise was perilously close to boom.

Holloway glanced up and saw a column of dust rising violently from the cliff wall, obscuring everything behind it.

“Oh, crap,” he said to himself. He had a very bad, sinking feeling about this.

After a few minutes, the dust began to clear a bit, and his very bad, sinking feeling got worse. Through the indistinct haze, Holloway could see that a portion of the cliff wall had collapsed, the borders of the collapse roughly contiguous with where he had placed his explosive charges. Stark geological striations glared out from where vegetation had been before. Birds swooped into the area, looking for their nests, the remains of which were a couple hundred meters below them, the wreckage muddying and rerouting the river at the foot of the cliff.

“Oh, crap,” Holloway said again, and reached for his binoculars.

ZaraCorp would be awfully pissed he’d just caused a cliff collapse. ZaraCorp had been working hard over the last few years to reverse the long-standing public image the company had as a rampant despoiler of nature—earned, to be sure, by actually despoiling nature on a number of planets it had operations on. The public was no longer buying the argument that uninhabited planets had higher ecological tolerances than inhabited ones, or that these ecosystems would quickly restore natural equilibriums once ZaraCorp had moved on. As far as they were concerned, strip-mining was strip-mining, regardless of whether you were doing it in the mountains of Pennsylvania or the hills of Zara XXIII.

Confronted with overwhelming public opposition to his company’s ecological practices (or lack thereof), Wheaton Aubrey VI, Chairman and CEO of Zarathustra Corporation, said “fine” and ordered ZaraCorp and all its subsidiaries to exercise practices consistent with ecological guidelines suggested by the Colonial Environmental Protection Agency. It was all the same to Aubrey. He was no friend to the various ecologies of the planets his company was on, but ZaraCorp’s Exploration & Exploitation charter with the Colonial Administration specified that the company would receive tax credits when conforming to CEPA guidelines, so long as the incurred business costs were above a meager cost-of-development baseline formulated decades before anyone cared about the ecological despoilage of worlds they would never actually set foot on.

ZaraCorp’s ostentatious new regime of ecological best practices, in other words, helped drive the company’s tax indebtedness to something close to zero, a neat trick for an organization whose size and income were a nontrivial fraction of that of the Colonial Administration itself.

But it also meant that events that tarnished ZaraCorp’s new eco-friendly PR campaign were looked at rather harshly. For example, collapsing an entire cliff wall. The whole point of using acoustic charges was to minimize the invasiveness of geologic exploration. Holloway didn’t intend to make half the cliff fall away, but given ZaraCorp’s reputation, the company would have a hard time getting anyone to believe that. Holloway had played fast and loose with regulations before and had mostly gotten away with it, but this was just the sort of thing that would, in fact, get Holloway booted off the planet.


“Come on, come on,” Holloway said, still peering through his binoculars. He was waiting for the haze to settle enough to make out details.

The communication circuit on Holloway’s infopanel fired up, showing the ID of Chad Bourne, Holloway’s ZaraCorp contractor rep. Holloway swore and slapped the AUDIO ONLY option.

“Hi, Chad,” he said, and put the binoculars back to his eyes.

“Jack, the geeks in the data room tell me there’s something really screwy with your feeds,” Bourne said. “They say everything was coming in clear and then it was like someone turned the feeds up to eleven.” Chad Bourne’s voice came in crystal clear and enveloping, thanks to the skimmer’s one true indulgence: a spectacular sound system. Holloway had it installed when he realized he’d be spending almost all his working life in the skim- mer. It was a wonder in many ways, but it didn’t make Bourne sound any less adenoidal.

“Huh,” Holloway said.

“They say it’s the sort of thing you see when there’s an earthquake. Or a maybe a rock slide,” Bourne said.

“Now that you mention it, I think I felt an earthquake,” Holloway said.

“Really,” Bourne said.

“Yes,” Holloway said. “Just before it happened, Carl was acting all strange. They say animals are always the first to know about these things.”

“So the fact that the data geeks just told me there was absolutely no seismic event of any magnitude in your part of the continent doesn’t bother you any,” Bourne said.

“Who are you going to believe,” Holloway said. “I’m here. They’re there.”

“They’re here with roughly twenty-five million credits’ worth of equipment,” Bourne said. “You’ve got an infopanel and a history of bad surveying practices.”

Alleged bad surveying practices,” Holloway said.

“Jack, you let your dog blow shit up,” Bourne said.

“I do not,” Holloway said. The dust at the cliff wall had finally begun to clear. “That’s just a rumor.”

“We have an eyewitness,” Bourne said.

“She’s unreliable,” Holloway said.

“She’s a trusted employee,” Bourne said. “Unlike some people I could name.”

“She had a personal agenda,” Holloway said. “Trust me.”

“Well, that’s just the thing, isn’t it, Jack?” Bourne said. “You have to earn that trust. And right now, you’ve got not so much of it with me. But I’ll tell you what. I have a surveying satellite that’s coming up over the horizon in about six minutes. When it gets there, I’m going to have it look at that cliff wall you probably just blew up. If it looks like it’s supposed to, then the next time you get into Aubreytown, I’ll buy you a steak at Ruby’s and apologize. But if it looks like I know it’s going to look like, I’m going to revoke your contract and send some security agents to bring you in. And not the ones you go drinking with, Jack. The ones who don’t like you. I know, I’ll send Joe DeLise. He’ll be delighted to see you.”

“Good luck getting him off his barstool,” Holloway said.

“For you, I think he’d do it,” Bourne said. “What do you think about that?”

Holloway didn’t respond. He’d stopped listening several sec- onds earlier, because in his binoculars was a thin stratum of rock, sandwiched between two much larger striations. The stratum he was focused on was dark as coal.

And sparkled.

Yes,” Holloway said.

“Yes, what?” Bourne said. “Jack, are you even listening to what I’m telling you?”

“Sorry, Chad, you’re breaking up,” Holloway said. “Interference. Sunspots.”

“Jesus, Jack, you’re not even trying anymore,” Bourne said. “Enjoy your next five minutes. I’ve already called up your contract on my infopanel. As soon as I get that satellite image, I’m pressing the delete button.” Bourne broke contact.

Holloway looked over at Carl and picked up the detonator panel. “Crate,” he said to the dog. Carl barked, picked up his bone, and headed for his crate, which would immobilize him in case of a skimmer crash. Holloway dropped the detonator into the storage bin, secured his infopanel, and strapped himself into his chair.

“Come on, Carl,” he said, and goosed the skimmer forward. “We’ve got five minutes to keep ourselves from getting kicked off the planet.”

Matthew Kuhl
1. pattonmat
Okay, I'm convinced. I'll probably buy this when it comes out.
3. nobodobodon
Damn it. Why did I start? It's like eating four or five potato chips and then someone steals the bag.
4. Steve Jarrett
Nice. Got my attention enough for a pre-order..... Sometimes your wallet just has to hate good writers....
6. Gilmoure

Where's the rest?!!!

(I know, is pre-ordered on Amazon)
Jeff Domer
7. jqueasy
Well, already pre-ordered this. I can't wait till tuesday.
8. spool32
Chapters 3 and 4 on io9 tomorrow, hopefully...

I've been very dubious about buying this one, given the cutesy-ness of the cover. Android's Dream sold me, though... and I was very dubious about picking it up.

Probably will read this one.
10. Allison Monkey
I want this book. And a sunstone. (Probably asking too much, but I shoot high.)
11. Majyck
I have to admit I was on the fence about this one, but after the teaser, I'm definitely hooked enough to make a purchase.

Well done, Mr. Scalzi. Well done.
12. MarkinPA
Ahhh, the evilness that is Mr Scalzi has struck again. As with his other books it appears I am being psychically compelled to purchase this.

Thanks for the two chapters to ease the psychic pressure until my, pre-ordered, copy arrives!
13. Phoenix
Hmm. Sorry, I'm not overly impressed by the preview. These books were begging to be RE-RELEASED, not RE-WRITTEN. ...or, in my case, re-read, since I have them all. ;)

Nothing against Scalzi, he's a decent writer. But nothing I see in here makes a compelling case for creating/buying a new version of these. Jack Holloway as a disbarred lawyer, semi-competent miner, and lucky dude? Not a compelling character this far in.

Frankly, re-imagining a classic story like this does not strike me as a respectful action by either Scalzi or TOR, and I guess that's what annoys me.

Once it hits paperback, AND that hits the used bookstores, I might pick it up.
14. Joj Keana
Fairly ordinary and rather derivative.
16. hunteramargin
Sorry, This is a no-go. I like and have read Scalzi's stuff but This
does not do H Beam Piper justice. Continuing on where Piper left off
is one thing but a re-write? This excerpt made it pretty clear at least
to me that 1. Its a job that didn't need doing, and 2. Scalzi is not
up to the task.
Chris Palmer
17. cmpalmer
I really like Scalzi's work, but I've been a fan of Little Fuzzy, et al. for a long time. I'm not against the idea of a "reboot" and I'm sure I'll buy the book next week because, well, just because...

But... I really hope it goes off into a different direction after these first four chapters because I'm not seeing a reason behind the rewrite at this point. Little Fuzzy isn't even that dated that it would need a "tech refresh" or even much of a dose of political correctness.

I enjoyed these chapters, but I hope there is more to it. I'm hoping it's the backdoor to a movie deal. Avatar'ish technology would make a helluva cool Fuzzy movie!
18. Cmpalmer
After I posted the above comment, I just went back and re-read Piper's Little Fuzzy cover-to-cover. Aside from the tapes and film processing, the tech is pretty solid and the only real political incorrectness is that everyone smokes (including Little Fuzzy). There is a wee bit of White Man's Burden in the fact that the Fuzzies make a conscious effort to move in with the humans for protection and security, but that isn't as ominous as it it sounds based on revelations that they aren't native to Zarathustra. I still really love the book. Lots of memorable scenes.

I always wanted someone to make a movie of it with Sam Elliot playing Pappy Jack.
Chris Palmer
19. cmpalmer
Speaking of Little Fuzzy, does anyone else have the storybook version The Adventures of Little Fuzzy, adapted by Benson Parker with art by Michael Whelan and David Wenzel? It was published in 1983 and I remember kind of being freaked out by it because I saw it (and bought it) at a grocery store. It's a pretty good adaptation with a gorgeous wrap-around Whelan cover and Whelan-esque interior drawings.

The reason I was surprised by it was that (a) I was already a fan of the book and huge Michael Whelan fan, and (b) I was really surprised that someone did a mass-market children's book adaptation of a classic SF novel, something that was almost unheard of back then.

Here is the cover:

There are a few copies on eBay (not mine - I'm keeping it!).
20. jjmcgaffey
Fun. Not Little Fuzzy, but...And I'll be interested to see where it goes. Little Fuzzy (and Fuzzy Sapiens, and to some extent Fuzzies and Other People) is a legal drama - everything focuses on the courtroom. That was my major objection to Fuzzy Bones - that it was an adventure and not a proper continuation of the story at that point. (As is probably obvious, I'm one of the rabid Piper fans...and (less obvious) Little Fuzzy was my first Piper). Definitely reading...we'll see about buying.
21. JWRutter
Where has originality gone? Instead of new movies, we get "Transformers 4" (or is it 3, or 5?) We get "Fast and Furious 5" etc. etc. ad nauseum.

I first read "Little Fuzzy" almost 50 years ago. I loved it, (Still do) I have re-read it at least 15 times.... Great Story, you believe in the characters, and become emotionally invested in their struggle.

So why reboot "Little Fuzzy?" Aside from wanting to milk the franchise... It's not like Piper screwed up a great concept, like Verhoeven did with his scabrous adaptation of "Starship Troopers." In his too short career, he wrote some of the most endearing, (and enduring) characters in fiction. I can see a continuation of the saga, either towards past or future, but why re-invent the wheel?
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
22. tnh
Ah. I see that several commenters are denouncing this work as "unoriginal" because they've divined that it's a reboot of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy stories.

Tell me, dear ones: what was your first clue?

Phoenix @13, the original Little Fuzzy books are indeed out of print. As a senior editor of my acquaintance carefully put it, "The copyright status of some of Piper's work appears to be unclear." However, the unsettled state of the copyrights has also given rise to a Project Gutenberg edition and an ebook version, and they're easily had from used book sellers; so they can hardly be said to be unavailable. This was the first thing Jo Walton mentioned in her essay, Sapience and responsibility: H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy books, published here two years ago

It should be noted that Jon Scalzi dealt with Piper's estate as though all the work was in copyright. He published a piece about this, The Super Secret Thing That I Cannot Tell You About, Revealed: Introducing Fuzzy Nation, a year ago in his own weblog.

So why did John Scalzi, an enormously inventive writer who has twenty other books he could be writing, spend so much time on this one? That one's easy: because the loves the Little Fuzzy stories.

Now, can we all calm down?
Chris Palmer
23. cmpalmer
@tnh:22, for the record, I'm not shocked and/or appalled by it being unoriginal and I have no animosity towards Scalzi for doing it - I think it sounds like a very fun project for him and a fun read for us.

I enjoyed these four chapters and I'm looking forward to the book, I'm just hoping there is a "Ohhhh, so that's why he wanted to rewrite it!" moment in it somewhere.
24. hunteramargin
I didn't use the word unoriginal. However that seems a fair word, as a re-imagining or re-telling is by self evident definition -wait for it- unoriginal. The tone of all the notes seemed complimentary of Mr Scalzi in general, the negatives seem to all have to do with the needlessness of the work and do not require an admonition to "calm down". On reading the excerpt I personally have no fear of this eclipsing HBP's work. I reread them to make sure of my assesment andt it stands- unnecessary and not up to snuff.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
25. tnh
Chris Palmer, so far I've only read part of Fuzzy Nation. I'll finish it soon. I have yet to be disappointed by one of John Scalzi's books, but who knows whether they'll work the same way for you? Tastes vary; and while "good" is not arbitrary, it's also not absolute. All I can do is hope that you'll enjoy it.

Hunteramargin, I shall duly meditate upon your opinions.
Chris Palmer
26. cmpalmer
I hereby retract my doubting words above. The hardback was waiting for me when I got home and I started it after dinner. I just forced myself to close it at the halfway point to avoid finishing it too fast.

Excellent so far. Once the story veered a little farther from the original (new characters, new complications), I found it easier to enjoy it on its own merits. Particularly once Holloway shows the Fuzzies a certain old movie (no spoilers).
27. fairyhedgehog
It looks great! I'm dying to read it but I really want an ebook version. When will that be available in the UK?
Chris Palmer
28. cmpalmer
Finished it. Loved it. Laughed out loud numerous times and got all verklempt at least twice. Very twisty legal drama at the end - had me on the edge of my seat even though I knew (I hoped) how it would end. Lots of surprises. Bacon.

Even though I'm still not sure a reboot was necessary, Scalzi did an amazing job with it and I highly recommend it now.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment