Tue
May 3 2011 9:30am
Fuzzy Nation (Excerpt)

Chapter Two

Five minutes thirty seconds later Holloway slapped open the communication circuit on his infopanel, sound only. “I suppose you’re going to tell me my contract is deleted,” he said to Bourne.

“It is so very deleted,” Bourne said. “And I’m keying in the security retrieval order right now. Just stay where you are and someone will be along to pick you up in about an hour. They’ll take you directly to the beanstalk. Pack light.”

“No chance I can convince you otherwise,” Holloway said.

“No way,” Bourne said. “I’ve got six dozen contractors I supervise, Jack. Six dozen. Not one of them is as much of a pain in my ass as you are. I’m about to make my life that much easier.”

“You’re sure your satellite image is showing you what you need to see?” Holloway asked.

“The satellite takes images at a centimeter resolution, Jack,” Bourne said. “Live images. I am at this very moment staring at the cliff wall you just blew up, and seeing you and your dog sitting on a ledge that up until a few moments ago was inside the cliff. Say hello to Carl for me.”

Holloway turned to Carl. “Chad says hello.” Carl blinked and lay down to rest.

“Carl’s a nice dog,” Bourne said. “Too bad he’s yours.”

“That’s been noted before,” Holloway said. “Chad, if the satellite can resolve to a centimeter, you should look at my hand.”

“You’re giving me the middle finger,” Bourne said, after a second. “Nice. Have you always been twelve years old, or is this new?”

“Glad you noticed, but not that hand,” Holloway said. “The other hand.”

There was a moment’s pause. Then, “Bullshit,” said Bourne.

“No,” Holloway said. “Sunstone.”

“Bullshit!” Bourne said again.

“Big one, too,” Holloway said. “This one’s the size of the proverbial baby’s fist. And there are three more just this big here on this ledge with me. I pulled them out of the seam like they were apples off a tree. This was the original jellyfish burial ground, my friend.”

“Infopanel,” Bourne said. “High-resolution imager. Now.”

Holloway smiled and reached for his infopanel.

Zara XXIII was in most respects an unremarkable Class III planet: roughly Earth sized, roughly Earth mass, winging around its star in the “Goldilocks zone” that made liquid water possible and life therefore an inevitability. It lacked native sentient life, but most Class III planets did, otherwise they’d be Class IIIa and ZaraCorp’s E & E charter would be void, the planet and its resources held in trust for the thinking creatures who lived on it. Because Zara XXIII lacked creatures with forebrains (or the forebrain equivalent), however, ZaraCorp was free to explore and exploit it, mining the metals and plunging depths for the petroleum that humans had long ago exhausted on their own world.

But for all that Zara XXIII was mostly unremarkable, it stood out from all the other ZaraCorp planets in one way: 100 million years previously, its oceans were dominated by an immense jellyfish-like creature that survived on algae and diatoms that themselves fed on the unusually mineral-rich waters of Zara XXIII’s seas. When these jellyfish died, their fragile corpses sank downward into the oxygen-starved depths, covering the ocean floors in places for kilometers. These corpses were eventually covered in silt and mud, and in the course of time, weight and pressure compressed and transformed the jellyfish into something else.

They became sunstones: opal-like stones that did not just catch the light like filigreed fire but were in fact thermoluminescent. The body heat of someone wearing a stone was enough to make it glow from within. Not the garish glow of a light stick at a dance party or a glow-in-the-dark mood ring you’d give your kid, but a subtle and elegant incandescence that warmed skin tones and flattered the wearer. Because every person’s skin temperature was ever so slightly different, even the same sunstone looked different on another person. It was the ultimate personalized gemstone.

ZaraCorp discovered them while excavating what it hoped was a coal seam and decided the funny rocks kicking up in the hopper were more promising than the coal. Since then the corporation had taken the lessons of the old diamond cartels to heart, positioning sunstones as the rarest of all possible gems: found only on one planet, strictly limited and therefore fetching the highest possible prices. The sunstone Holloway held in his hand was worth roughly nine months of income. Cut and shaped, it would be worth more than he’d likely make in three years as a contract surveyor.

Which he no longer was.

“Holy cow,” Bourne said, glancing at the sunstone through the infopanel’s camera. “That thing’s like a jawbreaker.”

“It sure is,” Holloway said. “I could retire on this baby, and on the other sunstones I picked out of the seam here. And I guess I will, since now I own them and the entire seam.”

“What?” Bourne said. “Jack, being out in the sun has made you delirious. You don’t own a damn thing here.”

“Sure I do,” Holloway said. “You deleted my contract, remember? That makes me an independent prospector, not a contract prospector. As an independent prospector, anything I find is mine, and any seam I chart I have the right to exploit. That’s basic Colonial Authority E and E case law. Butters versus Wayland, to be specific.”

“Oh, come off it, Jack,” Bourne said. “You know ZaraCorp doesn’t allow independent prospectors on planet.”

“I wasn’t one when I came on planet,” Holloway said. “You just made me one.”

“And besides which, ZaraCorp owns this entire planet,” Bourne said.

“No,” Jack said. “ZaraCorp has an exclusive Explore and Exploit charter for the planet, granted by the Colonial Authority. De facto, ZaraCorp runs the planet. De jure, it’s Colonial Authority territory.”

“Are you having a problem with the word exclusive?” Bourne said. “An exclusive E and E charter means only ZaraCorp is allowed to explore and exploit.”

“No,” Holloway said. “It just means ZaraCorp is the exclusive corporate entity allowed on the planet. Single individuals are allowed E and E rights on any Class Three planet, so long as they conform to CEPA guidelines and allow chartered corporate entities right of first refusal on purchase of their prospected materials. Buchheit versus Zarathustra Corporation.”

“You’re pulling these so-called cases right out of your ass, Jack,” Bourne said.

“They’re real, all right,” Holloway said. “Go ahead and look them up. I was a lawyer in my past life, you know.”

Bourne’s snort came loud and clear through the infopanel. “Yeah, and you were disbarred,” he said.

“Not because I didn’t know the law,” Holloway said. Which was true, as far as it went.

“It’s all immaterial anyway, because when you surveyed the seam, you were working for ZaraCorp,” Bourne said. “I deleted your contract afterwards. Therefore discovery of the seam and the fruits of that discovery belong to us.”

“They might, if I had used ZaraCorp equipment to do the survey,” Holloway said. “But in fact, I used my own equipment, which I bought and paid for, as specified in that contract you deleted. Since I used my own equipment, legally the right to the find vested back to me when you dropped me. Levensohn versus Hildebrand.”

“Bullshit,” Bourne said.

“Look it up,” Holloway said. Actually, he hoped Bourne wouldn’t look it up; unlike the other two cases he quoted, he’d made up Levensohn v. Hildebrand on the spot. He was about to get kicked off planet anyway. It was worth a shot.

“I am going to look it up,” Bourne said. “Trust me.”

“Good,” Holloway said. “Do that. And while you’re doing that, I’m going to get busy excavating this seam. And when your security goons show up and try to roust me from my seam, I’ll be absolutely delighted, because then I can sue them, you and ZaraCorp under Greene versus Winston.”

Holloway couldn’t see it, but he knew Bourne had stiffened in his chair. Greene v. Winston were fighting words at ZaraCorp because, among other things, the decision had sent Wheaton Aubrey V, ZaraCorp’s previous Chairman and CEO, to San Quentin for seven years.

Greene was overturned, you hack,” Bourne said, tightly.

“No,” Holloway said. “A narrow and limited exception was carved out of Greene in Mieville versus Martin. That exception doesn’t apply here.”

“The hell it doesn’t,” Bourne said.

“Well, I guess we’ll find out,” Holloway said. “It’ll probably take years to work through the courts, though, and ZaraCorp will get all sorts of bad publicity while it does. We all remember what happened the last time. Also, just so you know, I’ve been recording this little conversation of ours. Just in case you get it into your head to suggest to DeLise and his security goons that they should toss me off this ledge when they find me.”

“I resent that implication,” Bourne said.

“I’m glad to hear that, Chad,” Holloway said. “But I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Bourne sighed. “Fine, Jack,” he said. “You win. Your contract is undeleted. Happy?”

“Not in the least,” Holloway said. “If you deleted the old contract, then I have the right to negotiate a new contract.”

“You get the standard contract just like everyone else,” Bourne said.

“You talk as if I’m not standing next to a billion-credit sunstone seam, Chad,” Holloway said. “Which I own.”

“I hate you,” Bourne said.

“Don’t blame me,” Holloway said. “You’re the one who deleted my contract. But my demands are simple. First, I don’t want to be fined for this cliff collapse. It was an accident, and I know when you sift the data you’ll see that for yourself.”

“Fine,” Bourne said. “Done.”

“And I want a one percent finder’s fee,” Holloway said.

Bourne swore. Holloway was asking for four times the standard finder’s fee. “No way,” Bourne said. “No way. They’ll fire me for even thinking about approving that.”

“It’s one lousy percent,” Holloway said.

“You want ten million credits for blowing up a cliff side,” Holloway said.

“Well, it might be more than that,” Holloway said. “I can see six more sunstones in the seam from where I’m sitting.”

“No,” Bourne said. “Don’t even think about it. The most I’m allowed to authorize myself is point four percent. Take it and we’re done. Leave it and we’re going to court. And I swear to you, Jack, if I get fired for all of this, I’m going to hunt you down and kill you myself. And steal your dog.”

“That’s just low, stealing someone’s dog,” Holloway said.

“Point four percent,” Bourne said. “Final offer.”

“Done,” Holloway said. “Write this up as a rider to the contract neither you nor I contend was ever stupidly deleted by you. If it’s a rider, I don’t have to fly into Aubreytown to approve it.”

“Already done,” Bourne said. “Transmitting now.” The MAIL icon on Holloway’s infopanel came to life. He picked up the infopanel, scanned the rider, and approved it with his security hash.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Chad,” Holloway said, setting down the infopanel.

“Please die in a fire, Jack,” Bourne said.

“Does this mean you’re not taking me for a steak at Ruby’s?” Holloway asked, but Bourne had already cut the connection.

Holloway smiled to himself and held up the sunstone in his hand, turning it in the sun. Even in its uncut, dirty state it was beautiful, and Holloway had held it long enough that his own ambient heat had worked into the heart of the stone, making its filaments glow like lightning trapped in amber.

“You’re coming with me,” Holloway said to the stone. ZaraCorp could have the rest of them, and would. But this was the stone that had just made him a very rich man. It was a lucky stone, indeed. And he had someone in mind to give it to. By way of apology.

Holloway stood up and slipped the sunstone into his pocket. He looked over at Carl, who was still lying on the ledge. Carl crooked an eyebrow at him.

“Well,” Holloway said. “We’ve done all the damage we’re going to do around here for today. Let’s go home.”

Fuzzy Nation © 2011 John Scalzi

(Keep reading! Chapters 3 and 4 are up on io9.com now!)

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

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.
nobodobodon
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.
nobodobodon
10. Allison Monkey
I want this book. And a sunstone. (Probably asking too much, but I shoot high.)
nobodobodon
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.
nobodobodon
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!
nobodobodon
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.
nobodobodon
14. Joj Keana
Fairly ordinary and rather derivative.
nobodobodon
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!
nobodobodon
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!).
nobodobodon
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.
nobodobodon
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.
nobodobodon
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).
nobodobodon
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.

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