Fuzzy Bones by William Tuning
Golden Dream: a Fuzzy Odyssey by Ardath Mayhar
Fuzzy Ergo Sum by Wolfgang Diehr
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Audio Edition of Fuzzy Nation (unabridged)
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Wil Wheaton
Here is the second part of my all-too-long review of the Fuzzy books. Last week I started by discussing the original books that were written by Science Fiction great, H. Beam Piper. Here I will discuss the stories written by other authors since his death.
Piper’s Fuzzies were some of the most popular SF aliens ever when Piper was writing about them so it is understandable that fans and other professional writers would want to write their own stories. Some of those stories are very good, indeed!
Fuzzy Bones by William Tuning
When William Tuning wrote this story, Piper’s third Fuzzy book, Fuzzies and Other People, was merely a fannish rumor; a tall tale spoken about in the back rooms of a thousand cons across the world. Tuning took his time, studied as much of the Piper universe as anyone could and finally wrote his version of the third Fuzzy story. And I think it’s a very good story. I’ve read it through several times and enjoyed it every time.
And then a year or so later a carbon copy of the manuscript of Fuzzies and Other People was found in a trunk in Pennsylvania. And you know what? Fuzzy Bones got it wrong on nearly every major point. And that’s a shame, because it is a really good story. Okay, maybe it is not wrong so much as just not the way Piper developed the story.
H. Beam Piper was known for his “Self-reliant man” type of character. The sort of person who just goes out and does what he thinks needs doing while everyone else is trying to hold committee meetings on the subject. Little Fuzzy had several such characters. There was Jack Holloway, Ben Rainsford, Victor Grego, Gerd van Riebeek, Commodore Napier, even Ruth Otheris and Gus Brannhard might qualify for that title; more than in most of Piper’s stories, I think. Tuning added in a couple others – Master Gunnery Sergeant of Fleet Marines Philip Helton and The Right Reverend Thomas Aquinas Gordon, aka “The Rev.” I instantly liked Phil Helton and the Rev. They were both characters cut from Piper’s cloth.
Fuzzy Bones picks up about a year after Fuzzy Sapiens when the next wave of colonists are flocking to Zarathustra, trying to cash in on easy money, which, of course, never exists. Tuning uses the same criminal element Piper mentioned in Fuzzy Sapiens and builds from there. It is unfortunate that two of the characters are either in jail or have skipped the planet by the end of Fuzzies and Other People, but there was no way Mr. Tuning could have known what Piper had written. He extrapolated from the second book and created his own.
The only point with which I would take issue in Fuzzy Bones was the concept of the Fuzzies actually being a space-faring race, a shipload of which had crash landed on Zarathustra tens of millennia previously and then slowly sank back into a Neolithic culture. First of all the concept is contrary to Piper’s own writings even had Fuzzies and Other People never been found. In Piper’s story Ministry of Disturbance, which I think takes place some five thousand years after Little Fuzzy, the Fuzzies of Zarathustra are mentioned as “…almost able to qualify (as sentient) under the talk-and-build-a-fire rule.” That, by the way, is a rule that does not have the weight of law in Little Fuzzy, but obviously they were still seen as the least of the intelligent races some five millennia later. That would not have been the case had their ancestors been able to build and fly an interstellar spaceship.
But, okay. Tuning did a great job and I enjoyed the story in spite of Fuzzies being space-farers.
Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey by Ardath Mayhar
With the success of the republication of Piper’s works and of Fuzzy Bones, which was fairly well received by the fans, I think Ace Science Fiction was looking to cash in the new-found popularity of these stories. However, they had just published all of Piper’s works including some previously unpublished ones. So they contacted Ardath Mayhar to write a story from the Fuzzies’ point of view. She accepted the job and using Piper’s and Tuning’s work as a basis, wrote an our-story-so-far sort of story. It gave the readers some interesting perspectives on the Fuzzies and their origin as former space-farers. It attempts to explain how such an advanced people could become Neolithic nomads. Well, as a guy with a masters degree in anthropology, I am still not convinced. Even if they have a Neolithic technology I would have thought the Fuzzies would have some traces of their former culture. If nothing else, there should have been popular legends of how they came from somewhere far beyond the stars. Oh well.
I thought Ms. Mayhar’s work was okay, and it may have been more successful had the news not broken the same month that the lost manuscript for Fuzzies and Other People had been found. As events in that book directly contradicted what happened in both Fuzzy Bones and Golden Dream, both books sadly fell by the wayside. A Fuzzy completist, should probably want to read them, however. Think of it as an alternative history.
Fuzzy Ergo Sum by Wolfgang Diehr
I did not even know this book existed when I decided to write the Fuzzy reviews. But while looking up certain details to make sure I got the stories straight, I became aware of Fuzzy Ergo Sum. Narturally I had to include it and quickly purchased and downloaded a copy to my Kindle.
I really enjoyed getting to see the cast of characters from the previous books back in action again and Mister Diehr did a creditable job of duplicating the same feel to the story as Piper might have. I particularly liked the introduction of riding dogs as mounts for the Fuzzies. That was a great addition.
I liked this story a lot, right up until the Fuzzy spaceship was found. What is this? Are latter day Fuzzy writers all channeling Erich von Dänekin? I know where this comes from, of course. Piper’s Fuzzies had a need for titanium in their diet. It counters a hormone Piper called NFMp, which otherwise blocks Fuzzy females from being fertile. If they ingest enough titanium in the correct form, NFMp is not produced and the female in question can be impregnated. Simple enough as a plot device in Fuzzy Sapiens, but titanium is exceedingly rare on Zarathustra and the only way Fuzzies can get enough titanium is to eat a pseudo-crustacean pest known as a land prawn which fixes titanium in its lower digestive tract.
Well, Piper was not an expert in biology or evolutionary adaptations. As William Tuning said in his book, a species will not evolve a need for something that is not in sufficient abundance. Individual s who do so are likely not to pass that trait on.
Tuning’s solution to this is that the Fuzzies could not have evolved on Zarathustra. I can envision other solutions, but it’s a judgment call as to which way Occam’s Razor would cut. Both Mayhar and Diehr followed Mister Tuning’s lead on this because, when you get down to it, Piper’s science was bad and I suspect that if any of them read Ministry of Disturbance (and they probably did) they somehow overlooked the comment about Fuzzies there. I hate to use the word “canon.” It is a loaded term and causes needless arguments of quasi-religious significance for some, but if what Piper said is canon to the Fuzzies, then we have to work within that framework. Even some thousands of years later the Fuzzies status as an intelligent race is in question.
Now, I admit that doesn’t make sense even given Piper’s books, but if we look at cultural and psychological differences, it is possible that humans of the First Empire had trouble seeing a species with a low paleolithic hunter-gatherer culture that existed solely as small nomadic bands as intelligent. They might well have had the same trouble with the San people of the Kalihari. Call it a cultural prejudice, but it shows that the Fuzzies had not advanced culturally in that time even if they were demonstrably more intelligent (or at least more loveable) than the Khooghras of the Planet Yggdrasil. So even if Piper’s grasp of evolutionary theory was understandably stuck in the 1950’s and 60’s, I feel there should have been another explanation.
Points to Mister Diehr, however, for adding “Bill Tuning” as a character in the story as what I assume is a tip of the hat for Fuzzy Bones. I always like such signs of collegiality and appreciation.
Well, as I said the story was good, but I was disappointed by the cliff-hanger ending. It did not seem to take place at a logical breaking point and there was no satisfactory conclusion to any of the story lines AND I did not like the implied, “Tune in next book; same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”
I also think Mister Diehr’s story might have been better off had he not brought up the Freyans who are genetically compatible with humans. It’s extremely unlikely, given what we know now. That Martians ever had a civilization that could have colonized both Earth and a world around another star is probably impossible. And unlike in the 60’s, we now have a complete enough fossil record that only the uninformed, or those whose religious convictions will not allow them to accept it as evidence, can deny that there is a clear fossil link from modern humans to small ape-like creatures called Australopithecines as well as even earlier genera of species that are ancestral to both humans and pongids (the chimpanzees). If we’re going to adhere to modern knowledge of evolution we should be consistent about it.
Well, it was sort of interesting to see Freyans and their culture used in the story and it added nicely to Jack Holloway’s backstory. The only story I am aware of in which Piper used the people of Freya (whose women are all more beautiful than mere human women apparently) was in “When in the Course” which was not published within Piper’s lifetime, but which he rewrote into the Kalvin of Otherwhen stories.
It is a artistic difference but had I been attempting to write a sequel to Piper’s Fuzzy Stories, I would gone with a lead Piper himself left us in Fuzzies and Other People. Leslie Coombes had just adopted seven Fuzzies (Wise One and his band) and was about to take ship to Earth with them. They would be gone for several years. They do appear, very briefly near the end of Fuzzy Ergo Sum with newly bestowed names, but they should all still have been on Earth with “Pappy Less’ee” at this time. I would have written of that trip and included their interaction with other intelligent species from Piper’s universe; Thorans, Shishans, Freyans (perhaps), Ullerans and so forth. Sadly, I doubt anyone is going to come to me as ask me to write such a story. Too bad, I have several ideas I think are good and which some reviewer would probably have fun pulling apart… <grin>
If you’re a Piper fan. read this book too. In spite of its flaws, it is a good read and worth your time.
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
I hate reboots. I firmly believe J. J. Abrams owes all humanity an apology and two hours each for what he did to Star Trek. In general, when an author or director or producer comes up with, “We’re going to reboot this series,” what they really mean is, “We can’t be bothered to go through everything that was established before we came on the scene and make sure we got the continuity right,” or “We don’t care what the series was like before,” or “We just too lazy to do the work, so instead we shall just start over again and you, the fan, will just have to enjoy what we did.” There is a lot of egotism involved in rebooting someone else’s series and, frankly, I’m already too egotistical to be able to tolerate anyone else’s ego telling me what to do. On the other hand, I doubt I would ever reboot someone else’s series unless he or she asked me to.
I will not accuse Mister Scalzi of taking the lazy man’s route, nor do I think he tried a reboot from lack of interest in the original stories. It seems clear that this was his way of paying homage to H. Beam Piper. Unfortunately, it did not work for me.
I think I might have not been so negative against this story had it not involved Fuzzies… no, sorry in this book the word is not a proper noun, so they are just fuzzies. Of all the original character names, only Jack Holloway appears, but Mister Scalzi’s use of the name is a big mistake. This not the Jack Holloway of any of the other books. Instead of a septuagenarian geologist/prospector, this Jack is a relatively young, disbarred lawyer who can’t tell the truth when a lie will do. He seems to delight in skirting the edges of the Law and doesn’t apparently care which side of the edge he is on. His motivations are pure self-interest and even after it seems he has decided to protect the fuzzies, he says things that leave the reader suspicious that he was lying because it is in his own interest to make him seem to be protecting them. Piper’s Holloway is a likeable old man, Scalzi’s version is an young, amoral S.O.B. without any socially redeeming features to his personality or history.
The only point Fuzzy Nation has in common with Little Fuzzy is that it has long sections of courtroom melodrama. If you enjoy reading stories in which a smartass ex-lawyer cites fictitious legal precedents continuously, you might like this one too.
The planet involved is not Zarathustra. It is Zara XXIII, just one of many planets owned by the massive Zarathustra Corporation, so the world in this book is named for the company, not the other way around. ZaraCorp itself is effectively an hereditary kingdom, complete with a line of monarch/owners. For that matter, Earth is not the Terra of Piper’s universe, nor are any of the other worlds anything Piper ever imagined.
Then there are the fuzzies. Forget the loveable Fuzzies of Piper’s stories and those written by others. They have none of the charisma of the originals. Maybe because they have no craving for titanium compounds and there are no landprawns on this world. They are also unisexual creatures , a point the chief biologist for ZaraCorp on Zara XXIII forgets. Is it believable that a woman who spend her every waking hour dealing with the life forms of a world would forget that every form of the local animal life is unisexual? Why are these fuzzies unisexual? Well, I suppose the author wanted to point out that biology on another world will probably be completely different than it is on Earth. Well, if I were to pick at Piper’s biology it would be because he assumed that similar worlds would have similar life forms. Scalzi’s science is better than Piper’s on this point, but in his quest for better science he did not come up with a better story.
But, like the real Fuzzies, their voices are hypersonic so only a few high noises (in the original books it sounds like “Yeek”) are all that can be heard of their speech. Later on it turns out that not only can they talk, but some can speak whatever language the humans of ZaraCorp speak. Sadly, Papa Fuzzy sounds like a Hollywood Native American making the usual “Noble Savage” speech. “You call it ‘corn.’ We call it maize…”
Even so, I might have forgiven this story if not for the horribly unsatisfying ending. Hey, I got a great idea! Let’s find an amoral disbarred lawyer who is constitutionally incapable of telling the truth even to himself and put him in charge of the world. Sure… makes sense to me.
Mister Scalzi, himself says that Little Fuzzy is dated and obviously written in the 1950’s Others have said the same, but Piper’s Zarathustra and the other worlds of his Terro-human Federation are based on Earthly historic periods. This story is written as a Twenty-first century novel. Even the slang terms the characters use are contemporary with right now. Hearing Jack Holloway call someone “Dude” is jarring. The emphasis on clipped and trendy corporate branding is just too contemporary and the story is seems to be gritty, just for the sake of being gritty. All that just shows this book is even more dated than Piper’s. Piper’s stories still stand up today. Their background situations with historical precedent have more of a timeless quality to them. Fuzzy Nation started going out of style the moment it was written and I dare say that if one were to read it again in ten years it would be even more out of fashion than Piper’s. Piper’s stories are for the ages. This story is for right now, but maybe not even for tomorrow. If you must read it, read it fast before its sell-by date.
The Audio Edition of Fuzzy Nation
How do you take a mediocre story and make it even worse? By making a bad audio book of it!
Wil Wheaton’s voices all sound alike which makes it difficult at times to figure out who is talking. Add to that the fact that John Scalzi is one of those writers who uses the word “said” for every spoken sentence that is not an interrogative and it gets darned confusing at times.
(Side Note: Novelists appear to be split into two types on that point. Some will use “said” for everything. Others will almost never use “said” and will use words like “exclaimed,” “argued,” “replied,” “rebuked,” “remarked,” and so forth. Neither is the mark of a poor author. For example Terry Pratchett of “Discworld” fame is one who uses “said,” and I’ve never found fault with his writing on that count at least.)
Perhaps the worst flaw with this audio edition is the speed which Mister Wheaton appears to read it. I have been accused many times of speaking too rapidly, but I could not keep up. I am not certain, however, whether I should blame Mister Wheaton for that. The man is a professional actor and while I was less than impressed with his Wesley Crusher performance way back when he was on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I believe it was the character I did not like, not the actor. As a professional actor, I can’t believe no one ever discussed the importance of timing and pacing with Wil Wheaton. Indeed there are passages that sound like he was attempting to time and pace himself, but they were all spoken rapidly. For that reason I suspect an editor or director or producer (or a combination of the above) decided it would make good financial sense to squeeze the time it took to perform the reading so it would take up one less disc. The technology is there and it doesn’t take a lot to speed up the recording and then apply a little digital magic so that the reader doesn’t sound like the long-lost fourth member of Alvin and the Chipmunks, so I think that must be what happened here. If there’s any way to make a mediocre performance truly horrible, that’s the way.
Mister Scalzi apparently likes his characters to banter with each other. I can’t blame him. My characters banter all the time too. However, when you combine the bantering conversation with the rapid-fire presentation it sounds like the only conversations in the entire book are arguments. Well, there are a lot of arguments. In fact, I think the majority of the conversations in Fuzzy Nation are arguments, but when presented this way, you get the feeling there isn’t a happy person in the universe.
All told, I did not enjoy the book and especially did not enjoy the recording. That may be why Audible.com includes a recording of Little Fuzzy when you purchase Fuzzy Nation. If you are a die-hard Fuzzy fan and have not read or listened to this story, then go ahead and get a copy either written or recorded. If not, go find Little Fuzzy again and read or listen to it (even if old Jack Holloway sounds like a Gabby Hayes). I think you’ll enjoy it more.