Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi

Totally digging your jacket, protagonist dude.

Totally digging your jacket, protagonist dude.

This one’s a little unfair of me.  Fuzzy Nation is John Scalzi’s “reboot” of a 1962 novel by H. Beam Piper:  Little Fuzzy.  I haven’t read the original or any of its sequels, so I’m coming to it fresh and without context.  I suppose in many ways, I’m probably Scalzi’s desired audience, here — a potential new audience for an old favorite.  And if that was his goal, he’s probably succeeded.  I give good odds that I’ll go back and read the original at some point, but we’re here about the 2011 version.

A friend lent me this one because the basic premise involves some entertaining legal acrobatics he thought I might enjoy.  Our occasionally-lovable antihero, Jack Holloway, is a contractor on a faraway planet, looking for minerals and other resources on behalf of Huge Evil Corporation (“ZaraCorp”) when he encounters a set of clever and adorable fuzzy creatures.  If the creatures turn out to be deemed sentient, ZaraCorp loses all ability to exploit the planet further, and so, zillions of dollars.  Hilarity, snappy comebacks, thrilling adventure, and ludicrous courtroom drama ensues.  It’s certainly a rollicking ride of a page turner, though it’s far over to the cotton candy side of the cotton candy to steak dinner continuum.

Scalzi’s got a Heinleinesque voice for his answers-to-nobody, always-sarcastic cowboy of a protagonist.  It’s mostly charming and fun, but a little one-note, and starts to grate hard after about halfway through.  The supporting characters make me want to hand the book back to Scalzi for another revision, saying, “Come now.  I know you got more in you that this.”  There’s a lot of uncomplicated archetypes here: the evil corporate goon and evil corporate boss/heir/scion, the passionate environmental biologist.  Aside from Holloway (and he’s a point highly debatable) nobody fundamentally changes, nobody really has much of an arc, and nobody really surprises us by being something different than we thought.

Scalzi’s most fun when he’s least self-satisfied.  The triumphant courtroom scenes made me roll my eyes as climax after climax and reveal after reveal strained credulity in the long denouement. But, but but, the more casual, slice of life bits in the earlier half of the book, such as where Holloway starts to meet the fuzzies and build a relationship with them, really sing, and certainly made this hard-hearted lawyer crack a grin more than once.

It’s a fun light read, and probably a good one to sling in the beach bag this summer.

Recommended Tea for This Book:

mangogreen For this jungle-set light read, I had to go green (and I’d probably recommend going iced, especially if you take up my beach reading suggestion!).  The tropical setting and the whimsical, sassy humor made me think of one of my favorite fruits: mango.  So try a mango-flavored green tea!  Alas, my favorite is from the long-closed Tea Zone, but consider as an alternative this well-rated Adagio blend.

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The Hobbit, by J.R.R Tolkien

The book didn't come with the playset, alas.

The book didn’t come with the playset, alas.

 

Hello, and welcome to my first post here at Teatime Book Reviews, where we read and review genre fiction and offer our personal sommelier services for your reading enjoyment.  I’ve always been a sucker for reading those “Top 100 Fantasy Novels” type lists, and some tiny part of me believes I have a moral obligation to read through all of the “classics” before I die.  The literary canon is a messy beast, and a moving target, but I enjoy taking a swing at it now and then anyways, and it’s tough to argue this one isn’t on it.

The Hobbit wasn’t a book I grew up with in the way that many have — I read it ages ago as a young adult and didn’t particularly take to it.  I decided recently to come back to it as a grownup, in a mood for high fantasy and magic to whisk me away to someplace else.

It’s no mystery why The Hobbit has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many.  The book is brilliant.  Its epic journey sweeps from tiny narrative to huge geopolitical struggle back to tiny adorable narrative.  The narrative is steeped in the power of magic and the infinite possibility of fantasy, and Tolkien’s sheer unadulterated sincere enthusiasm draws the reader into his  exquisitely detailed world by both lapels.  The unlikely protagonist builds a real bond with the reader, and the investment early on in showing just how cozy hobbits are pays off through the book in the power of contrast.  One remembers frequently just how far we are from teatime in Bag End, and just how far Bilbo has come as a character.  I myself often felt surprised at how drawn-in I was — how my heart beat faster as the party was endangered, and how joyful and relieved I was when they reached safety.

The language is for the most part charming, with the occasional turn into oddity (Cockney trolls!) or a bit of patronizing narrator-voice, where we are forced to remember that this is a Children’s Book Designed for Children.

Generally speaking, the journey the book takes us on is simply a stunning example of extremely readable picaresque epic fantasy.  The book is a great set of yarns told in a spectacular world which I can’t wait to keep travelling in.  I couldn’t buy the Lord of the Rings trilogy fast enough.

 

Tea to drink with this book:

PuEhr I recommend a good stout Pu Ehr to pair with this book.  The homey, earthy, garden-dirt taste of the tea is reminiscent of the cozy hobbit-hole where we start as well as the many underground settings we find ourselves in through the course of the book.  The dark taste is strong and stands up to brewing the same leaves multiple times over, lasting the long haul of the journey.

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