I've liked pretty much everything I've read of John Scalzi's, so I was fairly certain I was safe in picking Fuzzy Nation (Tor, 2011; editor: Patrick Nielsen Hayden) for my last vacation book. My only mild worry was that I had read and enjoyed H. Beam Piper's classic Little Fuzzy many, many years ago, and a series "reboot", even with the blessing of Piper's estate and the talent of someone like Scalzi, makes me a little nervous. I deliberately did not reread the Piper novel, and my memories of it are sufficiently, er, fuzzy, that I was able to come to Fuzzy Nation without specific plot details intruding.
And I'm delighted to say that it's wonderful. I laughed, I cried, I loved it with a great happy skiffy love. It's not a work of deep literature, but it's fabulous escapist fun, and how much SF outside the specifically humor-oriented stuff can you truly say that about nowadays? Scalzi joyfully captures the spirit of old-fashioned science fiction, complete with present-day problems which one would really hope would be resolved by the far future: pitch-perfect little jabs at the patriarchal assumptions inherent in assigning human gender to small fuzzy aliens. And he even keeps the science non-laughable.
The story: on the faraway planet Zara XXIII, disbarred lawyer Jack Holloway and his dog Carl are contractors searching for valuable minerals, particularly the rare and thus fashionable "sunstones". Jack's brash manner and habit of training Carl to set off explosives haven't made him a lot of friends at ZaraCorp. He's still trying to smooth things out with his former girlfriend Isabel, the company biologist, who's moved on to dating a ZaraCorp lawyer, Mark Sullivan, when he makes a double discovery: an enormous sunstone strike, enough to make him wealthy for life, and the aforementioned small fuzzy aliens, who seem to be a lot more intelligent than one would expect from something that looks like a bipedal cat. Developing the sunstone strike would trash the habitat of the fuzzy clan, and ZaraCorp's entire tenancy of the planet would be challenged if it proved to be inhabited by an intelligent species. This little problem, of course, does not further endear Holloway to the corporate honchos on site, nor does Isabel's advocacy for the species. Will Jack get rich? Save the fuzzys or betray them? Get Isabel back? Turn out to be a good guy after all, or just as much of an asshole as he appears? Trust me, you want to find out.
Read for yourself: