"I GET AS BORED as the next person! When I talk about things I want to do with writing, the things to ask are (A) Is this something that I've never done before? And (B) Is this something that would be interesting in and of itself to attempt?" says John Scalzi, explaining the path that led him to his most recent book, Fuzzy Nation, a "reimagining" of H. Beam Piper's 1962 science-fiction novel Little Fuzzy. "Think of this as a 'reboot' of the Fuzzy universe, not unlike the recent J.J. Abrams 'reboot' of the Star Trek film series (but with hopefully better science)," Scalzi explains in his author's note. That idea—of reimagining a classic piece of sci-fi literature—certainly fits Scalzi's criteria. It's (A) something he's never done before, and (B) a pretty interesting experiment.
Like Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Nation follows Jack Holloway, a freelance prospector on a distant world. Holloway's content to live on his own out in the woods, hanging out with his dog and digging up valuable chunks of space-dirt—until he discovers a new alien race, the "Fuzzies." Adorable, cat-like hominids, the Fuzzies are super cute—but more importantly, they might be sentient, which causes all sorts of trouble when the corporation that runs the planet realizes an indigenous race could invalidate their claim to the world's resources.
"You look at it and you go, 'This is a great story.' But it's also a story that's trapped in amber in many ways," Scalzi says of Piper's Hugo-nominated original. "It has a definite sensibility of being of its time, you know? The first thing you get [in Piper's story] is Jack Holloway suckin' on his pipe and twiddling his mustache. And, you know, he was the very model of a modern science-fiction character in the 1960s. But today, [that's] a style and a convention of writing that readers will look at it and go, 'Wow, the world has changed.' So for me, the issue was, 'Now we have the chance to look at Jack Holloway. What would he be like today, in a way that today's readers would be willing to accept him on his own terms?' Is he going to be the same Jack Holloway of H. Beam Piper? Probably not."
Likewise, Scalzi doesn't waste any time spinning a good number of Piper's ideas into new territory. Like the books in Scalzi's popular Old Man's War series—the first of which is currently being developed for the big screen by director Wolfgang Petersen—Fuzzy Nation's a fast, funny, and exciting read that pulls off the tricky balancing act of conveying sci-fi fun while also delving into deeper issues. Some of Little Fuzzy's more notable themes—namely, the intersection of environmental destruction, human rights, and corporate greed—are unmistakably stronger in Fuzzy Nation.
"I think that's part of what makes the books successful is that there's a bunch of crunchy action, and explosions, and lasers, and people being snarky," Scalzi says of his work. "But then, if you want it, there's also some chewy philosophy that you can gnaw on after the books are done. I don't want to go too deep into it—I'm not going to pretend that I am the most amazing deep thinker ever when it comes to these books, because I do write them to be accessible to everybody. But these are themes that interest me as well, as a person, so of course I'm going to put them into the books."
For a complete transcript of this interview, go here.