Some Useful Clarifications About Fuzzy Nation

I’ve been alerted that in various places online people are – one assumes by lack of actual information than by genuine malice — spreading misinformation about both me and my upcoming novel Fuzzy Nation. In order that I and others can have something to point to when and if this misinformation pops up again, here’s a quick page for that.

So:

Yes, Fuzzy Nation is a book that is a reimagining of story and events of Little Fuzzy, written by H. Beam Piper (and nominated for the Best Hugo Novel in 1962).

Yes, it is authorized — after I wrote the novel I sent it to the rights-holders of the Piper estate and asked permission to try to get it published. They agreed. Little Fuzzy itself is in the public domain; however, both morally and practically speaking I thought it essential to seek permission, because I didn’t want anyone to think I was doing this without the full awareness and participation of the Piper estate and its rights holders.

Yes, the relationship of Fuzzy Nation and Little Fuzzy is made clear in the upcoming book — there’s an author’s note at the beginning of the book detailing the relationship, plus (if the proofs I’ve seen are accurate) a note in the jacket copy of the book. Additionally, the book is co-dedicated to Piper. There’s no attempt to sweep either Piper or Little Fuzzy under the carpet; indeed, I encourage people to read Little Fuzzy, both for its own sake and to note the different approaches to the same story both books feature.

Yes, I am the sole author of Fuzzy Nation — although the story of Fuzzy Nation is based on Little Fuzzy and includes characters and story elements from that novel, all the text is original, and the story in its details diverges in places significantly from Piper’s work. None of Piper’s own writing, published or unpublished, appears in the novel. There are a couple of places in the novel where my description of something is based on what Piper wrote (the description of the sunstones comes to mind), but no attempt was made to cut-and-paste Piper’s work. That being the case:

No, there is no plagiarism involved here. Even if I had borrowed Piper’s own writing, the novel was submitted to and approved by the Piper estate, so any borrowing would have been authorized (and thus not plagiarism).

No, I do not own the rights to any previous Fuzzy books, either those written by H. Beam Piper or those commissioned by Ace Books after the rights to the series came to them. I have a license to write a new story based on the characters and events of Little Fuzzy, and that’s it. As I understand it, Penguin (the corporate parent of Ace Books) owns the rights to all the previous Fuzzy works, save Little Fuzzy, which as mentioned is in the public domain. With that understood:

No, I am not republishing any of the previous Fuzzy books under my name. One, as mentioned, I don’t own the rights to the previous novels. Two, wow, that would be stupid of me, wouldn’t it — not only to be so disrespectful to Piper (and to William Tuning and Ardath Mayhar), but to assume people would buy the premise that I wrote books before I was actually alive, in the case of the Piper works, or before I was in high school, in the case of the others. The only Fuzzy books that will be published under my name are the ones I actually write (and at this point, there is only one of those).

Finally, no, I didn’t write Fuzzy Nation just for the money — I wrote it for myself and for fun, and as an exercise in retelling a particular story I enjoyed. Money didn’t enter into the writing. Once it was done, my agent approached the Piper estate and Penguin about getting their permission to try to sell the book. If they had said “no,” then I wouldn’t have released the book. Once I had permission, I sold the book to Tor, and I did indeed make money — and so did the Fuzzy rights holders, because they get a cut of what I make, which is, of course, both right and appropriate.

Hope that clears things up for folks.

63 thoughts on “Some Useful Clarifications About Fuzzy Nation

  1. Thanks for the concise explanation. I’m really looking forward to reading Fuzzy Nation. I also wish WIlliam Tuning had lived longer, because I would really have liked to see where things would have gone after Fuzzy Bones as I thought it was a great book when I read it. (I liked it much better than Ardath Mayhar’s Fuzzy works – she never seemed to catch the soul of Piper.)

  2. I remember Little Fuzzy with delight from when it was new, and when I downloaded a Kindle app for my iPhone, a set of 32 works by H. Beam Piper was the first thing I ordered, and Little Fuzzy was the first story I (re)read. With undiminished delight. The whole set was $1.99 (at least, it is now) and if LF is all you want, that’s free on Kindle. (The Kindle app is free, too; you don’t need an actual Kindle to read books from there. And my phone syncs to my computer so they both always know what page I’m on.)

    Truly, the future is a great place to live.

  3. Why would it be a horrible thing if you had written it for money? That’s just the oddest criticism to make of a professional writer.

  4. I LOVED the fuzzy books growing up, and will by buying this as soon as I can.
    Keep up the good work.

  5. Miles Archer:

    Trolls will be disappointed if they try to practice their enthusiasms here.

    AlanM:

    “Only for the money” is shorthand for “there’s no care or consideration of the material,” which for fans is a significant thing. I certainly don’t apologize for making money off of FN — it’s nice! — but I wrote it for other reasons.

  6. I think it’s disappointing that there has been criticism already. I think it’s cool to write something in tribute to a story that you love. Personally, I’m looking forward to the book (already ordered a copy for my library and a copy for myself!). :)

  7. I heard of and first read Little Fuzzy precisely because of John Scalzi, so fellow Piper fans have him to thank for that!

  8. When you first mentioned this project last year I went read Piper’s original series and, after enjoying it, recommended it to friends and marked your book for future reading.
    With this update you mention two other authors who worked this field (William Tuning and Ardath Mayhar) who I don’t remember being mentioned before and when I dig a little more I find another? Fuzzy book coming out this spring – Fuzzy Ergo Sum by Wolfgang Diehr.
    My question is, is this a piggy-backing ripoff of your revamping groundwork that should be subject to boycott or just a ripoff of the public domain novel that should be subject to boycott?

  9. John, can you clarify something? If the story in the public domain, aren’t the rights holders pretty much everyone/no one? Like Edgar Allen Poe’s stories? Or is this a more complicated situation where there’s “public domain” rights and derivative rights, or some other rights having different expiration dates, like what happened with Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues?

    As for writing ONLY for the money, that’s part of my day job, as well as something I do on contract. I’m not ashamed about it, and I don’t see why I should be.

  10. Bensdad00@#12: Pequod Press seems to be a very small press (they don’t appear to have a website) that publishes modern continuations of H. Beam Piper works, notably Lord Kalvan stories. Given that–like many very small presses–they appear to have an extremely flexible and often delayed publication schedule, the appearance of “another Fuzzy book” this spring is probably just an irrelevant coincidence.

  11. Josh Jasper:

    In this particular case, while Little Fuzzy is in the public domain, the characters from that book are also in sequels by the author which are under copyright. In my opinion that has a complicating effect which was most easily resolved by working with the rights holders, rather than fighting them about it.

    Beyond this, having the consent and approval of the Piper estate meant that any prospective publishers would not have to worry about any potential legal exposure and/or public disapproval re: the Piper estate rights holders, which would make it easier to sell.

    In addition, there’s the public relations issue of me walking in saying “hey, you know Little Fuzzy? I played with it. A lot,” to those fans dedicated to Piper and his works. If I had the sign-off of the estate and its rights holders, they would at least know that I made the effort to engage the right people, and that in the opinion of the rights holders, what I’d written was not disrespectful of the work Piper did.

    And finally, I wrote it because I’m a fan of Piper. I felt, morally and ethically, it was right to let the estate know what I did and to give them veto power if they felt it wasn’t something they wanted to approve. The consequence, as noted, was that there was the potential that the work would never be seen by anyone but me and maybe a few friends. But I wrote it assuming nothing would come of it other than I would enjoy writing it, anyway. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make.

  12. Having just finished reading James Stoddard’s rewrite of Hodgson’s Night Land, and now seeing this, I think it’s interesting that within fiction there’s not really a space for remakes or cover versions or reboots or what have you in the same way there is in, e.g., music or movies or TV. I’m sure there are practical reasons, but I wonder if some of it is also because writing is, at its heart, more of a solitary or singular experience.

  13. Joe_1967:

    It’s probably more that the rights holders for most books are individuals, not corporations. Also, in the case of music, there’s a set-up that allows for the song to be covered by another artist for a certain rate, which goes to the rights holders. There’s not a similar set-up for written work, and even if someone wanted to, it’s kind of difficult to see how one would implement it.

  14. Consider, though: “John Scalzi, Grave-Robbing Mercenary.” It has a kind of appealing menace. I like it.

  15. @Jeff –

    Work in something about stealing from widows and orphans, adds depravity to the menace.

  16. Works for me, but then, the people who are liable to go all stupid about it aren’t the ones who read Whatever…

  17. @Bensdad00 + previous:

    Given previous posts over the last couple of days, Crusher of Authors would need to come before the widows and orphans…

  18. Even if I had borrowed Piper’s own writing, the novel was submitted to and approved by the Piper estate, so any borrowing would have been authorized (and thus not plagiarism)

    I don’t think this is right. It would, I agree, not be plagiarism, because the source would have been acknowledged. But being authorised isn’t relevant to that. Plagiarism is passing off other people’s work as one’s own; you can do this even if you have the original author’s consent. This is unusual in literary plagiarism. but happens all the time in student essay plagiarism.

    (This is a nitpick; I totally agree with you about the actual point at issue.)

  19. AnotherAndrew:

    “I don’t think this is right.”

    It is. Nearly any definition of “plagiarism” you’ll look up has as central to the definition the fact that it is wrongful or unauthorized use of someone else’s words. You might be open to the charge of misrepresentation if you used someone else’s words with their permission, but not plagiarism.

  20. Maybe the nitpicky difference is context? I seem to remember that the standard academic/educational definition of “plagiarism” does include presenting someone else’s words as one’s own even with the permission of the original author; that’s to cope with students who hand in their sibling’s or roommate’s previous essays as their own work–or those who purchase essays online. It probably isn’t all that relevant to writing outside of an educational context, though.

  21. Mary Frances – I have a similar working definition of plagiarism to you, coming from an academic context. But I think John’s in the clear there, both because he’s got all the relevant permissions, and because it sounds like he has plastered the book from cover to cover with labels saying “Based on characters and situations created by H Beam Piper. Go read Fuzzy Nation, people.”

    I think in the commercial world, though, it’s all about the attributions. Besides – fiction draws on fiction all the time.

  22. Vian @ 27: Oh, God, yes, John’s not even remotely committing anything even tangentially related to plagiarism here, no matter which definition we use–never meant to imply anything else! I was just knee-jerk reacting to the discussion of plagiarism, most likely due to many years of having to explain to students why I have a problem with them handing in their brother’s paper as their own . . .

  23. I appreciate the birthday gift sir!

    And anyone that makes the claim that John Scalzi is a plagirist, is a damned fool.

  24. AnotherAndrew@24: This would imply anything that is ghost written is an example of plagiarism.

  25. Vian and Mary Frances: Oh yes, certainly; plagiarism only came up here in the context of ‘If John had done a thing which he has, in fact, not done, would that be plagiarism?’

    I. too, am from an academic context, and there, without doubt, it’s still plagiarism if you have the author’s consent. (It’s not just siblings and roommates, either; there are businesses that provide essays writen to order.)

    I’m inciined to say that this issue doesn’t arise in a literary context just because it’s so unlikely to happen. But I dare say there are some similar things. Certainly, though, the likelihood of the estate of an established author authorising someone else to pass off that author’s words as his own is small (and, of course, this isn’t remotely like what has happened in the present case). .

  26. Huh, keep this sort of stuff up and the next thing you know you’ll be re-writing RAH’s _The Puppet Masters_ with friendly brain slugs.

  27. Dear everyone with issues:
    Scalzi has written fanfic. He has written fanfic, submitted it to the powers that be in said fandom, had it approved, and is getting paid for publishing it, to boot. You’re jealous, get over it.

    If you think it’s wrong, please discard all your Star Trek books, Star Wars books, and the like, for they are ALSO TPTB-approved fanfic that the authors were paid to publish. And I’ll bet you have some.

  28. Agreeing with my fellow Julia above—readers don’t get to be more restrictive about the intellectual property rights of H. Beam Piper than do the people who manage his literary estate. Readers who don’t want to read Scalzi’s take on the Fuzzyverse have the simple option available to them of not actually buying the book. SO EASY.

    Of course they will be missing out, but there it is.

  29. @33: back in the 80’s there was the film “the Hidden” with Kyle MacLachlan, which had both a good brain slug and a bad brain slug. Enjoyable film, too.

  30. 1. I’m really looking forward to reading “Fuzzy Nation”.

    2. @38, Steve – I had always thought that The Hidden (which I enjoyed) was based more on a lesser known Hal Clement novel, Needle, than on The Puppet Masters. The basic storyline of The Hidden closely resembles Needle.

  31. John – I read online elsewhere that Fuzzy Nation is actually in the OMW universe, although without any overlap of characters. Is that correct?

  32. How heavily does Fuzzy Nation depend on prior knowledge of Little Fuzzy (of which I’ve never heard, outside of your posts about Fuzzy Nation)?

  33. #44 by Cythraul: “How heavily does Fuzzy Nation depend on prior knowledge of Little Fuzzy (of which I’ve never heard, outside of your posts about Fuzzy Nation)?”

    Given that it’s “a reimagining of story and events”, I’d say the answer to your question is clearly “Not at all.”

    That said, go read Little Fuzzy. Really. It’s available for the low, low price of free at Project Gutenberg and damn cheap elsewhere. It’s a quick read. And it’s really, really fun to read.

  34. Cythrau:

    Bearpaw is correct: You need no previous knowledge of the Fuzzy books to read this one. But I think you might enjoy reading Piper’s book anyway.

  35. Excellent. I’ve a shiny new Kindle on the way (my first e-reader), and I may break it in with Little Fuzzy.

  36. This just shows that you are well known enough as an author for someone to spend time trolling you. People who know one knows generally don’t get trolled like this. The trolling is free advertising. Though not the kind that you want. People will still see your name and google you.

    I am about your age. I read alot of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Like most Sci-Fiction readers, I do not read alot of older or classic science fiction. I had never heard of H. Beam Piper. I am not as well versed in the genre as you are, but most of your readers probably aren’t either. It is not like you are doing a reboot of Star Wars. I don’t think Piper is well known enough today to make that argument.

    I also don’t think this is that big of a deal. Stephen Baxter wrote a sequel to the Time Machine. He took the main character and projected him forward (it is very good) and did it in his own voice. Now he is not as well known as you are, but The Time Machine is more important classic than Little Fuzzy. This is probably pretty common.

    I would reason to guess that his family is pretty happy you are doing this. A sane person will see this as a sign of response for the original author.

  37. It amazes me how many people in the blog-o-verse have a negative opinion of this book before they had a chance to look at it (by definition pre-judging). I’ve read just about everything that our host has writted (in Sci-fi/fantasy) so I have high expectations – but I won’t say the book is good or bad until I’ve read it. I will say to those detractors out there; John announcing this project and letting me know that “Little Fuzzy” is out there was enough to get me to read it (and anything else of Piper’s I could get my hands on) I now consider myself a fan.

  38. Joe@17: I think it’s interesting that within fiction there’s not really a space for remakes or cover versions or reboots or what have you in the same way there is in, e.g., music or movies or TV.

    Music, specifically, has laws in place to allow other people to make cover versions of an existing song, and the original artist cannot veto the making of the cover. They just get paid a certain amount of money based on some formula.

    The law is very specific, though, so while you could pay some formulaic amount of money up front to make N-thousand copies of Queen’s “Under Pressure”, you can’t use that same law to sample it. Or include bits it in your own music. i.e. Ice Ice Baby. This law does not deal with putting music into a movie or making a video or anything else. It is very specific to making a cover version of an existing song. Or, at least that’s the way it was back when copyright law was an intense hobby of mine.

    As far as I know, there is no correlate to this law as applied to movies, TV, or novels.

    It would be interesting if the law could come up with a perfect formula for doing “covers” of novels or converting a novel into a movie, or putting music into movies, or borrowing characters from someone else’s world into new stories. But (a) it would be extremely complicated (b) change on a yearly basis to keep up with changes inthe market (c) existing rights holders generally want veto power to negotiate a potentially better price and (d) it’ll never happen.

  39. WHOOOP! that should say:

    N-thousand covers of Queen’s “Under Pressure”,

    or to be more clear: N-thousand copies of one cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure”.

  40. Now if you just could get your hands on John Steakley’s notes for Armor 2. I read somewhere that he had outlined the next book, but never got around to writing it.

  41. Speaking of Little Fuzzy being available for free, I would like to recommend the LibriVox audio recording. The cast of characters in the novel was small enough and the plot linear enough for it to work as a good audio book (I miss things listening to audio that I don’t when reading). Also very high marks to the reader.

  42. I’m unsurprised people totally failed to grasp the concept of “story based on an older story” but seriously, have they never heard of Romeo and Juliet? Or West Side Story? Or The Dark Knight?

    I understand it may _sometimes_ be hard to tell what’s a serious reimagining into a derived work, and what’s outright plagarism without adding significant artistic merit, but a big hint that something is kosher would be (a) the author announces it publicly (b) the book has a forward explaining (c) it’s published by a reputable, competent publisher (d) the original work is public domain (e) the author ALSO has the permission of the original author or their heirs!

  43. After you announced that you had written Fuzzy Nation, I searched an found Little Fuzzy and several other of H. Beam Piper books. I read and enjoyed them a great deal. I am not sure how I missed them growing up. I now look forward to your addition to this fine line of work. And thanks for introducing me to Piper.

  44. “This is the original, Little Fuzzy. He brought the rest in a couple of days later. Mamma Fuzzy, and Baby Fuzzy. And these are Mike and Mitzi. I call this one Ko-Ko, because of the ceremonious way he beheads land-prawns.”

    Funny what a re-reading brings out. I first read Little Fuzzy long before I saw The Mikado, and I just didn’t get this reference at all.

  45. Okay, speaking of either picking up Little Fuzzy from Project Gutenberg OR buying it on the cheap from another place… who gets the money from something that is in the public domain, yet is still for sale? Like all the Jane Austin books or Little Fuzzy or Dracula or…? Does it just all go to the printer & retailer?

  46. AnotherAndrew: you have this exactly backward. This is something that vexed me mightily when I was in academia, for the error you make is indeed reflected in many sloppily-written plagiarism policies. Using somebody else’s work with permission, but without attribution, is NOT plagiarism. It is perfectly fine everybody but academia. Were this not so, everybody who employed the services of a ghostwriter, a speechwriter, or (in many cases) a secretary without explicitly giving them credit would be a plagiarist. This is decidedly not the case.

    Of course, using somebody else’s work with permission, but without attribution, is a mortal sin in academia. It is entirely unacceptable, on the same order as plagiarism, but for entirely different reasons. Hiring somebody to write your term paper does not constitute stealing her work; that’s work for hire. But the purpose of a term paper is to exercise your skills in critical thinking, analysis, writing, and so on, and to evaluate your performance in doing so. Hiring somebody else to write it completely undermines all of the purposes of the exercise. The same would go for having somebody taking a test for you. It’s bad, it’s wrong, and it’s grounds for expulsion… but it’s not plagiarism.

    The problem with calling things plagiarism when they are manifestly not plagiarism is that students aren’t actually stupid, and are aware that work for hire is an entirely normative and acceptable practice out in the real world. The reasonable conclusion, then, would be that plagiarism — real plagiarism, using somebody else’s words without permission — is similarly an issue only in academia. And that suggestion is corrosive. A properly written policy will specify all manner of academic sins, but will restrict the meaning of “plagiarism” itself to its actual meaning.

  47. Utter fangirl squeeee!! I just pulled my copy of Fuzzy Papers off the shelf (a 1980 paperback that cost $2.75) and will start re-reading it in preparation for your Fuzzy Nation.

  48. I regularly reread “Little Fuzzy” every couple of years and the rest of the books in the series. What I can’t understand is why the book was never made into a movie.. If nothing else you could make a fortune off of the stuff toys.

  49. Fuzzy Ergo Sum is not a piggy-back on Mr. Scalzi’s work. In all honesty I hadn’t even heard about FN until a member of my Piper Worlds discussion group mentioned it. I was more than halfway through my first draft when that happened. I first started working on FES while attending college back in 2006, though it had been rolling around in my head for several years. It was slow going and I didn’t really start hammering on the keyboard until 2009. Another writer looked over the 1st 130 pages and suggested that the story didn’t really start until page 80. 80! I jettisoned the first 80 pages and reworked the entire premise. It took a lot of time and effort (not to mention endless revisions and editing) but the whole thing jelled around the end of last year. I should mention that Ardath Mayhar was kind enough to allow me to use her expanded Ga’shta vocabulary, which I further expanded on. FES is a continuation of what Piper did before he died, not a reboot or re-imagining. I had fun writing it (for the most part) and look forward to reading Fuzzy Nation. I like to think we are working in different Para-timelines. Good luck on the book, John!

  50. I read your book, Fuzzy Nation. I have long been a fan of H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy series, and even enjoyed Tuning and Mayhar’s spin-offs. Yours is a superb addition to the Fuzzy story and I hope that you continue to add to the Fuzzy-verse in the future. Best successes!

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