Fuzzy Addenda

I’ve been not at all surprised to see a wide range of reaction to the announcement of Fuzzy Nation, both here and elsewhere online, and ranging from squeeful enthusiasm to “WTF?”-level confusion and irritation. When you decide to write another version of a work that’s firmly secured in the science fiction literary canon, you should be ready for the response to be all over the board. This is one of the reasons I took the rather substantial amount of time required to get the sign-off of the right holders of the Fuzzy books still under copyright; I wanted to be sure that on that fundamental level, I wasn’t seen as an interloper.

Of course, fans are rights holders in a different way, and will have their individual positions on the matter, as they should, and do. I expect this wide range of opinion on the value/wisdom of Fuzzy Nation will continue well past the point of the book’s publication. I think this is good thing, personally, and as the writer of Nation I think what I’ve written is in itself good enough to handle intense fan scrutiny, positive and negative both.

One thing I should make clear, however, is what Fuzzy Nation is not. It is not a “respectful” retelling of the Fuzzy tale, for values of “respectful” meaning “overly cautious.” Nation retains some characters, elements and the overall plot of Piper’s book, but after that, things change, and sometimes they’ve changed quite a lot. Which is as I think it should be; there’s already one Little Fuzzy out there, and there’s no point going over it note for note. There have to be variations of the theme, and Nation needs to find (and I think, does find) the balance between being evocative of the original while bringing new things to the telling. It’s an interesting challenge, from a writing point of view.

Likewise, Fuzzy Nation is not my attempt to channel H. Beam Piper; that would be stupid of me. I think Piper and I share some points of style, in no small part due to the fact that I admire how he writes and as a young writer held up his writing as a guidepost for how I’d want my own style to be. But any similarities in our style are balanced by our overall differences as people and writers, and the fact that 2010 and 1962 are, shall we say, rather different years in all sorts of ways. I could have tried to write like Piper, but that would be a parlor trick, not one I’d be interested in sustaining over the course of a novel, nor one I think anyone would have been interested in reading.

So if these are things Fuzzy Nation are not, then what is Fuzzy Nation? Simply put: My version of a story I love, done as my own talents allow. Whether it’s an awesome cover version or simply literary karaoke will be for others to decide. But this is a story that bears more than one telling, and I’m happy with the version I’ve told. I can’t wait for you to read it.

73 Comments on “Fuzzy Addenda”

  1. Your announcement inspired me to seek out and read the original Little Fuzzy ( .99 Kindle deal).
    I probably read it in the 60’s but these things get a little fuzzy when one reaches the 50(mumble) year stage..Looking forward to the reboot.

  2. I’d actually never heard of “Little Fuzzy” — so bought it right away. There’s no way I’d read your blasphemy before reading that which you are blaspheming.

    Or something like that… Anyway, “Little Fuzzy” is the latest edition to my shame pile. :)

  3. That makes perfect sense to me. A “respectful retelling” is unnecessary and writing exactly like Piper is impossible. (Not to mention undesirable. One should write like oneself, no matter who your influences are.)

    Having (finally*) made it thru your original series I believe you’ll do some fine writing. Quite likely I’ll be reading it from the same perspective that I plan on viewing the Sherlock Holmes movie. Not Piper’s Fuzzies but an enjoyable romp, nonetheless.

    *I’m a procrastinator, I admit it.

  4. In my view a ‘respectful re-telling’ is a silly idea in that the story has been told, and in this case loved. What does ‘re-telling’ bring to it? But taking the idea and running with it? Especially by a good writer? That I can get into. I have the original on my list for the next book store purchase, and I am looking forward to the Scalzi-ed reboot.

  5. I’m guessing this will introduce a bunch of folks to Piper’s novels. I’ve always known there was a series of novels with the word “Fuzzy/Fuzzies” in the titles, but never read one until now. If I enjoy Little Fuzzies, I’m sure I’ll continue to read others in the series.

  6. By a sheer stroke of luck, I found the Complete Fuzzy at a Half Price Books over the weekend. Can’t wait to start it.

  7. H. Beam Piper, like Eric F. Russell and James H. Schmitz, are part of the foundation of my reading life. I hope that many others will take the opportunity to read them. I’ll be interested to see your re-make, and I’ll read it with an open mind. I like your writing style.

  8. Ditto on the first two responses – I’ve ordered the original from my local book-selling folk, and I’ll do the same when Fuzzy Nation comes out if they foolishly don’t do so themselves! As usual, well thought out and reasonable behaviour from Mr. Scalzi. (Something to aspire to when I grow up. If ever.)

  9. I remember seeing the existence of the book while I was a teenager. I always considered reading it, but kept being sidetracked by other works.

    Thank you for reminding me of its existence. I’ll try to track it down and read the original and I truly look forward to your interpretation.

  10. This is not unprecedented. Stephen Baxter wrote a sql to HG Wells The Time Machine that was pretty good.

    As time goes on and as sci-fi ages, this will probably happen again. This book is 50 years old. This is not Lord of the Rings. It may be well known by some sci-fi enthusiasts, but alot of people like myself had never heard of it.

    I have found that alot of older sci-fi seems dated with today’s technology. I think this book will sink or swim on its own merits. H. Beam Piper is not JRR Tolkein. He does not have that kind of name recognition.

    BTW, do you expect to have this book out this year?

  11. I’ve been turning this over in my mind off and on since you announced it. I still haven’t come to any conclusions, but I think I can live with this. I love Piper, and while I don’t necessarily see a lot of him in your work, I do think you can do him justice.

    I just wish you’d picked a slightly different pair of songs for your example. Every single rock band since Thin Lizzy has screwed up Whiskey in the Jar, because they follow TL’s messed up lyrics in the first verse. See guys, “I took all of his money and it was a pretty penny/I took all of his money and I took it home to Molly doesn’t freaking rhyme! It’s JENNY you morons! There are versions where her name is Molly, but the other lines are different. Jeez! (end rant) Anyway, as long as you haven’t written the Smothers Brothers version, we’re cool.

  12. I’ve never understood the ‘righteous indignation’ by some who, upon hearing of a retelling of their favorite (whatever), object that it is not the same/not different/inappropriate. IMO it’s a book, and just like every other book, if I don’t like it because of X or Y reason… I just don’t read it. If the writer wants to write it, and a sufficient number of (potential) readers want to read it such that it is published, then bully for them… there are about 10000 fiction books published a year that I don’t read, and that’s no skin off my back.

    You do, however, start to understand where the whole ‘crusades’ thing came from …

  13. John, I’ve yet to read anything of yours that I haven’t enjoyed, so looking forward to reading this, certainly.

    Just write MORE.

  14. A good blog entry would probably be some of your favorite sci-fi/fantasy books. Especially if you focus on more obscure authors like H. Beam Piper (I have never heard of him).

    Request week is over, but that is a good blog.

  15. It will be a toss-up for me. I am a dedicated Scalzi fan, comparing you to Heinlein (something I am loathe to do for ANYONE), but this nears sacrilege to me. Piper is Piper. You are you. Little Fuzzy is done. I will read your treatment, and it will probably suffer in my mind in comparison to the original, but I will try to maintain an ope mind. Then I’ll write the review on my Science Fiction group on Newsvine (I’ll drop you a copy) as I do with everything you write. Here’s wishing you success with this.

  16. I look forward to it! Say, is there any chance of a Scalzi version of “Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen”?

  17. I guess I’ll have to fix me a highball and re-read “Little Fuzzy” in preparation of your version.
    BTW thanks for the new Pandora station. I didn’t realize I was missing some good Irish music in my mix until now.

  18. The Cimmerian (Robert E Howard blog) post today is a good viewpoint on exactly this topic – modern authors touching on “canon” books from the past – Howard, Burroughs, Doyle. http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=13413

    Just read Little Fuzzy again (free on Stanza app through feedbooks) and dug out some of the other paperbacks I had stashed away. Looking forward to reading Nation!

  19. Thanks for “Whiskey in the Jar”–I grew up with Irish drinking songs, and it put a smile on my face to listen to it this morning (I confess I skipped the Metallica version–but the Dubliners version is awesome).

  20. Going by the cover illustration, I strongly suspect your Fuzzies aren’t as child-like as Piper’s. If Whelan’s Fuzzies were “emo” Fuzzies, the Fuzzy on this cover looks somewhere between “science geek” and “gangsta”.

    So does “Yeek!” now translate to: “Yo’ Pappy, Whassup?” or “There’s a reason we call it Fuzzy Logic.”

  21. What, no Thin Lizzy?

    Heck, I’m just looking forward to seeing your take on someone else’s characters.

  22. Looking forward to Fuzzy Nation; I always liked Piper.

    (But your hed is bad Latin; addendum is the singular, addenda the plural.)

  23. It’s interesting to see professional writers trying their hand at fan fiction. That gives me hope for the 400-page Battlestar Galactica epic I have moldering in my closet!

  24. #2: Amazon is getting people to pay them for the electronic version of books whose copyright has expired (and can be got for free from Project Gutenberg)? Gee! In a way, you have to admire their cheek.

  25. Just for the record, I’m looking forward to reading this. I have read the original, and while the idea makes lolcats look like poor cousins in the family of “cute,” the writing, and rather…overly optimistic…outlook on human nature did put me off a bit. It was simply rather dated.

    Sci-fi tends to not fare as well with age as perhaps other genres. It’s something I’ve thought about a bit – what ARE the qualities that allow a sci-fi novel to age well?

    (I apologize in advance to any die-hard Fuzzy fans whom I’ve probably just pissed right off…)

  26. @33: If we don’t pay at lease a token amount for fiction, eventually folks like Scalzi would have to find honest work…

  27. @37: Well, yeah, but the writer (or the writer’s heirs) will see none of that money.

  28. Sci-fi tends to not fare as well with age as perhaps other genres.

    [insert links to various essays about how SF is really trying to explain the future by looking to the past]

  29. @#33 Piper died in ’64 and copyright is usually 70 years after death, isn’t it? 50 by the Berne Convention but even then thats 2014.

  30. Farseer @33: To be fair to Amazon, there are several Kindle editions of Little Fuzzy available, one of which is free (priced at $0.00). Other editions ($0.99 to $4.99) mostly contain other stories by Piper other than the original Little Fuzzy, many of which may still be under copyright.

  31. @Brian C
    Society has already paid for this lunch, by granting the author a period of time to enjoy the exclusive right to produce copies of this work. Society now gets it’s side of the bargain.

    Suggesting that people should feel ashamed for enjoying free, out of copyright, material seems very wrong to me.

  32. I’m looking forward to reading Fuzzy Nation. I’ve downloaded the original novel from Project Gutenberg and am enjoying it; sad to say I had never heard of it. (hangs head in shame)


  33. @Musereader

    The X years after death thing is fairly recent. According to the Project Gutenberg copyright FAQ, books released in the USA before 1964, may be in the public domain if the copyright was not renewed.

  34. @42: Piper was especially known for this outlook. Many of his stories revolved around the idea that while history may not repeat itself, it does rhyme.

    _Space Viking_ and _Uller Uprising_ are especially noteworthy for this.

    While I’m Piper fanboying, I can also recommend reading his lesser-known story “Lone Star Planet”.

  35. Looking forward to the book, but my, that man on the cover reminds me of Jon Stewart.

  36. I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea, for reasons I know and admit are extrinsic to the work itself: Piper died brokenhearted and impoverished because he didn’t know how popular his book was. The notion of someone who is already very successful coming along and making even more money off his ideas and creation bothers me far more than if he had made a comfortable living from his own work.

    I do understand this makes no more sense than refusing to see any of Chris Marlowe’s work staged because he died unjustly, but there it is.

  37. According to Wikipedia, most of Piper’s works are in the public domain which is why so many of them are on Project Gutenberg. It does raise the question on exactly who would own the copyright otherwise. Piper is long dead and I’m not even sure he has a surviving family. It would bug that the copyright might belong to some publisher somewhere considering Piper died in poverty (and apparently committed suicide to spite his ex-wife since that voided his life insurance policy).

  38. I’ve never heard of the author or the book, so I’ll have to check it out. I do like both the Metallica and Dubliners versions of “Whiskey in the Jar” though they are quite a bit different, so being different isn’t a problem. I might even like the new version better i.e. new versus old Battlestar Galactica.

  39. I actually had just gotten copies of Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Sapiens the day before you first announced Fuzzy Nation. I just got a couple of hours to read them yesterday, and now I’m very excited about Fuzzy nation. I’d never read Piper before, his writing is a lot of fun. Having non-cynical scifi to read is always nice.

  40. Count me amongst the squeeful. It’s been years (okay, decades) since I read “Little Fuzzy”. I shall have to unearth my old copy or read the one on Project Gutenberg. And I look forward to your take on it. I also wonder how many people will read the original now, that haven’t before. I bet it’s a significant number.

  41. I’m looking forward to how you answer the question What makes a sapient a sapient. As you said we are not in 1962 any more. We have primates that can speak ASL and make simple tools. Birds that can answer abstract questions like “What color is the big one?” or “Which one has 3 corners?”

    It seems the answer is a little fuzzier than before.

  42. thanks for referring me to yet another good scifi author. also good (for me) that Piper lost his rights (a tragedy) so I can read them all for free on Gutenberg.org. good because I have been unemployed since October 2008 and I need something to do when I’m not writing.

  43. I, for one, am hoping that “Fuzzy Addenda” will be the name of the sequel…

  44. I’ll certainly read Fuzzy Nation when you find a publisher.

    I’ll probably like it better than the original, if your Fuzzies will be less cuddly than Piper’s (too much of the Ewoks in the Fuzzies – and, yes, I know that Fuzzies were there first).

    Piper wrote a SF masterpiece (Omnilingual), which has aged very gracefully. Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen is also still good.

    The original Fuzzies have not aged all that well, though.

  45. “Whiskey in the jar” is an interesting vehicle for illustrating your reboot……for a teetotaler……

    As a writer, you are always needing to explore the paths that lead outside of yourself, but that you should pick that particular one strikes a familiar chord, non-drinkers that are nonetheless fascinated with the booze.

    What is it about us lushes and our revels that is so alluring (frightening? obscene? pathetic?) Is it simply ground that has been marked as “verboten” that makes it so, the self-imposed taboo? Or just a convenient tool for speaking to the masses? A bit of both?

  46. Whiskey in the jar, oh. Mmm. Didn’t Thin Lizzy do a version of this? Though I kinda prefer the Peter, Paul, and Mary rendition.

  47. H. Beam Piper is not the only “forgotten” writer; dig into the lists of “best 100” science fiction novels and the like. I’m constantly finding science fiction (and other things) that I could have read anytime in the last thirty or forty years. They just didn’t get added to the stack when they were new, and then slipped away. Not all of them are dead, either; in the past month, I’ve laughed and cheered the entirety of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan saga (how did I miss that, loving both military science fiction and Georgette Heyer?), and Karen Traviss’s Wess’Har War series (wonderfully real science fiction, not part of the work she writes for the other’s IP series.)

  48. I’m curious why you didn’t just avoid the entire issue by writing something similar, in nature, but without the same names. My feeling is that you could always say “Inspired by.” I’d like to reboot Stranger in a Strange land: Valentine Michael Smith, My Life with the Martians.

  49. As someone who went to his first Con dressed as an officer in the System States Navy I’ve got to say that you’ve piqued my interest.

    Now I just need to wait a few years to decide whether to laud or loathe you because of it. :)

  50. As others have said, your writing this has piqued my interest as well, and I, too, will be looking for a copy of the original to read, as well as hopefully reading yours in the future. Which I know you had mentioned was at least a little bit of what you were going for – a work [and author] you enjoy and want to expose to others. So without even having read it yet, I already say: kudos on a job well done. You’ve certainly made an increase in sales of the original by now, I’m sure, and I can only imagine that will continue. A nice way to pay respects to someone you admire. =)

  51. Regarding the “charges for out of copyright works on Amazon” thread — How is this different from traditional book stores selling copies of Shakespeare’s works at the same price of modern works still under copyright?

    Heck, the publisher for “Fuzzy Nation” may elect to do a new edition of Piper’s works as well for cross-marketing.

  52. @Bozo #69 – No, not at all. They are charging for an electronic copy, that you can get for free on places like Gutenberg. Paper costs money to print, both for the paper and the ink. Stuff that is “out there” on the web, is free. Amazon just wants to rip people off and get more money for nothing. That doesn’t fly well with me, sorry.

  53. What’s not to like?

    John’s undertaken a project to adapt Little Fuzzy to the novel format.

    Twenty-first century American SF novel format, that is.

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