Ten Years of Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy Nation, the book

Today is not only my birthday, it is the tenth anniversary of the release of Fuzzy Nation, otherwise known (to me, anyway) as The Makeup Book, because it was the book that came out after Tor and I briefly and privately broke up for a couple of years before patching things back together.

Why did we break up? For all the usual reasons, mostly involving money, promises made and not quite kept, me being stubborn, and a few levels of misunderstanding which are amusing now that everyone’s made up but at the time were a little exasperating.

But! Had the misunderstandings and exasperation and failed money dealings not happened, then Fuzzy Nation would not exist! Fuzzy Nation exists because when Tor and I had our behind-the-scenes falling out, I suddenly had a bit of free time and the desire to do something that would be fun and just for me. And what I came up with was something I had mused about for a while, which was — what would it be like if a “golden era” science fiction story was updated with a more modern sensibility? H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy was a good candidate to try this on, because it’s in the public domain, and also, I liked the story quite a bit and was familiar enough with it that I could use it as a basis for this particular project.

People were (and are) generally skeptical when I say that I wrote Fuzzy Nation purely as a personal exercise, and given that I’m famously commerce-minded, I can certainly understand that. But, I swear, it’s true. While I was out of contract at Tor at the time, I was working on a video game with Disney (for a project that unfortunately did not pan out) and I was consulting for Stargate Universe. Plus Old Man’s War royalties had started to come in. My bills were being covered. And after what was essentially a disappointing contract negotiation, which is necessarily about money, I wanted something to reconnect me to the fun of writing, something that wasn’t commerce-minded. I had no intent to sell Fuzzy when I was writing it, and once it was done, I thought that if I did anything with it, I’d release it as a self-published thing, with the proceeds going to charity (indeed to that end I talked to my accountant and commissioned a potential cover, by my pal Jeff Zugale).

But then two things happened: One, my agent Ethan Ellenberg asked to see it and was convinced he could sell it; two, Tor and I started circling each other again, because both of us apparently had regrets about the breakup. On Ethan’s end, we worked out a thing where we got the endorsement of the Piper estate for the book, because although it was not required we get their clearance (the book I was working off was in the public domain, remember), we thought as a matter of personal ethics — and to avoid blowback from certain segments of fandom — it was a necessary step. And on Tor’s end, well, they paid me a lot of money for the book and then they made my name bigger than the title, thus making me officially a “big name author.”

And just like that we were back in business, and we continue to be, and very happily so, to this day.

The book was not without its controversies — as expected, some parts of fandom were (and continue to be!) scandalized that I did a rewrite of Piper’s classic, even if I did get the endorsement of the estate. A few folks have snarked that the book is “fan fiction.” Well, it is, in point of fact; that’s why I wrote it, because I was a fan of the original. What they intended to be dismissive is a badge of honor for the book. I always encouraged people to seek out Piper’s original because it’s great, and I thought it would be instructive to have folks compare and contrast; indeed, the book’s original audio release had the audio of Little Fuzzy included as an extra, which I thought was pretty clever.

Anyway, if people are still upset about me doing Fuzzy Nation, I guess they will just have to die mad about it. It’s been out for a decade. It’s a little late to do anything about it now.

I’m very fond of the book, myself. It did reconnect me with the joy of writing, which was a thing I needed. It repaired my business relationship with my publisher, which was also a positive thing, for both of us. And it’s low-key the favorite book of mine for a whole lot of people, which I find delightful (a lot of credit goes to Carl the dog, who apparently people really, really like. You can’t go wrong putting a dog in your book, people. This is a tip I am giving you for free). And as a side benefit, a number of people who have read my book went on to read Little Fuzzy and from there, other Piper works. I like that a lot.

So happy birthday, Fuzzy Nation! May people continue to find and enjoy you for years to come. I’m glad I wrote you.

And now, to close on a somewhat silly yet awesome note, please enjoy “Fuzzy Man,” the sublime song from Paul & Storm that I commissioned for the book’s release. The idea was that they would replicate the closing credits power ballad from a 1980s blockbuster, and let me tell you: They friggin’ nailed it. It makes me happy every time I hear it. Enjoy.

— JS

31 Comments on “Ten Years of Fuzzy Nation”

  1. Fuzzy Nation is still one of my favorite books of yours. I love the original. Piper lived near where I do now. Well, an hour away, but it is rural Pennsylvania. Happy B Day.

  2. Thanks, John! Also a fan of the Fuzzy books, I was bemused when Fuzzy Nation came out — I enjoyed reading it — but I did wonder what you were thinking when you wrote it. Thanks for sharing the back story.

    I think we should have a contest to pick the next book for you to update. My vote is for Philip Jose Farmer’s ‘Tarzan Alive’.

  3. Thanks for making the story accessible to me. Sometimes I find some of the older sensibilities (two others of note that struck me wrong are Stainless Steel Rat and On a Pale Horse) hard to get past sometimes. I read a lot of Asimov as a kid, and I’d like to think those weren’t as bad. Or at lease were notable for their lack of female characters.

  4. I can’t wait to get my hands on Fuzzy Nation! I found Little Fuzzy in my parents’ heaps of books and was enchanted. It was the first time I cried at the death of a character and the first time I pondered the question of personhood. I was a very young bookworm and lucky to have mountains of books to paw through. I bought a huge collection of Piper for Kindle just to have Little Fuzzy. I love your books so I’m sure Fuzzy Nation will be wonderful. Thanks for the “fan fiction”!

  5. Little Fuzzy was an great read, enjoyed it very much, I’d put it on a list of my all-time favorite books. Much respect for H. Beam Piper.

    Wasn’t sure what to think when I discovered you’d re-written it. I gave it a read, and found I felt about Fuzzy Nation much the same as Little Fuzzy.

    Great read, enjoyed it, all-time favorite, very glad you published this.

    It leaves me with the vague idea that I should lobby for a re-do of some other classics. Like take Falkenberg’s Legion for a spin. But that would be a forlorn hope.

  6. I’m still hoping you decide to reboot Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen! :-)

    Oh well. My copy of the the new Dispatcher story arrived from Sub Press today, so I have that to tide me over.

  7. I enjoyed Fuzzy Nation quite a bit. I don’t think it was as good as Little Fuzzy, but the original has been one of my favorite books for put-near forty years, and FN was great in its own right. As is Carl.

  8. I should try reading it again– we took it as library cds on a road trip… the intro was great, the end was great… but there were big chunks that just would not play on one of the discs. Which was… interesting. I mean, we got the gist.

    We much prefer the audible .mp3 Scalzi experience over the CD, though I guess that’s irrelevant now since we no longer have a car with a cd player. (Scalzi audibles are the BEST for road-trips, which we will hopefully be taking again at some point in the future.)

  9. I bought the Audio when it first came out (it’s a repeat listen for me) and was sad when the audio from Little Fuzzy was removed from my Audible library :(

    I never did get why they did that. It highlighted for me the dangers of digital ownership.

  10. Very strange: the other night I had a dream that ended with “I really need to re-read Fuzzy Nation”. Don’t know why, but it seems like a good idea!

    One of my stranger pandemic read was a non-Fuzzy book by Piper: Space Viking. It was, in a word, terrible. Like, if I didn’t already like and respect the author I would have chucked it in the recycling.

    And I kept asking myself “does this just feel cliched because it’s old?” and “is this sexist by my modern standards, or by the standards of the time?”. I really tried to see the good in it, and just failed. (Nukes are not toys! No one will remember Hitler in detail in a thousand years!)

    Honestly the only similarity to the Fuzzy books was the amount of smoking. And now I don’t remember if John left that in or not? Another reason to re-read.

  11. I just stayed up way later than I should have in order to finish Little Fuzzy. Oh my goodness. That was wonderful. I’m going to be so tired tomorrow but it was worth it. I should be using better punctuation to indicate emotion here but frankly my brain is still more than half on Zarathustra; it’s going to be a bit before I’ve recalibrated to normal. So thoughts aren’t sentencing quite coherently yet.

  12. happy birthday and hopefully you’ll get all the joys that you deserve in the coming years… just please keep writing stuff…

    FWIW: there was one major quibble with your version of FN… the origin of Fuzzies being local not marooned travelers… if you’d kept that then there could have been a ‘reunion’… which I’ve suspected that HBP had as part of his extended future history timeline… otherwise yours was a snarky cynical version worth the time… dogs and demolitions being only my second worst nightmare (which would be cats and chainsaws as #1)

  13. happy birthday and hopefully you’ll get all the joys that you deserve in the coming years… just please keep writing stuff…

    FWIW: there was one major quibble with your version of FN… the origin of Fuzzies being local not marooned travelers… if you’d kept that then there could have been a ‘reunion’… which I’ve suspected that HBP had as part of his extended future history timeline… otherwise yours was a snarky cynical version worth the time… dogs and demolitions being only my second worst nightmare (which would be cats and chainsaws as #1)

  14. I enjoyed Little Fuzzy back when I first read it many years ago, though I have not reread it. I loved Fuzzy Nation. Perhaps I should reread both!

    I’m curious about one thing: how/why is Little Fuzzy in the public domain? It’s from 1962, and copyright in the USA is only expired on works from 1925 and earlier.

    I am currently working on what I considered a non-commercial project which hopefully will reconnect me with my field. And much to my surprise, it turns out it may be more commercial than I’d expected. Hopefully it will be as successful (in a relative sense – my field is orders of magnitude smaller than F&SF) as yours turned out to be!

  15. Richard Gadsden – Manchester, England, UK – British Lib Dem, sf nerd, amateur historian, election-systems geek, professionally a developer, can be found as po8crg on most platforms.
    Richard Gadsden

    I remember wishing you’d published Fuzzy Nation and Little Fuzzy together in the style of the old Ace Doubles – I still think that would have been a fun thing to have done, but I guess the time has very firmly passed.

  16. That is me. I’m one of the fans for whom FUZZY NATION is my favourite Scalzi book. I like the dog, but I love the cultural anthropology/linguistics/corporate lawfare. And I love love Isabel Wongai. She should be played opposite Bradley Cooper by Lupita Nyong’o.

    (I got the Audible version with LITTLE FUZZY. Which I’d never heard of before and had no desire to listen to more than once. Sorry.)

  17. It was an entertaining read and I’m happy to have it on my shelf. I’m still not too sure about the whole almost sociopathic main character change – but Little Fuzzy already exists with the original character and there’d be no point in another ‘take’ on it without changes!

    Fun book. Every now and again it kicks me into thinking about doing the RPG of Paratime I’m continually tempted to write.

  18. I read it when it was published, and enjoyed it immensely. I had a chance to re-listen to it with my ten year old son on an overnight drive to Vermont recently. He’s about as old as the book, and absolutely loved it. Listening again through his ears, and hearing him laugh at all the hilarious shenanigans was a delight, and a great gift to us. Thank you!

  19. Fuzzy Nation (hardback) was the first of your books that I purchased and read (2011). I later went on to buy both the Kindle and Audible editions. I was already a big fan of the original series of books – and had read them all a number of times. It surprised me that someone would update and rewrite another author’s work – but it didn’t actually bother me.

  20. As for audiobooks and driving, I’m still chuckling at two university students in the days before audio. On a long vacation, by car, they took turns reading aloud as the other drove, from a Douglas Adams sf book.

    When they arrived at a home, the fellow who’s turn it would have been grinned, picked up the book, and started reading aloud, and finished it.

  21. Nagla the only thnig Fuzzy is you bum!

    I betcha wrote that Fuzzly Notion for Tor Money are are lieing about the troof of what hippened here. Mr MAN I have looked ed in2 your pasts and it seems you have done many BAD CRIMES.

    Your CRIMES:

    1) Waring Socks with Sandals

    2) Stpuid hair!

    3) You like to CRUisse during a Pantemic@!!!!

  22. Niagla the only thnig Fuzzy is you bummer!

    I betcha wrote that Fuzzly Notion for Tor Money are are lieing about the troof of what hippened here. Mr MAN I have looked ed in2 your pasts and it seems you have done many BAD CRIMES.

    Your CRIMES:

    1) Waring the Socks with Sandals

    2) Very stpuid hair!

    3) You like to CRUisse during a Pantemic@!!!!

  23. Hey, John, are you still grading hate mail? Or are those last entries (Richard/Eyebood) an in joke?

    Anyway, I enjoyed Fuzzy Nation as an homage to the original – which I haven’t read for decades. I’m sure that you ruffled a lot of grey feathers, though.

  24. I was a Piper fan before I was a Scalzi fan, but I was a Scalzi fan before Fuzzy Nation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a remake because I like the original very much…but it was very enjoyable, and yes – it did give me an excuse to revisit some of Piper’s other works as well.

    “Fuzzy Man” was an unexpected surprise, so thank you for that. :D

    FWIW, I think you being clean-shaven makes you look younger!

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