Fuzzy Thinking

The first panel Hilde and I did at CopperCon was on H. Beam Piper.  The programmer for CopperCon wanted to have some panels on good writers of previous generations, and we suggested Piper because John Scalzi's recent "revamp", FUZZY NATION, of Piper's first book in the Fuzzy series, LITTLE FUZZY, had brought some attention back to Piper's work.  Small audience, about half a dozen, but it seemed to go well and stayed on track.

My take on FUZZY NATION:  This is the novelization of the screenplay for the Hollywood adaptation of LITTLE FUZZY.

Keeping in mind that Scalzi is a long-time film buff & critic, the changes he's wrought from the original novel seem very much to be changes that would be made for a film adaptation of Piper's novel:  The protagonist is younger, with a romantic sub-plot.  His version of Jack Holloway is also a bit of a scoundrel, whose motivations aren't always noble.  Scalzi's narrative flow is faster, with leaner dialogue.

(Skimming back thru the original LITTLE FUZZY, I noticed that there's a lot of talking in Piper's book, a lot of discussion of what sapience is and how it might be detected.)

Significant parts of both books take place in courtrooms.  I think Piper's original wins out here; his presentation of courtroom wrangling is larger and messier than Scalzi's; it's more complicated, with more factors and players involved.  In short, more realistic.

One of the elements in LITLE FUZZY was the veradicator, a lie-detector with 100% accuracy, used in courtroom testimony.   Much as I love the idea of a veradicator (I want one, dammit!), Piper's machine only give a postiive or negative response; there's no gray areas of half-truths or delusional thinking allowed to it.  That was never realistic (dammit!  I still want one), and Scalzi leaves the veradicator out of his version.  A good change, I'm inclined to think, on Scalzi's part.

[spoilers below the break...]

Not so good a change in the Scalzi version:  The bad guy who actually murders several of the Fuzzies in FUZZY NATION isn't just a bad guy; he's a cartoon of a bad guy, a brute, a thug, a man who likes the power violence gives him over other people and who desn't hesitate to use it.  In Piper's version, the killer isn't so one-dimensional, and eventually commits suicide after realizing he had indeed murdered a thinking, sentient being.

And that leads me to the one scene in FUZZY NATION that really rankled me.  The rest of the book, even where I thought the changes didn't work as well as Piper's original, was an enjoyable read, a lot of fun.

But at one point, in the courtroom, Jack Holloway taunts deLisle (the murderous thug) into attacking him in front of the judge and everyone else... and doesn't defend himself against deLisle's attack.  He takes deLisle's punches until others pull deLisle away.

No.  No, no, no.  DeLisle may be a cartoon of a character, but there are people like him who really exist; they usually end up in prison, or dead, at an early age.  Their power lies in their ability to hurt people, and to hurt them badly and quickly.

Scalzi's courtroom fight is a "movie fight", full of sound and fury and then the stuntmen get up, brush themselves off, and get ready for the next take.

In a real fight, with a real person like deLisle (I've witnessed a couple), that thug who has no moral restraints about hurting another person, who wants to and enjoys hurting other people, will win with the first punch, because that first punch, with everything behind it, almost invariably takes the other person down to the ground.  And then the kicking and stomping begins: face, throat, ribs, crotch.  A thug like deLisle would not only have hurt a non-resisting jack Holloway, he would have hurt him quickly, he would have hurt him badly, and there would even be a good chance of Jack Holloway being killed or mortally injured in the first few seconds.

Except for that, I thought both LITTLE FUZZY and FUZZY NATION were solid, enjoyable reads, each with some flaws but no major ones.  Hilde and I would both give the edge to Piper's original, but only by a small margin.  But with that courtroom fight, I have to give the clear win to Piper's book.  (Sorry, John.)

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