John Scalzi Reboots Little Fuzzy, Gets Attacked by Rabid Fans
by Tom Ingram
A few days back, sci-fi author and blogger John Scalzi revealed the nature of a nefarious top-secret project he’s been hinting at for a few months now. It is, to use his words, “a reboot of the Hugo-nominated 1962 science fiction novel Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper.” Unsurprisingly, this has raised some eyebrows, predictably from outraged fans of the original and somewhat less so from feminists.
My reaction to this news is more even-tempered. For one thing, I’ve never read the original novel, so I don’t feel like my childhood is being ravished by an evil, stony-hearted Scalzibot. I’m still not entirely sold on the idea, but I think waiting until it actually comes out before we get the torches and head off Ohio-ward would be useful.
A few people, Scalzi included, have noted that technically, this is fan fiction. I don’t think the label really applies here. For me, fan fiction implies that it’s written without the direct consent of the author. Some authors give a general green light to fanfic authors (often with some restrictions), but if it’s authorized directly by the author or their estate, I think that makes it something different. Although fanfic is not usually published by traditional houses, there are exceptions. See, for example, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Seven-Percent Solution, and the countless HP Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu mythos tales. So, depending on how you define fan fiction, it’s possible that Fuzzy Nation is fan fiction. But remember that fan fiction only has a negative connotation because of its low barrier to entry–Sturgeon’s Law applies with a vengeance. Just because something is fan fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be good.
As to whether it’s sacrilegious, I don’t think so. I didn’t realize the extent to which H. Beam Piper is revered by the science fiction community (I had barely heard of him before a couple months ago), but even so I think people are overreacting due to a fundamental misunderstanding. As a musician, I come from a world where songs are regularly performed by artists who didn’t write them, often to the point of overshadowing the original. There’s not (usually) any implication that the cover is supposed to replace the original. A cover is a way for a musician to present their take on a song they love–it’s a sign of respect. Often the original artist and the artist doing the cover get along famously, and sometimes they even play it together. The same thing also happens in the film world, where reboots are done all the time. In all cases, the original isn’t going anywhere, and you can still enjoy both versions (or just one, if you happen to prefer one to the other). That’s right, people: John Scalzi is not destroying Little Fuzzy. He’s not coming to your house, ripping your copy out of your hands, and pulping it while you cower and cry for mercy. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to read Fuzzy Nation at all, and you can retain all your beloved memories of Piper’s work untainted by the foul touch of Scalzi. Or, if you enjoy Scalzi’s acid wit and delightful writing style, you can read it, compare it to the original, and decide which one you like best.
I think it’s very telling that Scalzi went to the Piper estate for permission before even telling anyone about the project. He could probably, were he so inclined, just release the book and let ’em howl, seeing as Little Fuzzy is in the public domain, but out of a sense of respect for the original, he made sure he had an official blessing. Of course, whether or not Fuzzy Nation proves to be a good idea remains to be seen, but in the meantime Scalzi doesn’t deserve to be vilified.