Reading this back to back with Scalzi’s reinterpretation was an interesting experience, not least because the differences were really clear, but what was different was somehow surprising. I’ve read several classic sf books this year, and though they have shared varying tones and subject matters, they share a certain cultural sensibility. This is a very humanist little book, conscious of questions of personhood and exploitation, but it’s also a bit paternalistic.
The basic plot here, shared by Fuzzy Nation, is that Jack Holloway is a speculator on a planet owned by the corporation Zarathustra, and he’s currently mining for sunstones. Little fuzzy creatures befriend him and begin living in his house. Soon, those who meet them begin to suspect they may be sapient, which would make the charter the corporation has to exploit the planet null and void.
This Jack Holloway is a seasoned veteran of the business. He’s in his sixties and he’s much kinder than he is in Scalzi’s version. When he adopts the Fuzzies, he begins to refer to himself as “Pappy Jack.” This made me roll my eyes nearly every time. The Fuzzies here are also much more on the “oh my god how cute I want one” spectrum. They make this “yeek” noise that makes me want to go find a kitten and squeeze it. (Gently.) Piper chose to make them have only the intelligence of a ten year old human, so they are less complex than they might have otherwise been. They also have much less agency, and are more pawns in the events than anything. There are also a bunch of characters in here whom I’ve all forgotten, who work for the Corporation or on the planet, and many who are conspiring against Jack and Fuzzies, so it’s a much less tight narrative with less of a focus on Jack.
It’s also a more quiet story, with the focus being mainly on the idea of sapience, and how you prove a being is sapient. It’s a more philosophical book.
I did the audio version because it was on SCRIBD, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It’s an older audiobook, so not as polished as the ones I’m used to. It’s also narrated by an older British woman, which gave the story (which has no British people or culture in it as far as I’m aware) a weird vibe. Not necessarily in a bad way, just . . . weird. That’s so helpful for you I’m sure. I would have more detailed observations here but I waited two months to write this review so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There are apparently a couple sequels to this written by the author (one discovered posthumously) and some by other authors who took up the story. Not sure if I’m invested enough to continue, though.