Scalzi has borrowed a universe from another writer, H. Beam Piper, and made it his own. I haven’t read Piper’s Fuzzy novels, but I loved this one so much, I’m going to look up both more of Scalzi and Piper’s work. But to the review: Jack Holloway is a cocky, sarcastic surveyor (and disbarred lawyer) working as an independent contractor for a huge corporation, ZaraCorp, looking for incredibly rare and expensive gems found only on this planet, Zarathustra. When his carefully placed explosions (set off by his dog Carl in a hugely funny scene) collapse a cliff in contravention of the ecological laws regulating planetary exploration, he’s fired from the company. But the collapse has exposed a huge seam of the rare sunstones and legally, since Jack has been fired, the claim belongs to him. ZaraCorp quickly tries to take Jack back into the fold and work a deal that will make him rich. So everyone’s happy, right?
Meanwhile, a little alien creature has been checking Jack out and when Jack is friendly and shares food with it, quickly moves in with Jack, bringing its entire family along. Jack names them according to their perceived roles. Papa Fuzzy made the first contact and then brought Mama, Baby, Grandpa, and Pinto. They are adorable and quickly convince a reluctant Jack to share a sandwich with them in another memorably funny scene. All the while Jack speaks to them as human, but believes they are nothing more than cute little animals. His ex-girlfriend, the planet’s primary biologist, comes to observe them for a few days and she (Isabel) begins to believe they are sentient. That would be a huge and expensive development to both Jack and ZaraCorp, since discovery of a sentient species would force them off the planet.
Several run-ins with Jack’s nemesis, a brutish security officer, enliven the plot while the set-up for the big trial to decide if the Fuzzy’s are intelligent is laid on. Many plot twists involving Jack’s backstory with his disbarment and the failure of his relationship with Isabel are revealed during the trial. I won’t reveal the ending, but if you believe in the triumph of good over evil, you won’t be disappointed.
Jack is a complex protagonist, kind to his dog Carl and the Fuzzies, but arrogant, self-serving and not above a bit of moral sabotage. Behind his every good gesture is a selfish motive. But just when you think you have figured him out, you realize you haven’t. You can see the conclusion in sight, but how the book (and Jack) get there is highly entertaining. Check it out!