Thursday, February 9, 2017

What we're reading: Adult sci-fi that will appeal to teens

Last month, for 10-12 Book Club, we read John Scalzi's book Lock In. It's basically a murder mystery that takes place in the future, when people who have been "locked in" their minds by a virus have figured out how to use robots (more commonly) or other people's bodies (less commonly) to get around and have a life. The complication is that if someone kills someone, was it the actual person, or someone else using his or her body? It's a fun, lively read with lots of twists that we mostly all appreciated. That led me to seek out other books by Scalzi. I wanted to read the one for which he is best known--Old Man's War--mostly because it is the beginning of a multi-book series, and I was in the mood to get dug into something substantial--but it was checked out, so I went with Fuzzy Nation, because I liked the title!

In the future (sort of like now), large corporations have discovered valuable minerals on other planets, and have staked claims to mine them. The one wrinkle in the process to derive permission to exploit a planet for its resources is, there must be no sentient species living on that planet--no beings with feelings, responsiveness, and demonstrable consciousness. In other words, no people.

Jack Holloway works as an independent contractor for one such company, ZaraCorp, on the planet Zarathustra. After a dispute over an accidental cliff collapse that Jack caused, the company fires him, after which he promptly discovers and lays claim to a seam of a valuable mineral (exposed by the accidental explosion). Now Jack has negotiating power, and he plans to use it to make his fortune. He retains the rights to the seam of sunstone, but cuts ZaraCorp in as partners to extract the mineral, since he is primarily a prospector and surveyor, and they have the heavy equipment.

Then a great big wrench gets thrown into the works for Jack AND the company: A small, furry, bi-pedal creature that vaguely resembles a cat walking on its hind legs shows up at Jack's house in the "outback," followed (after the original one makes friends with Jack and his dog, Carl) by its likewise appealing family. At first, Jack assumes they're just friendly animals, but it gradually dawns on him that they may be the people of this planet. He also realizes that, given the available wealth on Zarathustra, ZaraCorp is a real threat to his new fuzzy friends.

This book was both fun and thought-provoking, the best combination in science fiction. I liked Scalzi's use of a slightly scoundrel-y anti-hero as his protagonist--it keeps you guessing about whether he will, in the end, choose to do the right thing or not. The parallels that can be drawn to the depletion of Earth's resources today make for interesting reading--the question of who owns the land, the rights, the planet, and how this will be determined and whether people will respect that and who will keep them honest...look to the Dakota pipeline project and then project that to a planet 23 lightyears from here with an active strip-mining industry vs. a species that resembles a bunch of cats. One hopes for a happier ending than that which befell our Native Americans the first time around...

This review is my ongoing attempt to let teenagers know that science fiction is a great transitional genre from teen to adult books, since it has a lot of the same elements that make teen books appealing--humor, speculation, interesting relationships between people and other people and between people and their environments. Fuzzy Nation is a fun one--check it out!

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