Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.
Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.
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I really liked this book. That’s not saying much considering I’ve yet to meet a Scalzi book I didn’t like, but I was sceptical about the premise going into the book and I needn’t have been.
The story takes its time, almost plodding along before introducing you to the Fuzzies and then in the second half it kind of turns into a bit of a courtroom drama, which was unexpected. For me the novel excelled in the areas of world building and the characters. Scalzi gives the reader enough history and other tid bits to show the futuristic nature of the setting, and despite taking place on a random backwater planet, the plot is kept grounded through the themes of harvesting fossil fuels, deforestation etc. The planet itself isn’t totally un-Earth-like and it’s certainly science fiction but in a setting where someone like Nathan Drake would feel at home. And speaking of fantastic male characters, I loved Jack Holloway. He’s a cavalier loner with questionable motives and tells you explicitly that he’s not a good person. You can’t help but root for the guy, just don’t expect him to totally redeem himself.
I also appreciated how every bit of information Scalzi included was relevent to the plot. Sure, a whole section on the ins and outs of the sound system Holloway bought for his skimmer might not seem necessary while you’re reading it, but soon enough it all becomes clear. Likewise the lawyer type discussions of how contracting, surveying, and general prospecting of new planets work in this new world. For a short book, Scalzi manages to pack in a heck of a lot of information. I also liked the inclusion of beanstalk transport. I’m guessing this is a Scalzi invention as it features in his Old Man’s War series. Long story short? Plot left a little to be desired, but the setting and characters more than made up for it.