Fuzzy Nation (by John Scalzi: Tor, 2011) is a fun quick read of a novel, and I hope it inspires more people to read H. Beam Piper. The author has the good taste to blog and to focus on what he loves about old science fiction not on proclaiming that he is morally and intellectually superior to it. But I found one difference between the original from 1962 and this book from 2011 revealing about cultural change in the past 50 years.
The Terro-Human Future History is a world where the United States ceases to exist early in the First Century Atomic Era, and human civilization is rebuilt in Latin America, South Africa, and Australasia. In the 7th century Atomic Era people think of the United States about as often as we think of the Timurids or Srivijaya, and the racial prejudices of the First Century Pre-Atomic have been dissolved by the result of seven centuries of intermarriage amongst the survivors. Piper had a romantic sympathy for the Confederate States of America, but he loved giving characters names like Themistocles M’Zangwe. Fuzzy Nation is set in a world where people go to Oxford and Duke, come from North Carolina, and allude to Andrew Jackson and Star Wars.
Both writers create imaginary cultures which have a few of their own culture’s quirks (Piper’s cocktail hours and tobacco smoking, Scalzi’s environmental impact statements and universal surveillance). But one writer assumed that not just the United States but the whole European great power system would vanish just like other mega-states and power systems have in the past, and the other made sure that the reader knows that in the far future Duke is still a place to go to law school and Oxford is a very prestigious university. I find that, as Mr. Spock would put it, fascinating. One novel tells readers that the customs of their tribe are not the laws of nature, and another promises that there’ll always be Chicago.