Prior to the discovery of the lost manuscript of H. Beam Piper's Fuzzies and Other People, two estate-approved sequels to Piper's first two Fuzzy novels were released by Ace Books. The first of these was Fuzzy Bones. Its author, William Tuning, had a brief career writing SF, with only one other novel, 1978's Tornado Alley, and a handful of stories in Analog to his credit. He is said to have been close friends with such legendary writers as Heinlein, Pournelle, and Randall Garrett, and was heavily involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism. He died in 1982 at the age of 46.
For readers who have discovered the Fuzzyverse as the result of John Scalzi's 2011 "reboot," Fuzzy Nation, Fuzzy Bones is a worthy if occasionally clunky sequel. Tuning presents himself from his first page as a confident novelist, and one who might well have gone on to make his mark in SF had he not left us prematurely.
But Fuzzy Bones is an uneven adventure, beginning strongly, dragging badly in the middle, and then picking up considerably for a rousing climax. Leading readers into his book with brief, efficient chapters and admirably clean, uncluttered prose, Tuning introduces a handful of new players while fleshing out characterizations and story situations from Piper's originals. (You immediately notice greater dimension given to such players as crooked, paranoid attorney Hugo Ingermann, who here emerges as a full-blown, sociopathic, rabble-rousing, delusional demagogue of the Glenn Beck variety.) Instead of steering his tale off on entirely its own direction as Scalzi does, Tuning builds faithfully and respectfully upon Piper's foundations, until his writing feels indistinguishable from Piper's own. Commendably, Tuning doesn't belabor us, as Piper did, with an excess of adorable domestic scenes in which the human protagonists coo and dote over their adopted Fuzzy "children."
Tuning extends Piper's story in a direction surprisingly close to some of Piper's choices in F&OP, and it's interesting to see where the two books fork. The struggle of the newly independent Zarathustra colonies to forge their own constitution plays a role in both. But the principal difference is that Piper's third novel features the Fuzzies most prominently, while Tuning mostly focuses on the trevails of the human colonists, and digs much more deeply for the sake of that narrative than Piper ever did. In Fuzzy Bones, the loss of the exclusive charter to the planet held by the Zarathustra Company has led to a gold rush of immigrants from Earth, hoping for vast wealth mining the invaluable sunstones. The reality doesn't match the dream, though. And now the slums of Mallorysport are teeming with desperate, unemployed drifters with no way home and no immediate prospects in a slumping economy. They are ripe pickings for the criminal underworld.
Elsewhere on the planet, much of Piper's original cast — Jack Holloway chief among them — have been pondering the problem of the Fuzzies' diet, particularly their need for trace amounts of titanium in their food, a lack of which was drastically reducing their birth rate. As Zarathustra has little to no naturally occurring titanium, speculation is rife as to how the Fuzzies could have evolved such a dietary need on a world so poorly able to fulfill it. The result is a stunning discovery deep within the Fuzzy reservation that will forever alter both humans' and Fuzzies' perceptions of their place in the universe.
What Tuning has created here is, in its own way, as impressive as Scalzi's complete reimagining. The respect he pays Piper borders on reverence. The style and structure of Fuzzy Bones interweaves the stoic, idea-centric, speculative Campbellian SF that was Piper's stock in trade, with some unabashedly pulpy, noirish melodrama when it comes to scenes featuring local crime lords, all of whom I couldn't help envisioning wearing fedoras. Still, there's something about the way Hugo Ingermann uses the local media to sow division and hysteria for his own gain that echoes eerily the activities of many of today's American punditocracy. Though overlong, with a pacing that sometimes crawls when it should walk and walks when it should run, Fuzzy Bones is nonetheless essential reading for H. Beam Piper fans. Its open ending indicates that William Tuning had at least one more book in him, but fate was not kind there. The final Fuzzy novel of the original run, Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey, came to us from Ardath Mayhar.