On My Shelves: H. Beam Piper’s “Little Fuzzy”

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H. Beam Piper was one of the unsung greats of science fiction in his era, producing the Paratime series, stories of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, and several others. Tragically, he ended his own life in despair, betrayed by his own agent, believing that his future was effectively nonexistent.

 

Of all his works, however, one stands out to me as unique: Little Fuzzy.

 

Little Fuzzy is a story of a first contact not quite like any other. Jack Holloway is a prospector on the planet of Zarathustra, mining sunstones and selling them to the Chartered Zarathustra Company for a nice profit – though the profit would be nicer if it weren't for the fact that the Chartered Zarathustra Company controlled the entire planet and could set prices unilaterally.

 

Then one day Jack comes home to find a strange creature in his cabin. It's bipedal, covered with fine golden fur, and seems to be very bright. Jack calms the frightened creature down and it seems fascinated with his house and the things Jack can do, so he lets "Little Fuzzy" stay with him. After a while, he realizes that Little Fuzzy is very smart -- so smart that Little Fuzzy turns out to be able to use tools, and understand language. It's a wonderful, miraculous discovery…

 

… for everyone except the Chartered Zarathustra Company. For the Charter – that gives the Company complete and total ownership of the planet Zarathustra – is valid only if there is no native sapient species on the planet. If the "Fuzzies" are truly a sapient species, the Charter is worthless – and the Company suddenly owns only whatever it has already fully taken possession of, which is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the whole.

 

Victor Grego, the head of the Company, has no intention of allowing a few little creatures take away everything that the Company has built and all it expects to have in the future, and he gives directions to "deal" with the problem – in any way necessary…

 

Despite this familiar, and in many cases grim, setup, Little Fuzzy is the sort of book to bring a smile to the face of anyone who reads it. Few of the people are truly villains – surprisingly, not even Victor Grego – and the Fuzzies themselves are simply delightful inventions: primitives, childlike, yet sometimes surprisingly capable and inventive beyond their apparent mental ages.

 

The center of Little Fuzzy is actually a trial, in which the key question to be resolved is whether or not the Fuzzies are truly sapient natives or merely very smart animals. If the latter, then killing one is at worst unauthorized hunting. If the former, then killing one is murder.

 

Knowing how my preferences in literature go, and the basic thrust of the story, one can guess how that ends.

 

I first read Little Fuzzy not being sure if there were any other Fuzzy stories; as it turns out, Piper wrote two others: Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People. All three are collected in the omnibus The Complete Fuzzy, which I highly recommend. These are some of my favorite re-reading pleasures in science fiction – not really space opera, not hard SF, yet in some ways feeling more real than most other books.

 

Come, join "Pappy" Jack Holloway as he discovers a tiny intruder in his cabin… and changes a world.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Robert Gottlieb says:

    That is also one of my favorites of H. Beam Piper, although his paratime book Lord Kalvin of Otherwhen introduced me to a few of the concepts that ultimately took off in (a more thought-thru way in) Eric Flint’s 1632 series.

    I have to agree that there were few true villains, although I do think Dr. Mallin (IIRC, it was a while since I read it), the one who mentally tortured the Fuzzies, got off too easily and was too easily allowed to make up for it.

    Now if we could just make a working Verindicator (an accurate lie detector), that would be great – and the biggest threat to politicians, senior wall street execs, as well as criminals, that you could possibly imagine. I suspect that if one were ever actually created, it would quickly be discredited or marginalized.

  2. Scalzi’s homage / reboot of Little Fuzzy (“Fuzzy Nation”) is also worth a read, in my opinion – a very different take on the same story…

    • Alon, i found scalzi’s take an abomination. It was worse than the movie version of starship troopers.
      For instance the name of the planet, Zarathustra takes special meaning in the story when you consider that it refers to Zoroaster, whose main though in his religion is that of the battle between Truth and Lie, and the outcome is never certain. Scalzi took this and shat on it so bad that i refuse to read or buy anthing he has done since.

      • I agree with Andrew. Scalzi’s version was the antithesis of what the Little Fuzzy books stood for. As such it was an insult to H. Beam Piper. Thankfully I borrowed the book from the library and didn’t waste my money.

        On the other hand, I still like Scalzi’s other books with “Agent to the Stars” my favorite.

        • Javahead says:

          I picked up the Scalzi book in a bookstore, and read through the first few pages. That was enough. It wasn’t my book, so I put it down gently rather than hurling it across the room with great force.

          But his revisionism of Piper to track his own preferred politics (that Piper would have despised, I think) was the last straw for me: no matter how good the reviews of newer works by Scalzi, I no longer want to send him money. It was about as much a “homage” to Piper as Lysenkoism was a homage to Gregor Mendel. And nearly as honest.

          I don’t require author’s politics to coincide with mine (else I’d never by anything by Brust or Flint ). And if he’d written his own book rather than flinging feces at Piper I just shrug and say “whatever” before moving on. But doing a deliberate 180-degree revision of a minor classic of the genre and then using the original’s popularity as a marketing took . . . well, it has all the charm of any other bait-and-switch operation, coupled with the deliberate posturing self-righteousness of a Bloomberg banning soda sales.

          • I didn’t read Scalzi’s version because I could tell just from the buzz about it that I would feel the same way about it that I do about Maguire’s Oz-based novels (“Wicked” et al). They may be well written but they offend my basic vision of the original.

  3. Mike G. says:

    Loved that book.

    I also have a print of the great Michael Whelan cover (search for Fuzz on http://www.michaelwhelan.com/gallery/illustration/science-fiction/ to see all
    the Fuzzy covers he did).

    John Scalzi’s reboot _Fuzzy Nation_ was also an excellent read.

  4. Mike Garrison says:

    In some of Piper’s books he explained a philosophy of reincarnation that, apparently, he believed in. That puts a bit of a different spin on his suicide. If you really believe you will be reincarnated, then when you are struggling with poverty in this life perhaps it makes sense to move on to your next one.

    But regardless, it’s a shame that other people seem to have made more money off of his work than he himself did. Unfortunately this is not uncommon for all sorts of art.

Your comments or questions welcomed!