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.