RogerBW's Blog

Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper 17 November 2019

1962 science fiction, re-read. Zarathustra was an uninhabited planet when humanity arrived, so the Company owns it and everyone's happy. Until Jack Holloway the old sunstone prospector comes along with some crazy story about the animals he's found being intelligent natives…

As usual, it's the most up-to-date stuff that now feels most dated, with data transfers on tape, movie film that needs to be developed, and even occasional typewriters. Cocktail hour had really only got started in the 1920s, but Piper clearly felt that it was here to stay. (But for people who are easily terrified by adults drinking and smoking in moderation, John Scalzi has rewritten this book into a sanitised modern version.)

And yes, all right, there's only one significant female character, and she's a psychologist; still, she does several things important to the plot (by being a psychologist, not by being female), and so are several significant male characters.

But the rest of the book is much closer to timeless. What is a sapient being, and how can you define that? And when an awful lot of money and power rests on the planet having no sapient natives, who's going to want a hand in that definition and what will they do to make it go their way?

This is a book popular with libertarians, who presumably haven't noticed that the company is entirely capable of walking all over the good-guy rugged individualists, having bought the local government, and the only thing that prevents it from doing so is an independent judiciary backed up by a higher level of government.

Also helped, of course, by the book's one blatant impossibility, the reliable lie detector ("polyencephalographic veridicator") – and that's another angle, because like any good SF author Piper doesn't just say "oh, they have this", he works out that you'll still need courts and their formalities even when you can be quite certain of whether someone is telling the truth.

All right, the good guys are all unambiguously good and the bad guys are all bumbling idiots (except the company chief, who vanishes from the story at about the two-thirds mark). And the idea of a sapient race having a formal status that's secondary relative to good old humanity is, hmm, less than ideal. But the book works, from frontier idyll to courtroom drama, and stands up to modern eyes a great deal better than much other SF from this era and later.

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Series: The Fuzzy Papers | Next in series: Fuzzy Sapiens

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