RogerBW's Blog

Fuzzy Sapiens, H. Beam Piper 28 December 2019

1964 science fiction, re-read. The Fuzzies are legally recognised as sapient, and that means big changes to the government of Zarathustra.

Which is interesting, but too often dull. The question of the low Fuzzy birthrate is examined, then solved. The question of their interaction with humans is solved by quietly declaring them permanent minor children and making them available for adoption – along with a reservation for those who don't want to live with humans. And what happens when a human family gets bored with what (from the examples given) they clearly regard as a clever pet, or when a Fuzzy changes its mind about where it wants to live? In theory the adoption agency can resolve all such problems, but we never see it happen and there's very little discussion of the possibility. Everyone talks about "having" a Fuzzy with no thought for the implications of that usage.

Fuzzies in human society have to wear numbered ID discs. Humans don't.

Language is a problem too. When Fuzzies and humans converse, it's represented as broken English with occasional Fuzzy words, presumably meant to represent a pidgin. All right, neither side has had time to learn the other's language very well yet, but that's not how people speak when they're trying to learn each other's languages; if someone with minimal English is asking me for directions, something that often happened when I lived in London, they don't sound like this. This is more like baby-talk. What's worse, when we get a scene of Fuzzies conversing with each other in their native language (being listened to without their knowledge by humans) their speech is represented in the same crude way. It's another diminution of which Piper seems to be unaware.

I think Piper is trying to write about the importance of building up solid institutions in order to be a colonial power well, but he's so keen to put all the competent people on the side of Good (including the big enemy from the first book, the former planetary manager, who is converted to Good by having a Fuzzy of his own) that we don't really see how the institutions would withstand having someone bad involved with them. When a huge source of wealth is discovered on the reservation, there's a brief mention of the idea of simply taking it, but because they're all good people this soon turns into a way to make the Native Commission self-funding (and, one suspects, to something like the Alaska Permanent Fund – not invented in the real world until rather later – where all the Fuzzies get a stipend).

There isn't much in the way of opposition, though; a criminal plot is gradually spotted and untangled during the course of the book (ohg jul tb gb nyy gur gebhoyr bs pngpuvat naq genvavat n Shmml jura lbh pbhyq whfg unir hfrq bar bs gur qebarf gung ner zrnag gb tb guebhtu gubfr iragvyngvba qhpgf?), but I never felt any particular sense of threat. The threats here form a series of small problems rather than one big one, and that doesn't help to produce any sense of tension. The action sequence near the end, when the criminal endeavour is finally resolved, is startling by its contrast to the rest of the book, which is almost entirely talking.

(And it turns out that the veridicator does after all lead to a police state, because once someone's been plausibly accused of a crime they can be questioned under veridication about anything, related to the accusation or not. Which would be fine in a world other than this one, where everyone has some secrets they'd rather not come out. Piper doesn't appear to have noticed this problem, though.)

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Previous in series: Little Fuzzy | Series: The Fuzzy Papers | Next in series: Fuzzies and Other People

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:14pm on 29 December 2019

    Ah, that must be where I got the law regarding truth spells that I use in my fantasy campaigns.

    It has caused some problems (plot useful ones) but I'm not sure I'd do it any differently.

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