Friday, July 28, 2006

The Fuzzy Saga

Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens, Fuzzies and Other People
H. Beam Piper
Fiction, SF

Zarathustra is a Class III planet, inhabitable by human life but unihabited by any native sapient species. At least, it is presumed to be so until a sunstone prospector named Jack Holloway finds a little yeeking biped in his shower and calls him Little Fuzzy. The first of Piper's novels deals with the necessary complications of such a discovery, primarily because of the Chartered Zarathustra Company, which owns the planet outright - unless the status of the planet is changed.

The path to sapience is not quite what you'd expect; it comes in the form of a legal challenge, a murder trial when one of the company researchers kills one of the little bipeds. The pre-trial antics of both sides are fairly typical and have far-reaching side effects; before the trial even begins, the colonial governor is deposed, the police department is in turmoil, and martial law is declared. And of prominence in the story is the definiton of sapience: can one define a being as sapient if one cannot determine that the being talks, or that it does any of those actions previously accepted as rule-of-thumb indicators?

The outcome of the trial is obvious; the path toward it is less so. This is a book which would work very well for the young adult crowd, but adults can enjoy it as well, as the characters are well-drawn and distinct.


The second book in the series begins shortly after the momentous Pendarvis Decision, the court case that declared that Fuzzies were a sapient species. Now the protagonists have to deal with the ramifications of that, with a new Native Affairs group, with protecting the Fuzzies, and with families who want to adopt the adorable (and well-behaved) little bipeds. (Not to mention the hospitals and mental wards that want Fuzzy visitors.)

And then the head of the Charter(less) Zarathustra Company, Victor Grego, finds a Fuzzy curled up on his bed. Not only is this a huge problem - the only way that the Fuzzy could have gotten in is through human intervention - but the little guy indicates that there were five others with him. Those Fuzzies were taken for purposes unknonwn, and probably nefarious, but the best efforts of the police and internal security can find no sign of them.

This book illustrates the problem of unintended consequences. The people who fought to have the Fuzzies' sapience recognized are now having to deal with the questions raised by their win, and also discovering that a principled enemy can become a good friend if the circumstances are right. And the Fuzzies themselves are what the Ewoks should have been; sweet without being cloying, and smart without being unrealistically able to defeat an opponent many times stronger than them.


The third book was discovered long after Piper's death, but was rumored long before then. (Some of his friends had read parts of it, and others had heard the plot outlined.) The novel itself shows few problems for the lack of editorial give-and-take; there are a few concepts and phrases repeated from previous novels, but they feel more like typical conversations (where cool catchphrases are used multiple times) than mistakes.

This novel deals with a legal problem: the veridicator, a standard appliance mandated in all court trials, detects falsification - the substitution of one statement for another. For certain people to be brought to justice, Fuzzies must testify... but they have never been known to lie. Unless the prosecution can prove that a Fuzzy lying will red-light the veridicator, the defense may get the testimony revoked on technical grounds, and the defendants go free.

Worse, there are certain practices in Terran-alien relations that require the use of a veridicator, and without the ability to show that it works on Fuzzies, certain practices such as adoption, and the mining of sunstones on Fuzzy land for Fuzzy benefit, go out the window. (Which would be bad for the Fuzzies as well, since their birthrate is well below replacement, and medicine therapy is needed in the form of food supplements. Which they love.)

And in the midst of this, a tragedy strikes. Little Fuzzy (you remember him) goes missing, and is presumed dead, which nearly incapacitates Jack Holloway (Pappy Jack.) Of course, it all works itself out in the end, and works as a fitting conclusion to Piper's Fuzzy novels. (I have been warned away from one of the sequels penned by another author; I suppose the lack of continuity would keep me away from the other, which is considered far superior.)


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