Review: Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper, 1962.
And so we come, at last, to Piper’s by far most famous novel. He started it on March 18, 1958 according to John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer. Damon Knight recommended that Berkley publish it, but they didn’t. Bill McMorris, Putnam’s editor thought it was “too adult for the teenage market” and of no interest to the adult reader. It would be rejected by more than twelve publishers and rejected three times by Avon, the company that eventually published it. He finished it in March 1959 after several false starts.
Janet Wood, editor at Avon, was enthusiastic about the book and envisioned a series and a movie and toys. (Piper did sell the movie rights, but, of course, nothing came of it.) The novel would finally be published in 1962.
John W. Campbell rejected it for serialization in Analog because its many characters made it confusing in his mind. Carr thinks the problem is that the novel’s has many viewpoint characters, and it’s hard to know, in some scenes, which is the viewpoint character. I’d add that Piper doesn’t always tag characters sufficiently in scenes with dialogue. Carr says Piper is much better in his later Space Viking about keeping characters straight, and I would agree.
Piper did not consider this one of his better works. I agree and would place all the Fuzzy novels in the bottom tier, along with First Cycle, of Piper’s novels.
However, a lot of authors have written sequels to it. John Scalzi is one, of course, but there’s also William Tuning, Ardath Mayhar, Wolfgang Dieher, and Carr himself (the last two published by Carr’s Pequod Press). William Barton’s dedication to his Acts of Conscience alludes to it.
I can see why people like it: cute aliens, an evil corporation, and some ecological themes. However, it has little of the invention of Piper’s better work. And, if I want cute, fuzzy, imitative aliens, I prefer the Hokas of Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson, a series which started in 1951.
The novel takes place 654 A.E. in the Terran-Human Federation. Jack Holloway is the main character, and Carr says he’s the character Piper put the most of himself in. He likes liquor but is leery of relying on it too much. He keeps a journal with a ritual of pipe smoking and liquor as Piper did.
Holloway is a prospector who has worked on several planets. On Zarathustra, he prospects for sunstones, a fossil that changes colors from body heat when worn as jewelry. One day a creature appears in his camp, and he dubs it Little Fuzzy, an animal unknown before on Zarathustra.
Whatever it was, it had a round head and big ears and a vaguely humanoid face with a little snub nose. It was sitting on its haunches, and in that position it was about a foot high. It had two tiny hands with opposing thumbs.
It proves to be clever having stolen a wood chisel to substitute put on his wooden spear for “land prawns”. It even alerts Holloway to the presence of a dangerous animal he shoots.
We next meet Victor Grego, the on-site head of the Zarathustra Company which has been given the Federation charter to develop the planet. Business is good. Besides the sunstones, there is meat and leather from a local animal. The population is growing and almost a million on planet with Mallorysport having 75,000. The planet even exports fissionable materials after fifteen years development.
Leonard Kellogg, head of the company’s Division of Scientific Study and Research, calls Grego. Grego doesn’t really respect Kellogg – the novel’s most despicable character – much:
“Victor was getting his warm, sympathetic, sincere and slightly too toothy smile on straight.
‘Hello, Leonard. Everything going all right?’ It either was and Leonard Kellogg wanted more credit than he deserved or it wasn’t and he was trying to get somebody else blamed for it before anybody could blame him.
Kellogg has been talking to Nick Emmert, the Federation’s resident-general on Zarathustra. There is some concern that draining swamps for farm land in the Blackwater Project is causing damage, and Kellogg is worried there will be charges of “destructive exploitation” on Earth. Emmert is concerned that a scientist, Rainsford, has been looking at weather data and is concerned the project has been changing precipitation patterns on the planet. Emmert is also worried Rainsford is a Federation agent.
Of course there were undercover agents on Zarathustra, hundreds of them. The Company had people here checking on him; he knew and accepted that. So did the big stockholders, like Interstellar Explorations and the Banking Cartel and Terra Baldur-Marduk Spacelines. Nick Emmert had his corps of spies and stool pigeons, and the Terran Federation had people here watching both him and Emmert. Rainsford could be a Federation agent— a roving naturalist would a wonderful cover occupation. But this Big Blackwater business was so utterly silly. Nick Emmert [a resident and largest stockholder in the company] had too much graft on his conscience; it was too bad that overloaded consciences couldn’t blow fuses.
We are then introduced to Gerd van Riebeek, a biologist, and the woman he is interested in, Ruth Otheris. She is a psychologist, and they both work for Kellogg (who Gerd considers nuts). Ruth deals with juvenile delinquents in Mallorysport which already has slums. Gerd was consulted by Kellogg on the plague of land-prawns on the continent Beta which he blamed on the weather which Kellogg wouldn’t believe.
We then go back to Holloway, and we get further evidence of their cleverness. Jack likes having the Fuzzy around and is upset when he leaves, but it returns with its family. He films them doing various things.
Two Constabulary officers on patrol, Lieutenant George Lunt and Ahmed Khadra, stop in to check on Holloway, and Jack introduces the Fuzzies to them. It is in talking with them that Holloway first realizes he considers the Fuzzies as “people”. The Federation’s legal test — using tools and fire and having a language — for sapience is discussed:. But how much of a legal principle it is is discussed:
’They don’t talk, and they don’t build fires,’ Ahmed Khadra said, as though that settled it.
‘Ahmed, you know better than that. That talk-and-build-a-fire rule isn’t any scientific test at all.’
‘It’s a legal test.’ Lunt supported his subordinate. ‘It’s a rule-of-thumb that was set up so that settlers on new planets couldn’t get away with murdering and enslaving the natives by claiming they thought they were only hunting and domesticating wild animals’.
In response to Holloway calling him up about the Fuzzies, Rainsford shows up and is very interested in the Fuzzies and calls Juan Jimenez at the Zarathustra Company’s Science Center. On the videocall, Jimenez sees the Fuzzies. Rainsford requests a psychologist to evaluate the Fuzzies’ intelligence. A half an hour later, Jimenez calls back with Ruth and Gerd on the line.
The next scene is Kellogg reporting to Grego. Initially Grego can’t understand why Kellogg is so agitated. Is he mad non-Company scientists didn’t discover Fuzzies first? But, when Kellogg explains that Rainsford and Holloway think the Fuzzies are “sapient beings”, he understands Kellogg’s concern. The Company’s charter is a Class-III charter for a planet with no sapient natives. If the Fuzzies are sapient, it would need a Class-IV charter for an inhabited planet. And the Federation probably wouldn’t give it to the Company and take over planetary administration.
Grego asks Kellogg if, according to the report he’s seen, if the Fuzzies are sapient.
‘Accepting the account, yes,’ Kellogg said, in distress. ‘They could be.’
They probably were, if Leonard Kellogg couldn’t wish the evidence out of existence.
Grego gives Kellogg the task (he knows Kellogg can be diligent in a task if he can’t delegate) of taking charge of the investigation of the Fuzzies and making sure the report on them is favorable. Kellogg says he’ll take his chief psychologist Ernst Mallin to see the Fuzzies along with and maybe Ruth too. They’ll argue Rainsford has no psychological experience. Kellogg doesn’t think Rainsford has reported the matter to the Institute of Xeno-Sciences.
Grego, learning the Fuzzies have “soft and silky fur”, says the Company will offer a bounty on Fuzzy pelts. Kellogg insists this is genocide.
Nonsense! Genocide is defined as the extermination of a race of sapient beings. These are fur-bearing animals. It’s up to you and Ernst Mallin to prove that.
The next scene is Juan Jimenez, Ruth, and Gerd visiting Holloway and Rainsford. Jimenez think’s Holloway’s been over anthropomorphizing the Fuzzies though Ruth seems to think they use symbolic representation.
Mallin discusses their report with Grego. Mallin emphasizes Rainsford and Holloway having no experience in the psychological sciences. Mallin thinks Rainsford is a “badly adjusted personality type”, an “individualistic egotist”, and that Holloway just taught the Fuzzies some tricks.
In the next scene, the sapience of the Fuzzies is discussed at Holloway’s camp. They seem to have some sense of engineering concepts and the ability to make art. Jimenez says maybe there are degrees of sapience to which Ruth responds
When psychology becomes an exact science like physics, we’ll be able to calibrate mentation like temperature. But sapience is qualitatively different from nonsapience. It’s more than just a higher degree of mental temperature. You might call it a sort of mental boiling point.
Kellogg calls them. Rainsford argues the Fuzzies may be the “ninth extrasolar sapient race”. Ruth is noncommittal and says further study is needed. Jimenez can’t comment on their mentation, but says Fuzzies have the physical qualities (“manipulation, erect posture, stereoscopic vision, color perception, hand with opposing thumb”) for sapience.
Kellogg suggests some Fuzzies be brought to Mallorysport for study. Holloway strongly objects. Kellogg tells Gerd to “fix up some cages”. Holloway objects again, and Ruth asks if Kellogg is questioning her qualifications. Rainsford says he will study the Fuzzies in place and that Holloway is the only Fuzzy expert in existence.
After Kellogg hangs up, Gert tells Holloway he wasn’t very gracious to Kellogg.
’He isn’t important to me, and I wasn’t gracious to him at all. It doesn’t pay to be gracious to people like that. If you are, they always try to take advantage of it.’
‘Why, I didn’t know you knew Len,’ van Riebeek said.
‘I never saw the individual before. The species is very common and widely distributed.’
Rainsford thinks Mallin and Kellogg will visit tomorrow and that they’ll have to watch out for a year. That’s how long it will take to hear back from Terra about what it wants to do about the discovery of a new sapient race.
In the next scene, we see Grego’s statement about Federation agents on the planet is true. Space Commodore Alex Napier, Captain Conrad Greibenfeld his executive officer, Intelligence officer Stephen Aelborg, and Lieutenant Pancho Ybarra, a psychologist, are listening to a recording. They discuss Holloway’s reliability. Greibenfeld vouches for Holloway having met him 30 years ago. Rainsford is “absolutely reliable, of course”. And another, unnamed, agent on planet is “one of our best”.
Ybarra says the Fuzzies sound sapience.
“You mean an excuse to intervene in that mess down there?” Greibenfeld asks. They have several copies of the Company’s internal report about the Fuzzies. They also know Grego has offered a bounty on Fuzzies.
The Commodore isn’t keen on intervening:
Damnit, he didn’t want to have to intervene. No Space Navy C.O. did. Justifying intervention on a Colonial planet was too much bother— always a board of inquiry, often a courtmartial. And supersession of civil authority was completely against Service Doctrine. Of course, there were other and more important tenets of Service Doctrine. The sovereignty of the Terran Federation for one, and the inviolability of the Federation Constitution. And the rights of extraterrestrials, too. Conrad Greibenfeld, too, seemed to have been thinking about that.
‘If those Fuzzies are sapient beings, that whole setup down there is illegal. Company, Colonial administration and all,’ he said. ‘Zarathustra’s a Class-IV planet, and that’s all you can make out of it.’
They tell Ybarra the whole matter will depend on what he, as the sole Federation psychologist on station, decides.
In the next scene, we see two Fuzzy families meeting and how their mating rituals meet.
In the next scene a couple of Constables pay the Holloway camp a visit. Another aircar lands on nearby. It’s Kellogg, Mallin, and Kurt Borch, Kellogg’s assistant.
There is some more debate about Fuzzy sapience with Kellogg saying he’s not insinuating Rainsford isn’t competent. He’s just worried how Terra will receive the reports. Rainsford says he will be reporting to the Institute. The three ask if they can camp nearby. Holloway consents (he has a land-grant) but warns,
’Not at all. I’ll have to remind you again, though, that you’re to treat these little people with consideration.’
‘Oh, we won’t do anything to your Fuzzies,’ Mallin said.
‘You won’t hurt any Fuzzies. Not more than once, anyhow.’
The next afternoon Lunt and Khadra show up. Lunt is suspicious of Borch, wishing he could get his prints since he suspects he’s a criminal. Lunt says they’ve also been asking funny questions about Holloway.
The next day, a rift occurs between Gert and Ruth when, he thinks under the influence of Mallin, she won’t support the idea of Fuzzy sapience. Rainsford has sent his report to the Institute. Ruth gives a Fuzzy named Goldilocks a bit of cheap jewelry she bought on another planet.
Borch, Kellogg, Mallin, and Ruth comes over an aircar, but, before that, Gert races to tell Holloway that Mallin is preparing a report accusing him and Rainsford of scientific fraud. They wanted Gert to sign it to.
That day, Gert is out with Kellogg, and they find a Fuzzy’s grave with her “prawn-stick” in it. Kellogg doesn’t like Gert taking pictures of the grave as proof of Fuzzy sapience and just wants to get back to camp.
When they return to camp and Kellogg gives him a report, Mallin wants to suppress it because Fuzzy sapience would invalidate the Company’s charter.
For the first time, Holloway realizes the implications of Fuzzy sapience. When asked by Holloway what he will do now, Gert says he no longer works for the Company and is leaving for Terra. Holloway tells him he might have an “accident” before he gets to the ship. Holloway suggests Rainsford stay with him. Holloway and Rainsford put on some guns in preparation to evict Kellogg and company from their camp. Holloway also calls Lunt up to help him do that. Holloway calls Kellogg up and gets Borch on the phone and tells him he’s changed his mind. They are to be off his land by tonight.
They watch Kellogg’s camp from afar and see Goldilocks walk into it. They head for the camp. Goldilocks disappears from sight around an aircar, and they hear a scream then Ruth shouting at Kellogg to stop something. They round a vehicle to find Goldilocks stomped to death by Kellogg. Holloway starts punching Kellogg, and then he hears Ruth warning him. Borch is approaching with a drawn gun. Holloway draws and pumps three shots into Borch. Gerd shouts for everyone to get their hands up including Kellogg. Jimenez starts going towards a hut and is stopped by Gerd firing a warning shot.
Kellogg claims that Goldilocks attacked him with a spear, but Ruth says she was just offering Kellogg the bit of jewelry she gave the Fuzzy earlier. Mallin tells Ruth and Kellogg to shut up and supports Kellogg’s story. Rainsford shows up in his aircar and then Lunt and Khadra.
Cross complaints are made. Kellogg accuses Holloway of Borch’s murder, and Holloway accuses him of murdering a sapient being – a charge Lunt supports.
Holloway is arrested, bails out, and gets the services of attorney Gus Bannhard, a hard drinker. (Holloway brings four Fuzzies with him, and they like Gus.) Gus is confident a jury will consider Fuzzies sapient after seeing them in court and lots of film footage exist of them. Holloway wants Kellogg prosecuted for murder.
That, says Gus, will be hard. Leslie Coombes, the company’s best attorney, and Mohammed Ali O’Brien, the colony’s attorney-general, will be representing Kellogg.
Rainsford is with them, and he explains the idea of Fuzzy sapience threatens the Company Charter. Gerd, also with them, asks how they can prove sapience. Rainsford says it will be hard even if Coombes accepts the “talk-and-build-a-fire rule”. Gus cites a precedent from colonial law that says a baby, though it doesn’t meet that rule, is sapient. O’Brien may not know that, but Coombes will.
Gus is going to argue that Holloway acted in self-defense of a sapient being.
In the next scene, Grego says to Emmert that he wishes Holloway had killed the foolish Kellogg. Charging Holloway with murder triggered a dangerous counter charge. Grego briefly ponders smuggling Kellogg off planet but realizes it really wouldn’t do any good. Emmert knows that he’s finished if the Company loses its charter though Grego is smart enough to still make something of himself even if that happens. Grego is also unhappy with himself for picking such an incompetent gunman as Borch.
The next scene is Chief Justice Frederic Pendarvis looking at the complaints – and it’s not the first time “old Jack” has shot someone. The judge immediately recognizes their implications. He is not going to dismiss the charges against Kellogg. Both cases will go to court.
Kellogg starts to drink heavily and thinks everyone is down on him – which they are.
Coombes meets with Emmert and Grego. Coombes says Pendarvis is a “pro-law” judge. His “religion is the law”. He’s not anti-Company. Coombes wants to keep the Fuzzies out of court. Emmert asks him, incredulously, if really believes Fuzzies are sapient.
’Of course. Don’t you?’ Grego laughed sourly.
‘Nick thinks you have to believe a thing to prove it. It helps but it isn’t necessary. Say we’re a debating team; we’ve been handed the negative of the question. Resolved: that Fuzzies are Sapient Beings. Personally, I think we have the short end of it, but that only means we’ll have to work harder on it.’
Grego says they need some Fuzzies to study, and Emmert has a plan to get some. Lunt, Khadra, two other policemen, and two civilians show up with a court order to take three Fuzzies including the original Little Fuzzy.
Pendarvis, when asked by Gus, says he didn’t sign that court order. O’Brien did it, and Pendarvis is not pleased. He orders custody of the Fuzzies be returned to Holloway. Pendarvis is also not happy to learn they are in the custody of the Company’s Science Center. O’Brien is ordered by Pendarvis to have nothing to do with the two trials.
Holloway, Gus, and Colonial Marshall Max Fane go to get the Fuzzies back. Mallin says he doesn’t know where they are. They escaped. They call Gerd who comes down and is disgusted at Ruth refusing to discuss the matter and going away. Gerd says he’s glad he didn’t marry her. “She was so married to the Company it’d be bigamy.”
Ruth proposes the Fuzzies escaped in a box of cargo taken out of the Center earlier. Things get worse for the Company with Holloway talking about taking his Fuzzy footage to the newspaper.
Pendarvis proposes a novel solution. Both cases will be tried at once. Coombes will prosecute Holloway. Gus will prosecute Kellogg.
A hunt is carried on for the missing Fuzzies with the Company putting out stories, via a corrupt policeman, that they attack people and ordering their shooting. Pendarvis issues an order restraining Emmert from having Fuzzies killed and only allows paying a reward for their capture alive and return to Fane.
Holloway is told there are a lot of strange men all of a sudden in Mallorysport, possibly a mob hired by Grego. Upon request of the leader of the Constabulary, Commodore Napier orders a force of Federation Marines to guard the courtroom. He also assumes control of the civilian government of Zarathustra.
The trial goes on. We see a device in action that we’ve heard about earlier in the story – the veridicator, basically an infallible lie-detector. Mallin is veridicated as is Kellogg who, it turns out, knows he killed a sapient being. That means an execution, and he commits suicide in his cell.
Holloway wins the sapient argument for two reasons. The Federation presents an amicus brief with evidence from their study of the Fuzzies – which, it turns out, their agent Ruth smuggled to them. (Naturally her relationship with Gerd is restored.) The Federation also proves that the Fuzzies do have a language, oh-so-conveniently, in the ultrasonic range. The coup-de-grace is a Fuzzzy smoking a pipe in imitation of seeing “Pappy Jack” do that.
Rainsford is made Governor General and makes Holloway Commissioner of Fuzzy Affairs, and a reservation will be set up for the Fuzzies. The Fuzzies are now very popular and everyone wants one of their own.
The novel ends on some saccharine lines from the seeming viewpoint of Little Fuzzy:
And soon all the people would find Big Ones to live with, who would take care of them and have fun with them and love them, and give them the Wonderful Food. And with the Big Ones taking care of them, maybe more of their babies would live and not die so soon. And they would pay the Big Ones back. First they would give their love and make them happy. Later, when they learned how, they would give their help, too.
We do have some characteristic Piper elements here. There is a climax centered around a legal proceeding as in “The Edge of the Knife” and “Day of the Moron”. There is plenty of intrigue. The violence, though, is rather muted for a Piper work. Kellogg is the most despicable character because he doesn’t think clearly. Grego is a Machiavellian figure trying to preserve his power while making arguments he doesn’t really believe.