Fuzzy Sapiens

Cover by Michael Whelan

Review: Fuzzy Sapiens, H. Beam Piper, 1964.

Jerry Pournelle, H. Beam Piper’s friend, said,

It was those Fuzzy books that killed him! They got his hopes up, then dashed them. Beam’s plan was to write one book, or short story, in each century of his future history, not write three bloody Fuzzy novels, including one he could never sell.

On February 14, 1962, Piper got word that Janet Wood at Avon Books wanted a sequel to Little Fuzzy.

As quoted in John F. Carr’s Typewriter Killer, Mike Knerr, Piper’s friend and would-be biographer, said,

Space Viking, in my not so humble opinion, stands as one of the best novels Beam ever wrote—and just what the hell did the book have to do with the Fuzzy thing? If Janet Wood thought that Piper was just going to sit in Williamsport and crank out Little Fuzzy adventures just for Avon, she had another think [sic] coming.

We laughed about it a lot, while Beam struggled to find a decent plot for the sequel. ‘Hell, yes, We’ll do “Little Fuzzy and the Jewels of Opar;” “Little Fuzzy and the Golden Lion” and “Little Fuzzy at the Earth’s Core”… How’s your drink? I’ll get us a refill.’

But, at this point, Piper hadn’t been a hobby writer for many years. The professional Piper was increasingly short of money and figured he didn’t have much choice than to write that sequel.

But, as is the way with publishers, when Janet Wood left Avon, support for Piper’s second Fuzzy novel went with it. Published as The Other Human Race, the original covers of both novels show how much Avon cared about the sequel:

If I was rating Piper novels on how memorable they are, this would be at the bottom. Making notes on this book a bit over seven months after reading it, the only thing I thought I remembered was that a real estate scam was involved, and that it was notable how quickly the former enemies of Little Fuzzy became friends. Neither of which is precisely true. 

The story picks up a week after the events of the preceding novel.

The new villain here is a lawyer named Ingermann. Judge Pendarvis, now Attorney General Brannard, and Zarathustra Company lawyer Coombes know he’s crooked. But they can’t prove anything, and he’s managed to avoid being compelled to testify under the lie-detecting veridicator device. Ingermann is lobbying for land formally owned by the Zarathustra Company, before it lost its planetary charter, to be given to local settlers. The problem is that Governor Rainsford’s administration doesn’t have that authority. It will be six months before elections are held.

That means it will also be six months before any taxation can be imposed on the now democratic government of Zarathustra. In the meantime, Grego, as company head, burns through a lot of money and is trying to find alternatives to the sunstone market which the company will shortly have no monopoly on.

At this point in his career, Piper is good at characterization, and we see a lot of characters either changed by the events of the first novel or having to adopt here. Psychologist Mallin is now more humbled and open minded as his former subordinates find out. Grego has to put aside his natural aggressiveness to work with Rainsford. And Rainsford will gradually go from an implacable foe of the company – which falsely accused him of scientific fraud in Little Fuzzy – to finding common ground with it.

Two mysteries drive most of the plot involved: the increasing rate of Fuzzy miscarriages with the race headed for extinction and how a Fuzzy got into Grego’s apartment in the Company House.

Being the cute, adorable creatures they are, everyone wants a Fuzzy. Jack Holloway, head of Native Affairs, oversees a massive adoption program of Fuzzy adoption, after proper screening,  by humans. Everyone wants one. Play dates are even arranged between groups of Fuzzy adoptees. Ingermann makes the charge that these adoptions only go to the elite. In response to fears Fuzzies will damage crops, farmers are educated that Fuzzies can hunt down land-prawns which harm their crops. Trafficking in Fuzzies outside official channels is made a capital offense. After all, the whole point of Little Fuzzy was that Fuzzies are sapiens, and enslaving sapiens is a grave offense in the Federation.

There is the usual large cast of a Piper novel.

We see much more of Stenson, the very skilled instrument maker of the elaborate globe in Grego’s office which depicts, in real time, conditions on Zarathustra. Grego reveals he knows the device was bugged because of events in Little Fuzzy, but he holds no grudge against the Naval Intelligence agent and thinks his fine skills should be applied to developing a device to render Fuzzy speech audible to humans.  

We get the rigid company chemist Hoenvold who hates that his untidy lab assistant solves the problem of Fuzzy reproduction given him by Grego. (Grego, along with Holloway, seem Piper’s ideal figure – realistic, decisive, and knowledgeable.)

Grego even seems to be taken with a secretary after he makes her his Fuzzy sitter.

(Spoilers ahead)

Rainsford learns to play the political game after being warned that Ingermann is a racketeer and politics is the biggest racket of all.

The Fuzzy reproductive problem is found to stem from their need for trace amounts of titanium.

Some Fuzzies from the preceding novel were captured and used by a criminal gang to loot the company vault containing the sunstones. It is hoped, by novel’s end, that evidence from them will lead back to Ingermann.

For his part, Ingermann, it is revealed, has been part of a group buying land cheap from recent settlers with the plans of building a new spaceport on it or selling it at a steep profit to the wave of immigrants expected from various overcrowded planets including Terra.

Holloway’s proposal to make sunstone rich land into Fuzzy reservations, let the company mine the gems, and a portion of the money going to Fuzzies is accepted. The unhappy history of what happened to other planets’ native sentients after they were put on reservations is briefly mentioned. (Another sign of American science fiction being influenced by that country’s experiences with American Indians.)

And those adorable Fuzzies just get more remarkable. They can produce art and learn safe cracking. One even learns to pitch his voice at a level audible to humans thus negating the need for Stenson’s device.

It’s an ok story, pleasant enough when reading it, but it doesn’t even have the power of Little Fuzzy to say nothing of the vivid political intrigue, violence, and historical analogs of Piper’s best novels.

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