Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Little Fuzzy

H. Beam Piper Little Fuzzy (1962)
I've never heard of him either, but this one proved impossible to resist with its cover striving so hard to be cute as to come across as slightly disturbing, and obviously not intentionally. What the fuck? can be the only logical response to this cover, followed immediately by I need to read this thing.

Novelty aside, Little Fuzzy is surprisingly decent, written by someone who clearly knew how to write whilst retaining a common touch, and is spun upon an ecological theme which put me immediately in mind of Clifford D. Simak - which can only be a good thing. The story is fairly simple and yet avoids any of the potential hokeyness you might anticipate: a pipe smoking prospector on an alien planet encounters cute fuzzy critters the existence of which threatens company interests, depending on whether or not said critters can be proven to constitute sapient beings, as opposed to just more local animal life. Our prospector is convinced the Fuzzies have culture at a more or less stone age level, whilst the company shits itself over losing all those lovely plunderable resources should the planet be granted reservation status.

More surprisingly, Little Fuzzy is essentially a court room drama, with the greater body of its page count given over to the judicial process of declaring the Fuzzies sapient whilst persuading the company to piss off and leave them alone; and yet - aside from a minor dip around halfway when a whole new load of characters show up - it remains engrossing and delightful, just as the cover promises. In fact, it reminds me a little of one of the better Asimovs, wrapping some fairly complicated ideas - in this case relating to evolutionary biology and the legal system - in a deceptively straightforward prose style with plenty of fifties science-fiction gentlemen pausing to light up thoughtful pipes. Even Little Fuzzy - our cover star and leading native after whom both the book and his species are named - pauses to light a thoughtful pipe at one point following the example of his human friend in a general spirit of experimentation; and yet it all remains funny, charming, and very, very readable without the slightest invocation of ironic yucks.

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