H. Beam Piper
Completed 7/14/2018, Reviewed 7/15/2018
Little Fuzzy is a classic about the definition of sentient life. It was nominated for a Hugo back in 1963. The first paragraph has a lot of technical jargon, but it is not hard science fiction. It’s a short, easy read that makes you think about how we will determine whether or not alien species are sentient. I enjoyed it immensely, finding the discovery of the species and the subsequent trial riveting.
Jack Holloway mines sunstones on a distant planet. He discovers a small, silken-furred native mammal that no one else has seen before on the planet. The mammal takes to him and Jack to it. He names him Little Fuzzy and begins to see that the mammal can make tools and learn by watching. Little Fuzzy even understands the concept of trade. Soon Little Fuzzy brings his family unit to live with Jack. He shares his discovery with several others who agree that the Fuzzies are sentient.
The discovery of sentient life on the planet would change the designation from Type III to Type IV. This has great implications for the corporation that is now basically running the planet. Once designated as Type IV, the corporation would lose its contract and jurisdiction would turn over to a non-corporate government. So the corporation does everything possible to discredit Jack. These result in events that lead to a court case to determine whether the Fuzzies are sentient or not.
There’s a sort of pulp novel quality to the book, but that’s probably because it’s short and Fuzzies are cute. The cuteness is a little unbelievable at first. It almost reads like a Disney documentary or a YA novel. But the reader needs this to learn about the Fuzzies and their skills. When it moved into the court case, it reminded me of “Inherit the Wind”, the play and film about the Scopes’ Monkey Trial.
The characters are great. Jack is particularly fun as the grizzled, seventy-year-old prospector who is the first human to meet a Fuzzy. He is right out of the old west, but with bigger, more technologically advanced equipment. The corporate bad guys are just that, a little one dimensional, but it sets up the conflict for the later court case.
It’s hard to go into much more detail because it is such a short book. Anything else would give away too much. I give the book four stars out of five. It’s fun and exciting and instantly pleasing. I think this is a must-read for any science fiction fan to see the early speculation of first contact.