I have had the book Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper on my list of things I want to review for more than a year. Probably closer to two years. People were always asking me if I was ever going to review the book or if I just wanted to throw it back in the pot. I would always answer that of course I was going to review Little Fuzzy. I was just … savoring … it. I first read Little Fuzzy back when I was in high school and I immediately fell in love with the title character and his diminutive alien race. Fuzzies are still among my favorite Science Fiction nonhuman races.
Little Fuzzy, published in 1962, was written by H. Beam Piper, whose sadly abbreviated life and career is one of the great tragedies of the SF world. Piper was largely self educated. He published his first short story, “Time and Time Again”, in 1947 and enjoyed success and popularity. The story was adapted for a radio program in 1951 and for a second radio program in 1956. Most of Piper’s stories focus on an intelligent, self-reliant man: “a man able to take care of himself and both willing and able to tackle any situation that might arise”. Piper believed in being self reliant in his own life and that belief, and the secrecy and general messiness of his life, led to his unfortunate death.
There is a lot of confusion concerning Piper’s life. Some sources list his first name as Henry, other sources say it was Horace. His marriage ended in divorce and his financial problems may have been the fault of a greedy wife trying to take all his money and Piper may have canceled his life insurance to ensure she could not get any more. Or his financial problems may have been because his much wealthier ex-wife cut off his access to her money. No one knows exactly when he died. His last diary entry was November 5, 1964 but his body was not discovered until November 9th. Or maybe it was November 11th. Piper was not even aware of how well his career was actually going. His agent had had a messy life himself and had died suddenly without ever notifying Piper of multiple sales. Piper thought his career was foundering and that he was sinking into a dismal hole of debt and his self-reliant beliefs would not allow him to ask any of his many close friends for help. So he killed himself. Jerry Pournelle wrote in an introduction to one edition of Little Fuzzy that Piper shut off all his utilities and covered the floors and walls of his home with painter’s drop cloths then shot himself with a gun from his vast weapons collection. Piper left a sad suicide note: “I don’t like to leave messes when I go away, but if I could have cleaned up any of this mess, I wouldn’t be going away.”
The confusion of his life even surrounded one of Piper’s most popular literary creations: Little Fuzzy. The novel was an immediate hit and more popular than anything Piper had written before. It was a critical success, too, and was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel (but lost out to Philip K. Dick‘s The Man in the High Castle). Fans demanded more Fuzzy stories and Piper was happy to comply. He told his fans the second story was due in 1964 with a third in 1965. Unfortunately, there was a change of editors at Piper’s publisher and the new editor seemed to deliberately sabotage Piper. Piper had told his fans that the second Fuzzy book, Fuzzy Sapiens, was due January 1964 but it was delayed with no given reason. Then the book was suddenly released in June with no publicity at all under a completely different title, The Other Human Race, with a dark cover that featured two bulb headed, long necked humanoids and a blurb about “man versus a super intelligent race of alien beings”. It sounded nothing at all like a Fuzzy book and most fans missed it entirely. Piper and his agent were not even told the book had been published until some friends spotted it and told them. The grim cover and lack of publicity resulted in dismal sales and the editor rejected the third Fuzzy novel on the grounds that poor sales proved Fuzzies were a poor idea. Fans that did manage to get Fuzzy Sapiens / The Other Human Race loved it as much as they did Little Fuzzy and demanded to know about the third book. Piper reported that it was finished and just needed to find a new home. Then came the news of Piper’s suicide. In the chaos of Piper’s death and the death of his agent, the third Fuzzy book seemed to disappear. Some friends thought Piper had finished it, others said he never wrote it. Later, it was discovered that the third book did exist and Piper’s agent had sent it to Frederick Pohl for inclusion, as a serial, in either Galaxy or If magazines. Pohl had personally loved the first two Fuzzy books but he rejected the third because he felt it was obviously part of a series and neither of his magazines had published the earlier stories. Pohl sent the manuscript back to Piper’s agent where, due to his sudden death, it completely vanished. Piper’s estate was supposed to pass to some cousins but actually ended up with the friend who had been contacted by police at Piper’s death. The friend went through Piper’s paper and could not find the third Fuzzy book. In the 1970’s, some of H. Beam Piper’s work was re-issued. Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Sapiens (the title restored to Piper’s original) got brand new covers by artist Michael Whelan ( who would go on to a Hugo Award winning career). Fuzzies were popular again and Ace Books decided to allow another author, William Tuning, to write a Fuzzy book. Tuning’s book, Fuzzy Bones, was published in December 1981 and was generally well received by fans. Tuning announced he was working on a fourth Fuzzy book to be titled Captain Fuzzy. But then Tuning suddenly died. Ace quickly turned to yet another author, Ardath Mayhar, and her Fuzzy book, Golden Dream, was published in October 1982. That same month, Fuzzy fans got the word that Piper’s own long missing third Fuzzy book had finally been found. It had been found in a box of typewriter paper in the bottom of a trunk in a basement. That long awaited Piper book, Fuzzies and Other People, was published in August 1984. Fans were happy but there was yet another bit of controversy. William Tuning’s book Fuzzy Bones had revealed a surprise about the Fuzzy’s history (nope, not gonna tell you – read the books yourself) and Ardath Mayhar’s book, Golden Dream, had followed up on this history. But Piper’s book, Fuzzies and Other People, completely contradicted those two books leaving fans somewhat confused as to the “real” Fuzzy history. Since then, there have been three more Fuzzy books. A long time Piper fan, Wolfgang Diehr, has written two books, Fuzzy Ergo Sum and Caveat Fuzzy, with a third to come, and SF author John Scalzi re-imagined Little Fuzzy into Fuzzy Nation.
So what exactly is all the Fuzzy excitement about? Fuzzies are utterly adorable! In fact, H. Beam Piper’s original editor – before the one that sabotaged him – envisioned movies and plush merchandising. But besides the super cute factor, the story of Little Fuzzy is “both a courtroom drama and a scientific melodrama”. Little Fuzzy starts out like a rollicking Wild West adventure in space. Zarathustra is a frontier planet controlled by an all powerful corporation interested only in profits. Jack Holloway is a crusty, aging, fast shooting, prospector hunting for “sunstones” found only on Zarathustra. The Zarathustra Company has drained a vast swamp for farmland resulting in climate change and drought downwind. Native life is on the move and one of those natives moves right into Jack Holloway’s shower. Very quickly Jack has adopted a family of Fuzzies and is starting to wonder if his tiny, furry friends are just very smart animals or something more. The big problem is that Zarathustra Company has a charter that allows them to fully own and exploit a planet with no sapient native life. If Fuzzies are NOT animals, if Fuzzies are sapient, then Zarathustra Company owns nothing.
I will say it again – Fuzzies are utterly adorable! They are still one of my all-time favorite Science Fiction nonhumans. But Fuzzies are not just cute, they are also clever, brave, innocent, joyful, and surviving under very challenging circumstances. And they are also cute! That cuteness makes almost every character – and the reader – yell “I want one!” But that is one of the questions, because if Fuzzies are sapient then they are not just cute pets (or fur baring animals to be hunted into extinction as per one Company plan). What is sapience and what makes a creature sapient is the big question that will determine not just the fate of the Fuzzies but of the entire planet of Zarathustra. That question plays out in an intriguing courtroom drama after two murders – or maybe not murders – are committed.
It has been maybe fifteen years since I last read Little Fuzzy and I still loved it. It is very fast paced and exciting. In some ways the novel is very modern. There is wealthy corporate interests stomping on everything to protect their bottom line, man made climate change effecting the future of the planet, and the rights and respect due to indigenous peoples. The Fuzzies, in many ways, seem “to parallel and criticize the way Native Americans have been treated”. Fuzzies even end up on a reservation protected by a well-meaning white man. But the novel is also seriously dated in other ways. Everyone smokes all the time. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes are all constantly being lit up. Even Little Fuzzy himself lights up his own little pipe just like his Pappy Jack Holloway. And, while H. Beam Piper includes a strong woman character, Ruth Ortheris, with an important career, all other female characters are either secretaries or wives. Even Ruth, while she greatly effects the Fuzzies’ future, does most of her work entirely off page and then she turns around and gives up everything to marry her man. Also, everyone is completely okay with the whole idea of a Fuzzy reservation while humans continue to exploit most of the planet. But I still loved Little Fuzzy and I have already started to re-read Fuzzy Sapiens. I even have three Fuzzy books I have never before read: the two books by Wolfgang Diehr and John Scalzi’s re-imagining. I can not wait!
While Little Fuzzy and many other H. Beam Piper books are FREE in the Public Domain, the rest of the Fuzzy books are unfortunately not. Here is a list of Fuzzy books for those who might be confused by publishing and title changes (and boy, was I confused years ago):
Original Fuzzy series by H. Beam Piper
–Little Fuzzy (1962) – the only story in the Public Domain
–Fuzzy Sapiens aka The Other Human Race (1964)
–Fuzzies and Other People (1984)
Collections of Fuzzy stories by H. Beam Piper
–The Fuzzy Papers (1980) – contains Little Fuzzy & Fuzzy Sapiens
–The Complete Fuzzy (1998) – contains all 3 Piper Fuzzy stories
Fuzzy Books by Other Authors
–Fuzzy Bones by William Tuning (1981) – direct sequel to Little Fuzzy & Fuzzy Sapiens but contradicted by Fuzzies and Other People
–Golden Dream by Ardath Mayhar (1982) – a Fuzzy prehistory & sequel to Fuzzy Bones
–Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (2011) – re-imagining of Little Fuzzy
–Fuzzy Ergo Sum by Wolfgang Diehr (2011) – sequel to Piper’s 3 books
–Caveat Fuzzy by Wolfgang Diehr (2012) – sequel to Fuzzy Ergo Sum
Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive, Feedbooks, and Project Gutenberg. The audio book version of Little Fuzzy is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive with a run time of 6 hours 56 minutes. There is another audio book version, read by tabithat at the Internet Archive that runs 5 hours 36 minutes. The same audio book version is also at LibriVox along with a FREE CD insert that can be printed.