Thursday, May 26, 2005

Shoddabags and Esteefee: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

A FAVORITE

H. Beam Piper's science fiction includes three highly successful series, and two beloved novels: Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen and Little Fuzzy. Piper believed himself a failure, however, and committed suicide barely 14 years into his writing career.

Little Fuzzy is the tale of an endearing creature encountered on a mining planet by Jack Holloway, a somewhat reclusive sunstone miner. Holloway recognises the intelligence of this little guy, especially when he happens to slow down a recording of the "Yeek!" Little Fuzzy uses for speech. There are discrete words in that high-pitched voice—and "Pappy Jack" sets out to learn Fuzzy speech, as Little Fuzzy begins to learn English.

Navy emergency rations (ST3) are a big hit with Little Fuzzy, so much that he brings a few friends to get some from Pappy Jack. All the Fuzzies want shoddabag (shoulder-bags made from old cartridge cases) and esteefee (the "wonderful food," as they refer to the Navy rat-bars.)

When some new Fuzzies show up with a wealth of sunstones to store in their new shoddabags, Holloway has a mystery to solve. Are the Fuzzies thieves? Even if they are, are they competent enough to be charged uder the law? Holloway's investigation pits him squarely against Victor Grego's Zarathustra Sunstone Mining Company, which has a monopoly charter to buy sunstones on the planet.

Holloway realizes that the Fuzzies' presence on the planet may mark the end of Zarathustra Company's charter, and that someone in the Company may be trying to eradicate all the Fuzzies before that can happen. The thrilling climax of the story pits Pappy Jack and Little Fuzzy against Grego and the Company in a court of law.

The story of Little Fuzzy is charming, sweet enough that we do not notice how many serious themes are being presented. Guns and hunting, "appropriate technology," merchantile monopoly, faginy and the "legitimate" exploitation of minors, self-rule, and the rule of law are all tackled as Little Fuzzy and his champions establish Fuzzy sapience. You can thus read Little Fuzzy as a tale about cute little smart beings or as an allegory for conservative values.

Either way, Little Fuzzy is a book that ought to be on the shelf of any science-fiction reader. I recommend it in the collection, The Complete Fuzzy, which includes the other two Piper Fuzzy novels, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People.
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4/03/2010 10:20 PM  

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