Because if the Fuzzies are sapient beings, the Company's charter is automatically void. - Gerd Van RiebeekThis week we're having a look at a science fiction classic from 1962, H. Beam Piper's Hugo nominated novel Little Fuzzy. Far from the high tech starship filled fare that some fans seem to think science fiction used to entirely consist of, Little Fuzzy is a story of corporate overreach, legal maneuvering, and the question of just what defines sapience.
The story of Little Fuzzy takes place on the planet Zarathustra, a Class III uninhabited planet wholly owned for some years now by the Zarathustra Company, a corporation which has profited greatly from the riches of the frontier planet. Prospector Jack Holloway returns home from a days work to find a small furry humanoid creature has wandered into his hut. Befriending it, Jack takes to calling it 'Little Fuzzy' and adopts it as a sort of pet. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Little Fuzzy is much more intelligent than a dog or cat. He and his family show many signs of being sapient, and the question of their sapience is central to the story.
If Fuzzies are sapient, that means that Zarathustra is not a Class III uninhabited planet at all, but a Class IV inhabited planet. This would make the Zarathustra Company's charter null and void. Unsurprisingly, the higher-ups in the Zarathustra Company are horrified by this thought and decide to do their utmost to suppress and discredit any evidence of Fuzzy sapience.
Little Fuzzy is a book with hardly any physical conflict whatsoever; apart from one extremely important moment, all of the fighting over the fate of the Fuzzies and of the Company's charter takes place through legal maneuvering and sneakiness. At times I thought the Company was being overly sloppy, but when you consider the degree of effective omnipotence they've enjoyed in Zarathustra it becomes more believable that they would underestimate the abilities of a septuagenarian prospector and his friends.
Although the concept of space colonization is integral to the story, advanced technology is hardly in evidence at all. Apart from the veridicator, a high-tech lie detector, future tech is mentioned in passing if at all. Jack's rifle, for instance is not described as any more advanced than a typical real-life hunting rifle. Character interaction is what matters here, not fancy imaginary thingamajigs.
I can't recommend Little Fuzzy enough; this was a great book with enjoyable characters, a couple of clever twists, and some fascinating philosophical questions at its heart. You should absolutely read it, especially as it's in the public domain. See for yourself the fate of the Fuzzies, and the planet Zarathustra.