Ok, I don’t know how forgotten the Little Fuzzy (Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens, Fuzzies and Other People) books actually are. But I’m one of the few people I know who has read them. H. Beam Piper wrote them in the early 60s shortly before committing suicide. The first two books, Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Sapiens saw the light of day during the 1960s, and were republished in the early 1980s by Ace. At that time, Ace contracted two additional Fuzzy books to finish the story arc begun in the first two books: Fuzzy Bones by William Tuning and Golden Dreams: A Fuzzy odyssey by Ardath Mayhar. In 1984, the partially completed Fuzzies and Other People emerged, contradicting some of the events in both of the new books contracted by Ace, but I don’t feel it makes either of the new books any less enjoyable. Fuzzies and Other People definitely feels less finished, less polished, than the other two, and it is possible to see where Piper may have intended to go back and fill in dialog or make smoother transitions.
When one takes into consideration the time period in which Piper wrote and lived, the Fuzzy books are surprisingly not hideously sexist. Women have jobs and professions, many of them are scientists or doctors. Ok, so all the male characters, and the women themselves, refer to collective groups of women as girls, and most of the female doctors and scientists are in fact involved in either the soft sciences, like psychology, or pediatrics. However, there is at least one female chemist.
I also realize that the attitudes toward and descriptions of Fuzzy mental capacity and the Fuzzies themselves will probably set off several racism buttons in people, but again, remember the time period in which these were written. The fact that Piper has a character threaten a hotel with a discrimination suit if it kicks out the Fuzzies staying there for a trial when the majority of hotels in America at the time were still legally segregated was pretty damn progressive.
Character drives the stories, with the technology being mostly background noise. They have air (hover) cars, video phones (no way, not first thing in the morning anyway), anti-gravity lifters, stenomemophones which transcribe from the spoken word*, but mostly the technology stays safely out of the way of the story. Just the way I like it. But it’s also notable for what’s lacking. No cell phones, no mp3 player type things, and film is still film even if the images can be electronically transferred in the blink of an eye to the other side of the planet (with a noise, one imagines, very like the high speed dub on old reel to reel tape recorders).
Piper does not linger over his descriptions of violence, and I feel fairly comfortable allowing younger readers access to the Fuzzy books. I can see much in these books to use as teachable moments for younger readers about the way things were. The problematic symptoms of the time period in which they were written could be awesome discussion points for the parent wanting to explore themes of sexism, racism or paternalism.
I, however, prefer to take them as they are. I read them for fun, not for education, and my musings about the charming anachronisms within are more the product of an undergrad Comparative Lit course than any serious effort on my part. The fact that EVERYONE in the books smokes and cocktail hour is de rigeur even in the bush, cracks me up. I enjoy them because the characters are relatable, the Fuzzies are awesome (I dare you to come away from these books not thinking having a Fuzzy around would be a blast), and the world is believable, with genetic anomalies and everything. If you can, pick these up for a quick, light, fun read. There are a few tearjerker moments, and some kind of scary ones, but the endings are always happy and the bad guys all get punished.
While Piper’s Fuzzy books are currently in print, you’ll want to scan used bookstores for both Tuning’s and Mayhar’s. Neither are currently in print.
*If only voice recognition software were that good yet.