Geek Girls Rule! #112 – Forgotten Fiction 1 – H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy

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.

10 thoughts on “Geek Girls Rule! #112 – Forgotten Fiction 1 – H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy

  1. Although my politics are completely the opposite of his, I’m still an unapologetic fan of everything Piper ever wrote. Yes, even Uller Uprising. I got hooked on his work in high school, with Fuzzies and Other People first coming out right after I graduated, and even now I wonder what would have happened in science fiction if he’d lived for another thirty years. At the very least, you could see where Piper was going with female characters, starting with The Cosmic Computer and moving on with Ruth Ortheris in Little Fuzzy. A very competent and very sneaky Terran Federation spy who also happened to be a woman? Written in the early Sixties?

    (On the subject of Fuzzies and Other People, the last I’d understood was that this was a complete manuscript when it was rediscovered: you may be thinking of First Cycle, which was little more than an outline when it was finished up by Ace. The problem was that it still needed work: Piper wrote it in a rush, considering how badly he needed money at the time and how Little Fuzzy had only barely been beaten by Phil Dick’s The Man In The High Castle for the Best Novel Hugo. Sadly, the publisher of Fuzzy Sapiens gave it a new title and an absolutely horrible post-modern cover, to the point where you couldn’t tell it was a Piper novel, much less a Fuzzy novel. Ultimately, it wasn’t released under its original title until the early Eighties, when I first came across it.

    And to add to the Mayhar/Tuning semisequels, there are all sorts of stories about why those were written, and some of them tie to a planned Fuzzy movie that was scuttled when Return of the Jedi brought out the goddamn Ewoks. For instance, I remember seeing a Little Fuzzy kid’s book adaptation, very faithful to the original in everything but Goldilocks’s death (here, she was taken out with a disintegrator instead of kicked to death) in the fall of 1983, and Ace pretty much went crazy with reprinting everything anybody could find that had been written by Piper. Besides that, you had Great King’s War, a sequel to Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, and Jerry Pournelle had been commissioned to write Return of Space Viking as well. (Any time some Cat Piss Man wants to bring how long Harlan Ellison has been working on The Last Dangerous Visions, I just note that Pournelle has been sitting on Return of Space Viking for even longer, and nobody’s giving him shit about it.)

  2. I think I just assumed, because of the way some sites have described it, that Fuzzies and Other People was more unfinished, but yeah, I can definitely see where it is not a final draft. The end of Fuzzy Sapiens feels similarly rushed, to me. A few places where there could have, perhaps should have, been dialog. But overall I still love all the books to pieces, even the Tuning and Mayhar ones.

  3. Not only have I read them – they are sitting on my bookshelf right at this moment looking at me. They were in the select group that didn’t go into storage with most of our books when we moved into this much smaller house.

    I still don’t understand what they find so tasty about the “food bars” or whatever they were called. I am due for another reading real soon now….

  4. The Fuzzy books are some of my all time favorite books. I first encountered them in high school, and at the time was only able to find the first two. They made a serious impression on me at the time (mid-80’s), and years later I finally found them again in a used book store and added them to my library. He really felt like a progressive author in how he handled some difficult subject matter. I mean, we are talking about exploitation of resources, enslavement of indigenous residents, women’s liberation, and probably a few more that aren’t quite so obvious to me. The subject matter might be a bit dated these days, but the lessons that can be learned from his writings are equally fitting today as they were when he wrote the books. I really wish he had contributed more to the world of sci-fi literature…

  5. I totally read these in middle school, but really the only thing I remember about them was being mercilessly mocked for reading books with the word “Fuzzy” in the title.

  6. I just finished re-reading fuzzy sapiens & fuzzies & other people; after lord ofthe rings, these stories could EZ become movies. pray someone with a heart does so. I am.

  7. I am terrified that James Cameron will get his filthy hands all over it, should that happen. Granted, he’s already worked through his white guilt with Avatar, but still…

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