An Audio Book Review: The Fuzzy War; A Battle of Two Centuries! Part One


Little Fuzzy
Fuzzy Sapiens
(aka The Other Human Race)

Fuzzies and Other People

By H. Beam Piper

Audio Edition of Little Fuzzy by Audible Frontiers

Read by Peter Ganim

The Stories:

This will be a long one, so I’m going to divide it into the Fuzzy stories by their original author, H. Beam Piper and the stories by other authors.

Little Fuzzy

So far I have been reviewing classics of fantasy and science fiction, and Little Fuzzy is yet another classic. Not only is it a classic in its own right, but is a shining example of one of the best known subgenres of science fiction; it is a first contact story. Boy meets alien… boy loses alien… boy gets alien back again. Well, that might be a “high concept” rendition of the plot, but then so might, “Old coot prospector discovers an adorably cute and incredibly smart critter.” Everything sounds silly when boiled down to a micro-summary.

Seriously, I doubt there’s a story that sounds good when summed up in one or two short sentences. The Lord of the Rings: Some little people undertake the task of destroying a magical ring. Pride and Prejudice: Woman meets man called Darcy who seems absolutely horrid. Great Expectations: An Orphan is mysteriously given loads of money . Romeo and Juliet: His and her drama queens from feuding families fall in love.  Go ahead and make up some of your own. It’s a great party game! It can get hysterical if you insert the line “…and hilarity ensues!” at the end of every summary.

I’ll put a little more meat on the bones. The story begins with Jack Holloway, an old prospector on a planet, Zarathustra, who in the course of events discovers a small bipedal creature in his cabin. He instantly calls the creature a Fuzzy and a xenobiologist of his acquaintance makes that name official. The little fellow is unlike anything he has ever seen, and he has been on more worlds over the course of his life than most others in Piper’s universe. For those of you who have not read this book, they look a little like George Lucas’ Ewoks, but they do not wear clothing and they form small nomadic family units.  They also do not live in the trees.

Zarathustra, however, is owned outright by the Chartered Zarathustra Company – a business venture Piper obviously modeled after the colonial and trading companies of the 17th and 18th Centuries, such as the East India Company and the Virginia Company.  Piper was hardly the only author who ever adapted situations from the past and applied them to an SF future. It’s a good way to cobble together a believable, while fictional setting. Piper was a master of that art and it shows throughout his future history in this and other stories.

The kicker? The Zarathustra Company’s charter is only valid on a world without an indigenous population of sentient beings. As Jack Holloway and others get to know the Fuzzies they come to the realization that the Fuzzies are not merely fur-bearing animals. However, they neither speak nor know how to use fire – two definitive signs of a sentient creature.

The top Company scientists attempt to discredit the claims of sentience, but the matter gets thrown into the courts when the head of Science Division kills one of the Fuzzies.

The story is well-crafted and compelling. I firmly believe that every fan of science fiction should read this book at least once.

Fuzzy Sapiens (Originally The Other Human Race)

Avon Books screwed up big time on this sequel.  I am the proud owner of a first edition of The Other Human Race. I found it in a used book shop a few years ago selling for half its cover price so it cost me all of twenty-five cents. It is not in perfect shape by a long shot. Wear marks and a crease in its cover, badly yellowed pages, but it is readable for all that. The cover is mostly black with a dark blue graphic, which in the right light looks like a pair of vaguely Area 51ish aliens (in the wrong light the cover just looks black. The title is in bold green print and then in rather small lettering (10 or 12 pt., I should guess) the following legend, “The startling new novel about man versus a superintelligent race of alien beings By H. Beam Piper, the author of Little Fuzzy.” The cover was clearly not designed to attract readers but anyone curious enough to turn it around would finally read the words, “Are Fuzzies People?” Somehow I thought that had been adequately proven in the first book, but “superintelligent?” Are we talking about the people referred to by Piper’s characters as permanent children? Well maybe they are if they are smart enough not to grow up.

Book sales were understandably low even though Little Fuzzy was a Hugo nominee and might even have won had not Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle not been in the running that year. The second book was released without fanfare and many fans didn’t even know it was available. They certainly were not likely to spot it by the cover and it was removed from the shelves before most fans even heard of it. Those who did manage to find it, loved it. The second book picks up right where the first leaves off and the writing is as good or better than the original.

One thing I liked about this story was that the chief antagonist of the first book Victor Grego, the CEO of the Zarathustra Company, is not the greedy, evil villain he seems like in the first book, just a good businessman doing what he must to protect his company, Having lost the case he was not out for revenge, just continuing to work toward keeping his now-charterless company afloat. When he discovers a fuzzy in his own apartment, Victor befriends and eventually adopts him. He tells his secretary, “The Fuzzies were on this planet  for a hundred thousand years before this company was ever thought of,” realizing he should have had that attitude in the first place. In short, Victor Grego is shown to be  quite human and a good one at that. The book would have just been hack work, I think, had we been subjected to another volume of the evil machinations of the big bad boss of the Zarathustra Company. Besides there are worse people that Victor Grego on Zarathustra and Piper does not hesitate to bring them out. Criminals and racketeers, slavers and Fagins all of whom, in their greed, are threats to the Fuzzies and their human friends.

The book was later re-released with the title Fuzzy Sapiens.

Fuzzies and Other People

 

In spite of Avon’s blunder with the second Fuzzy book, the fans wanted more and Piper told various people that he was working on a third Fuzzy novel. He was asked repeatedly how it was going, but Avon’s bollixing with the second book, left Piper without a publisher for the third story. At more or less the same time Piper had been going through a hostile and messy divorce and his agent died of cancer leaving Piper both depressed and unaware of the state of his own affairs. He had been drinking heavily and suffering from depression. Eventually, late in 1964, he committed suicide, leaving the world of Science Fiction Fandom bereft of one of its great masters. But what about that third story?

Rumors abounded as they will at such times, but the manuscript, while finished and read (and rejected) by Frederick Pohl, did not show up when Piper’s belongings were itemized following his death. In fact it was not until eighteen years after his death that a carbon copy of the original manuscript was found. Finally in 1984, Ace released Fuzzies and Other People.

Just as the second story picked up where the first left off, the third reads like a direct extension of the second. Indeed, you could take all three stories and read them as a single, much longer novel.  Fuzzies and Other People  continues the courtroom melodrama of the first two books and continues the adventures of the Fuzzies themselves. So while the villains of the second book are facing trial with their disreputable lawyer, Hugo ingermann, Little Fuzzy flies north with his friend, Victor Grego’s Fuzzy, Diamond to visit the sunstone mining operation at Yellowsand (a rich deposit Jack Holloway found accidentally in the second book). While there, Little Fuzzy slips and falls into the river and is swept downstream. He becomes almost hopelessly lost, but finds and befriends a band of Fuzzies. Together they try to get back to Yellowsand and Little Fuzzy’s home, Hoksu Mitto (the Wonderful Place).

Piper wraps up the story with hints of what might be yet to come, but of course he never lived to write another Fuzzy story.

The series is justifiably one of the most beloved in Science Fiction. The Fuzzies are adorable and charismatic without being too cutesy or too close to human. If you are an SF fan and have not read these stories, find them and read them… Now!

The Audio Edition of Little Fuzzy.

Mister Ganim’s performance, while not perfect, still gets a Very Good rating from me. My main complaint is the voice he uses for Jack Holloway. There is no denying that Jack is an old coot, and probably proud of the fact, but in this recording he sounds like a hick as well; sort of a cross between Gabby Hayes and Walter Brennan from “The Real McCoys.”

The rest of his voices were a mix of various accents chosen from the names of the character, so Gerd Van Riebeek has an Afrikaans accent, Ruth Otheris sounds vaguely Greek, Gus Brannhard sounds like a cowboy just off the range, Judge Pendarvis and his wife are obviously French. It was a nice touch, but given Piper’s tendency to mix ethic types in his futuristic names (such as Mohammed Ali O’Brien) Gus might just as well have sounded distinctly Australian. In fact, according to Piper’s future history, World War III made the Northern Hemisphere of Earth largely uninhabitable and the survivors nearly all moved to the other side of the equator, so maybe Gus should have been an Aussie at that.

The mix of accents sometimes got in the way of the listening experience, but there was never any mistaking just who was talking. Mister Ganim’s pacing was good and the expressions of emotion were never over the top. In spite of the old hick accent Jack sported, I would not mind listening to Peter Ganim reading the rest of the books.

Next, in Part Two; I shall be reviewing the various Fuzzy books written by other authors since Piper’s death and the audio edition of one in particular; Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi and read by Wil Wheaton. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

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This entry was posted in Audio Books, Books, Commentary, H. Beam Piper, Reviews, Science Fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to An Audio Book Review: The Fuzzy War; A Battle of Two Centuries! Part One

  1. Pingback: An Audiobook Review: Let’s Listen to This One Again. | Jonathan Edward Feinstein's News (and Reviews!)

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