By H. Beam Piper
Published by Librivox
Read by tabithat
I reviewed the entire “Fuzzy” series by H. Beam Piper and other authors in June of 2012 (https://jonathanfeinstein.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/the-fuzzy-war-a-battle-of-two-centuries-part-one-15/ and https://jonathanfeinstein.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/the-fuzzy-war-a-battle-of-two-centuries-part-two/ ) and at the time reviewed the Audio Frontiers recording by Peter Ganim, but I recently discovered that the book has also been recorded by Librivox, the producer of free public domain audiobooks, so I decided to give this edition a listen as well.
Little Fuzzy was written in 1962 and remains, even today, a favorite among the fans of science fiction. It is the story of Jack Holloway, an aging prospector on a distant colonial planet and his meeting with a small person who belongs to a previously undiscovered indigenous species on that planet. It describes how they make friends with each other and how the rest of the world reacts to the discovery. The Fuzzies induce an instant “Awww!” factor among many of the humans of the planet Zarathustra, but they are a menace to the colonial Chartered Zarathutra Company who owns the planet outright due to its charter which becomes automatically null and void should the Fuzzies turn out to be sapient.
Naturally the Company is going to fight back and the CEO, Victor Grego sends out his chief scientist, Leonard Kellogg (with his company psychologist and a dumber-than-dirt gunman as a bodyguard/enforcer) to invalidate any claims of sapience. It all goes wrong, however, when Kellogg loses his temper with one of the Fuzzies and kicks it to death, Holloway runs to the Fuzzy’s defense and in what turns out to be suicidally stupid, the gunman tries to back-shoot Holloway, who kills him instead. The local constables are forced to arrest Holloway on a charge of murder and on observing the Fuzzies burying their dead in what appears to be a proper funeral, arrest Kellogg as well so the whole thing goes to Court.
Holloway’s defense is that he simply defended himself. Kellogg’s is that it was not murder because ether Fuzzy was not a sapient being. The cases are so intimately linked that eventually the judge decided to try both men together and allows their defending lawyers to act as prosecutors as well.
The story, while outwardly a charming tale of first contact between people of good will, also shows the dark side of humanity when confronting the unknown and blends both the good and the bad in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner.
I’m not sure if anyone ever corrected the one big mistake in the text (right at the beginning) which goes:
Some fifty million years ago, when the planet that had been called Zarathustra (for the last twenty-five million) was young, there had existed a marine life form, something like a jellyfish.
The implication is that Mankind has been around and called this world Zarathustra for twenty-five million years. Oh, okay, I suppose one could conjecture some great galactic civilization that predated Homo sapiens by nearly that long and who also called the world by a form of Zoroaster’s name, but not only would my ability to believe be stretched beyond the breaking point (I didn’t buy it in the Stargate series either. My attitude is that if there are godlike beings from the stars who have visited and influenced us mere Earthlings, where are they now? Having proven they like to meddle, the situation now would only be more interesting for them to fool around with.), but that is not the way Piper’s TerroHuman history works. The fact is the line should read “… for the last twenty-five…” not twenty-five million and I cannot but help think some editor somewhere thought, “He must have just forgotten to include the word, ‘million.’ I’ll just slip it in and not bother anyone about it.” The fact is Zarathustra has only been colonized for twenty-five years at the start of the story, but it seems that “million” is in the text for good. Let’s just call it a traditional typo and in my opinion it is the equivalent of the intentional mistake woven into every Persian carpet – it reminds us that no work of man is perfect, but that may be the only real flaw in the story.
I recommend this book and its sequels to any fan of science fiction.
LibriVox recordings are performed by volunteer readers so it is not unusual to find them a mixed bag. Some of their audiobooks, in fact, will have many readers since each chapter is produced separately even though they are presented as a whole on completion of the project. By and large, however, I have enjoyed the LibriVox recordings I have sampled. It is refreshing to listen to readers who are reading aloud because this is something they enjoy doing and sharing their talents with the rest of us and most of them are pretty good even if their performances are not as polished as those of the professional actors who perform commercially produced audiobooks and most are as good or better than those available via the Library of Congress’ reading service for the blind and physically handicapped (another fine service, by the way).
Tabithat’s (Is that Tabitha T? Probably, although it might also be a pun on Tabby Cat or both. LibriVox protects the personal information about their readers, at least not unless they provide a profile statement) reading starts out a little shaky as though she is trying to rush to get to the “good part,” but after a chapter or so her performance settles down and is quite enjoyable and even from the start, I was happy to hear her version of Jack Holloway did not sound like he was being played by Gabby Hayes, which was the voice given to him by Peter Ganim in the Audible Frontiers production of this book.
Tabithat does NOT attempt to give each character a different strongly differentiated accent as Mister Ganim did with the result that she is reading, not performing, the book. In general I tend to prefer readings over performances. A good performance can elevate a book above and beyond its own inherent excellence, but a mediocre or poor one can ruin it for a listener. A reading frequently leaves the listener free to imagine such details on their own, much the same as one might do when reading to oneself. Tabithat is definitely reading to us and doing so in a pleasant voice and accent.
My only real point of contention with her reading of Little Fuzzy is that in the first couple of chapters there are scene changes that happen suddenly between one paragraph and the next and she does not pause in any way between them, it does not take much; just a fraction of a second, really, but it does not happen in those first chapters.
However, I think she was just warming up and once into the heart of the story, I could not find any problems with her reading and enjoyed the remainder of the book. Very well done!
The download is free from https://librivox.org/little-fuzzy-by-h-beam-piper/ and while you are there, check out their other fine public domain books.