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Literature / Little Fuzzy

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A Science Fiction story by H. Beam Piper about what truly makes a creature sapient.

Jack Holloway, an elderly, individualistic sunstone miner, lives a solitary life in a wilderness area of planet Zarathustra. The planet is basically "owned" by the Chartered Zarathustra Corporation (under Victor Grego), which installed basic services and colonial outposts initially, and now reaps the benefits of new discoveries, such as the valuable sunstones.

One day, Holloway returns to his cabin to discover a tiny humanoid, covered in golden fur. The creature has armed itself with a chisel from his workbench, but is peaceful and mostly unafraid. The miner gives the little fuzzy some Extee-Three, a kind of canned emergency ration cake, and the fuzzy devours it greedily. It is soon apparent that the creature is highly intelligent, and he soon brings his family band to join "Pappy Jack" at the shack.

Victor Grego soon tries to intervene, claiming that the Fuzzies are just animals, not sapients. If ruled sapient, the entire planet would be declared a protected aboriginal zone, and the Chartered Zarathustra Company would lose its exclusive rights to the resources there. Leonard Kellogg, one of Grego's staff, kills a fuzzy and this leads to a court case which hinges on whether the fuzzies are animals or sapients.

After much discussion of what it means to be "sapient" (speech and fire use being one definition), the matter goes to court. In the midst of the proceedings, the Terran Navy commander reveals that his people have been studying Fuzzies, and that they can indeed speak. The tiny people use ultrasonic frequencies, which to human ears sound like "yeek." When processed with the proper electronics, the sounds are rendered as a complex language. The Navy experiments prove that Fuzzies have at least the mental capacity of a ten-year-old human, and are therefore protected under Terran law. Judge Pendarvis declares them to be aborigines, and the Charter of the Zarathustra Company is immediately invalidated.

Enjoy it courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Piper wrote two sequels, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People; the latter was thought lost after Piper's suicide, but a manuscript eventually turned up in his papers. Prior to this discovery, two sequels to the first two books were written by other authors (Fuzzy Bones by William Tuning and Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey by Ardath Mayhar). It is also the subject of a Continuity Reboot by John Scalzi (licensed by the H. Beam Piper estate), called Fuzzy Nation.

A new sequel Fuzzy Ergo Sum written by Wolfgang Diehr was published in 2011. (TV Tropes page pending)

Tropes used in Little Fuzzy:

  • Air-Vent Passageway: In Fuzzy Sapiens, the bad guys send Fuzzies through the CZC's ventilation system to steal sunstones.
  • Alternate Timeline: Fuzzies and Other People and Fuzzy Bones are mutually exclusive sequels to Fuzzy Sapiens.
  • Alternative Number System: The fuzzies initially use a modified form of base 5. 1, 2, 3, 4, one hand. By 125, they've reached a hand of hands. It then goes to many, and many many. They soon adopt the human's base 10 system.
  • Artificial Gravity: Played straight with the "contragravity generator" and the "Abott Lift and Drive".
  • BFG: Jack's 12.7mm Double Express rifle. For perspective, cartridges for this artillery piece are described as being approximately thumb sized in diameter and as long as his hand. The M2 Browning .50 cal MG is also a 12.7mm of sorts.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit"/Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Zarabunnies get mentioned plenty but are never really described. Goofers are described as being rodent-like, so... But we do get a very clear mental image of a zebralope in spite of not being described. At all.
  • Call-Back: The start of the Xenofiction arc of Fuzzies and Other People picks up at the beginning of a minor scene in the middle of Fuzzy Sapiens.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Fuzzies just don't get the concept of saying things that aren't true, which leads to a major legal problem in Fuzzies and Other People: it has to be proven that the veridicator works on Fuzzies before they can testify in court, and the veridicator can't be tested without a false statement to detect. It's resolved when they encounter a Fuzzy with ulterior motives who resorted to a lie in desperation.
  • Due to the Dead: The Fuzzies bury their dead, which is what convinces the police that arresting Kellogg for murder is justified.
  • Everybody Smokes: They also all drink. Even the Fuzzies smoke, although they don't drink.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Due to their small size, this is one of the Fuzzies' biggest problems.
  • Fantastic Diet Requirement: The Fuzzies are slowly dying out when the humans first make contact with them, as their physiology demands nutrients with a specific chemical signature that's unavailable where they are living. This turns out to be proof that (in the sequels written by other authors, which now form an alternative continuity) they aren't native to Zarathustra. Luckily, the humans brought a processed food to their world that contains the needed substance, and the fuzzies quickly become addicted to "esteefee".
  • Fun with Acronyms: To avoid the expense of changing all those CZC logos on everything from buildings to stationery, Grego renames the Chartered Zarathustra Company to the Charterless Zarathustra Company.
  • Future Society, Present Values: Downplayed.
    • Everybody Smokes centuries in the future (the book was released prior to widespread knowledge of smoking being harmful) along with drinking. It's portrayed as mildly charming how the fuzzies (another sapient species) are introduced to smoking pipes by Jack. Granted, centuries on from now medicine might have advanced enough to make smoking no longer dangerous.
    • Only one main character is a woman. Nearly all people in top positions are men. Even she echoes the then-current custom of thinking about herself as the future Mrs. Husband's Name after they're engaged. In fairness though she's also a psychologist and navy officer whose credentials never have the slightest question about them, nor is she treated any differently than men otherwise.
  • Hats Off to the Dead: After the brutal killing of a Fuzzy by a human, the other Fuzzies immediately stage a ceremonious funeral for her. As the Fuzzies bury their dead, Colonial Constabulary Lieutenant George Lunt spontaneously takes off his beret and holds it in his hands while bowing his head, then immediately moves to arrest the killer for the murder of a sapient being.
  • Head Pet: Baby Fuzzy likes to climb up people and sit on top of their heads. Halloway notes that BF will soon get too big for that, and will need to be broken of the habit sooner or later.
  • Heel Realization: Kellogg breaks down and commits suicide after admitting to himself that he murdered a sapient being.
  • Human Jungle Gym: The baby of the fuzzy (teddy bear-like diminutive aliens about the size of a human toddler) family always climbs up any human character it meets and perches on top their head. Some find this endearing but note that he'll grow too big for it before too long, and one "gently but firmly" discourages the behaviour
  • Intentional Mess Making: Jack Holloway sees the office that his Fuzzies made a mess of after escaping from their cages in the Chartered Zarathustra Company building. Seeing the dumped wastebasket is final confirmation that the escape was real: Holloway had taught Little Fuzzy that it was not nice to dump wastebaskets and leave them dumped.
  • In the Local Tongue: Discussed. Some of the names of alien animals and plants are... strange.
    You pointed to something and asked a native, and he’d gargle a mouthful of syllables at you, which might only mean, "Whaddaya wanna know for?" and you took it down in phonetic alphabet and the whatzit had a name.
  • Karma Houdini: Hugo Ingermann escapes the planet with a fortune in sunstones in Fuzzies and Other People.
  • Large and in Charge: Gustavus Brannard is described as being a large man. Also quite hairy, to Baby Fuzzy's delight.
  • Large Ham: Gus Brannhard. Also Ben Rainsford, but he's kind of overshadowed by Gus.
  • Law Procedural: Not only does the critical scene in the first book take place in a courtroom, the roles of the various court officers, the legal motions, rules of evidence, and even the shortcuts the court officers and lawyers take are important plot elements.
  • Lie Detector: The veridicator is an infallible one, and consequently a vital part of the legal system. It works so well, that it even detects a lie that the speaker himself has forgotten that he lied about.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Played painfully straight by Hugo Ingermann. Zig-zagged all over the place by other cast members, including the legal system:
    In colonial law, you can find a precedent for almost anything.
    • There's even a precedent for putting a dead person on trial.note 
    • And an (averted) precedent for justifying the murder of a human infant via Loophole Abuse (on the grounds it couldn't talk or build a fire).
  • Marry Them All: Fuzzy sisters Goldilocks and Cinderella briefly squabble over Ko-Ko before deciding to share him.
  • The Mole: Ruth Ortheris is secretly a Navy spy.
  • Morality Pet: Diamond, for Grego.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Zarathustra is essentially a planet sized Company Town. The whole thing is owned and administered by the Chartered Zarathusta Company, with oversight provided by a Terran Federation Navy Base on one of the moons.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: The later chapters of Golden Dream is Little Fuzzy from the Fuzzies' point of view. The first 3/4 of the book represents 50 to 100 years worth of backstory for the Fuzzies.
  • Planet Terra: Earth is now called Terra, and center of the Terran Federation since humans have by now colonized many other worlds too.
  • Running Gag:
    • You can find a precedent for anything in colonial law.
    • Baby constantly tries to sit on people's heads.
  • Sapient Fur Trade: Victor Grego considers a plan to offer a high price for Fuzzy pelts, in order to wipe them out before they can be legally recognized as sapient, although at that point he has arguably convinced himself they aren't sapient and has never actually met a Fuzzy. (Jack Holloway also thinks that wanting to sell fuzzy furs is Leonard Kellogg's motivation for wanting to find them non-sapient, before realizing the true implications Fuzzy sapience would have for the Chartered Zarathustra Company's charter.)
  • Straw Vulcan: Hoenveld in book two. Other characters go so far as to point out that his overly narrow and unimaginative outlook makes him a pretty crappy scientist.
    Mallin: He has an encyclopediac grasp on his subject, an infallible memory, and an infinite capacity for taking pains.
    Grego: ...A computer has all that, to a much higher degree, and a computer couldn't make an original scientific discovery in a hundred million years. A computer has no imagination, and neither has Hoenveld.
  • That Was Objectionable: The objections start before the trial begins. Gus Brannhard (Jack Holloway's lawyer) objects to Leonard Kellogg being tried first and Leslie Coombes (Kellogg's lawyer) has the same objection to Holloway being tried first. Chief Justice Pendarvis resolves both objections by ordering the two trials combined, and swearing in each defense lawyer as a special prosecutor against the other's client.
  • Theme Naming: Many groups of Fuzzies "adopted" by humans promptly get tagged with these. A naturalist names two "Flora" and "Fauna"; a psychologist names four more "Id", "Ego", "Complex", and "Syndrome"...
  • Tools of Sapience: The first indication that the Fuzzies were sapient was their use of sharpened sticks to kill invertebrate prey.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Extee Three, a poundcake-like ration food, for the Fuzzies. Humans tend to hate having to eat the stuff. Extee Three contains trace amounts of titanium, a byproduct of the manufacturing process that happens to be an essential nutrient for the Fuzzies.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics: During the murder trial of Jack Holloway and Leonard Kellogg, the unconventional methods show up even before the trial begins, with the two murder cases being combined into a single trial, the appointment of the defense attorneys as special prosecutors, and key witnesses being seized as "evidence." It goes on to mutate from a civilian trial into a court-martial and an academic seminar, with two flavors of surprise witnesses, and the continued prosecution of a dead man after one of the defendants commits suicide. And there are in-universe precedents for most of this: "You could find a precedent for almost anything in colonial law."
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: The invention of "contragravity" has made Flying Cars sufficiently ubiquitous that the narration describes a "streetless contragravity city of a new planet that had never known ground traffic".
  • Wham Line:
    • "Lieutenant J.G. Ruth Ortheris, TFN Reserve."
    • "Your Honors, I am ashamed to have to report that the defendant, Leonard Kellog, cannot be produced in court. He is dead; he committed suicide in his cell last night."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The point of the whole book. On Zarathustra, a planet humans have colonized, it's discovered there's a small native species dubbed Fuzzies. Many quickly conclude they're sapients as a result of the high intelligence they show. The MegaCorp which owns the planet however wants to show otherwise, as if they're sapients it will leave the charter which they have from the government voided. One Fuzzy is killed, with the human killer tried on a murder charge, and the issue later being decided in court. It's ruled, because of the evidence, that they are indeed sapient beings, voiding the charter and protecting them by law. The killer also concludes that they are sapient, which means he's a murderer, and kills himself out of guilt. There is even a specific rule for determining sapience, although it's imperfect, with many scientists also weighing in.
  • Xenofiction: Golden Dream is written from the Fuzzies' viewpoint. Portions of Fuzzies and Other People were also written from a Fuzzy perspective.