Flashback Fridays: The Fuzzy Life . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
I’m bringing back an old flashback for this one. Coming up on a hard anniversary this week and missing my dad. It immediately brought to mind a particular book, so I’m revisiting it tonight in memory of him.
You’re a prospector working on far distant alien world finding precious stones to sell and earn a profit. And then you encounter something small and fuzzy with big eyes and that stands on two feet and says “Yeek!” It isn’t long before you’re convinced the creature is intelligent, possibly a sentient native to the very planet. And that would spell big trouble if word got out . . .
Do you remember:
Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper (Avon, 1962)
I’m fully aware that this book is not geared to middle grade readers. That said, I didn’t really pay attention to things like that growing up. Way back in my voracious reading youth, I didn’t always have the ability to snag books from the library. Sometimes I ran out. That’s when I often turned to fairy tales from my mother’s and father’s collections. Or some of the other classics they had collected. But my dad had one book that stood out for me. It was a rather worn looking paperback, not very thick. It had a silver haired guy on the cover holding some kind of gun . . . and a handful strange fur covered creatures with big eyes all holding what were clearly weapon like things of some sort. I was fascinated. I hadn’t read much science fiction yet, but I knew I liked the genre.
It’s rather hard to label this book even as YA given that all the human characters in the book are adults–though I sometimes like the fact that books back in this time weren’t quite so segregated by age. Fifth grade me sat down and read this book in its entirety and enjoyed the heck out it. It’s got some great classic SF tropes of humans traveling to other worlds, aliens and future technology. It’s main plot is not a gigantic battle in space or some kind of military fight, but a court battle over the rights to the planet itself. You read right. I fell in love with a book where a huge chunk of it involves a court battle.
Little Fuzzy takes place on the planet Zarathustra, a planet that’s been ruled to have no sentient life and therefore is ripe for plundering by the Zarathustra corporation. Jack Holloway is a sunstone prospector on the planet, blasting into mountains of stone to find the precious sunstone gems that glow when exposed to heat. If you’ve never read the book, here’s a quick description: Little Fuzzy takes place on the planet Zarathustra where Jack Holloway is a sunstone prospector. His life is about to change when Jack Holloway comes back to his home to encounter a little bipedal creature covered in fur. It’s a creature no one has ever seen before . . . and Jack becomes convinced quickly that this creature is intelligent. When a whole group of them show up on his doorstep (if you feed them Extee 3 they will come) Jack realizes that these beings use tools and are quick studies of how to operate everything in his home. He’s become convinced they’re more than mere animals . . . they’re sapient. That’s going to mean a world of hurt for the Zarathustra company if it’s proven true. The corporation has no obligations to protect the planet or explain their actions on the surface because it’s been determined there are no “natives” to contend with. And company execs are ready to do everything it takes to see that the Fuzzies never get declared as being sapient creatures. Jack Holloway is going to have a fight on his hands to protect his new friends.
Frankly, I’d happily drop this book in any middle grade reader who was a huge science fiction fan and up to the challenge. I’ve reread this tale every few years since and still have my father’s old dogeared, yellowing copy. Dad didn’t talk a lot about science fiction while I was growing up, but this book made it clear he did read it, and it helped turned me into a life long fan. It’s a great underdog story of the independent prospector and the rather helpless and cute aliens fighting the big-bad company. And winning. Jack Holloway is an every-man sort of likable. A bit of a curmudgeon and a loner, but with a huge soft spot. The Fuzzies are enchanting and lots of fun to discover along with Jack as he follows their antics. I will caution that there’s definitely some darker stuff in here too, so it’s not going to be a good fit for all kids.
H. Beam Piper also wrote Fuzzy Sapiens (1964) which continues the trials and tribulations of Fuzzy-human interactions directly from the time-line of the first book. I’ve read it through a few times, but it just doesn’t quite have the same qualities to it that won me to the original story. After his death, another manuscript was discovered and published titled Fuzzies and Other People (1984). This one also directly follows in the timeline and does some good towards redeeming a story that went downhill in the second book.
After Piper’s death in 1964, there were rumors of a third manuscript, but none surfaced immediately. Ace Books had William Tuning write Fuzzy Bones which continued the story after Fuzzy Sapiens. This was published in 1981, only to have Piper’s original third manuscript surface in 1984, rendering Tuning’s book oddly out of sync with the story. A second story was written by Ardath Mayhar: Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey (1982) which takes the story to the perspective of the Fuzzies themselves (who call themselves the Gashta) and how the human invasion of the planet looks from their perspective. In 2011 Wolfgang Diehr wrote two more sequels to Piper’s original trilogy, proving that even so many years later, this particular story still is in the minds of readers and writers.
I can’t say Piper’s science fiction is the best around. There are plenty of criticisms I can make about the slim volume based simply on how times have changed between then and now. But I wouldn’t have traded reading it when I did for anything. It’s still one of the pivotal early books of my science fiction reading. sort of a gateway book that hooked me on the genre. It set a pretty high standard for what I wanted to see in my stories, as well as setting me up to discover adult science fiction. Every few years I dust off my old copy and give it another read.
It still makes me smile. It makes me think of my dad, remembering him and think back to those days of swiping books from his shelves.
Science fiction fans out there, what was your gateway book? Please share!
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on July 31, 2015, in Flashback Fridays and tagged Aliens, Authors, Books, Children's Literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, sequels, series, SF, Space Adventure. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.