Little Fuzzy

H. Beam Piper

★★★★☆

An enjoyable tale of first contact, colonialism, environmental stewardship, corporate greed vs. ethics, and most importantly, who counts as “people” – all wrapped up around a cute, inquisitive, furry species encountered by humans on what they thought was an uninhabited planet, threatening to upend the status of the humans’ established mining colony.

It’s a worthy classic: engaging aliens, big themes and a high-stakes struggle. But it’s also very clearly of its time (1962). Everyone smokes and drinks highballs (in space!), there’s only one woman of consequence, and it’s much heavier on plot than characterization, which is mostly flat. There’s a twist near the end that feels a bit like a deus ex machina because some of the most important work has been going on off-page. Though I imagine it wouldn’t have bothered me if I’d read it when I was ten instead of as an adult.

A Fuzzy Summary

It starts out simple: A grizzled space prospector encounters a creature he nicknames “Little Fuzzy,” and quickly comes to realize that his new friend is more than an animal. As the fuzzies explore his settlement, everyone from biologists and psychologists to sherrif’s deputies is captivated by their antics, and debating whether they really are a newly-discovered sapient species.

Just one problem: It’s a company planet, an established mining colony where the corporation has free reign…on the condition that the planet is uninhabited. If the fuzzies are animals, the company can keep exploiting the planet. If they’re people, the charter is revoked. And the company’s leaders will do anything up to and including genocide to stop that from happening. As long as they can manage the public relations.

What ensues is a struggle between honesty and psy-ops, a fight for public opinion, kidnappings, escapes, and finally a trial to determine the fate of a species and a world.

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