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Fuzzy Papers/dual

Fuzzy Papers/dual - H. Beam Piper This is classic golden age feel-good sci-fi. The good guys win, the bad guys all get killed or put away, and nothing really bad happens to the cute little fuzzies. Yes, it's a little dated and it shows its age, but it's still good reading for those who like the old SF classics.

Fuzzy Papers combines the first two books in H. Beam Piper's classic "Fuzzy" series: Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Sapiens. Reading them in a single volume is appropriate, since the second book picks up right where the first left off, with the same characters only a few weeks later.

The planet Zarathustra is pretty much a planet-wide company store leased by the Chartered Zarathustra Company. The CZC mostly trades in sunstones, hides, and meat, but the planet is growing and the initial colony is becoming a full-sized city. Out in the boonies, a sunstone prospector named Jack Holloway has an unexpected visitor in his camp: an adorable little two-foot humanoid who, it turns out, is not just a tool-user but a language-user as well. Holloway immediately takes on the role of guardian of these innocent creatures, who are ripe for exploitation by humans.

The plot of the first book mostly revolves around establishing the Fuzzies' sapience. The Zarathustra Company has a vested interest in the Fuzzies being legally declared to be no more than very bright animals, since if the planet turns out to have native sapients, the company will lose its charter and the Fuzzies will have full sapient rights. Of course it's obvious from the beginning that the Fuzzies are intelligent, so the conclusion is foregone, but the courtroom battle over the definition of "sapient" waged with use of infallible lie-detecting technology, is the kind of expositional debate-club sci-fi that's out of style nowadays.

The second book is a combination of sci-fi mystery and crime caper. It turns out that the Fuzzies suffer from such a high infant mortality rate that their race is dying out. The friends of the Fuzzies explore one solution after another in their quest to save the species. Meanwhile, Fuzzies are becoming enormously popular as "adoptees."

This second aspect is where The Fuzzy Papers shows its age, since there is never any discussion at all about whether it's appropriate for humans to treat Fuzzies as, essentially, pets. Fuzzies are adorable and playful and don't commit crimes of violence and, while declared sapient, are about as smart as ten-year-old children and act like it. So their human guardians are scrupulous about their well-being but think nothing of carrying them around like children, giving them food and tools and shelter (and thus pretty much destroying their native culture), or using baby-talk when speaking to them. There were several points where I thought Piper might actually examine some of the moral quandaries — yes, you're saving an aboriginal people from lives of struggle against nature red in tooth and claw, but you're also turning the entire species into wards of humankind, which doesn't have a great track record when it comes to taking care of "primitives."

Piper never does raise issues of paternalism or disruption of native cultures, though — the Fuzzies are just cute critters who talk and make charming house companions, even if they are sapient.

This was a fun read and recommended for any fans of classic sci-fi. And yes, I am going to read John Scalzi's rewrite next.