Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

Some books set out to do important things like raise questions about accepted beliefs and morals or discuss controversial topics. Some books are just fun and are meant for nothing else. Very few books succeed at being either (as can be seen by Sturgeon’s Law).

A very small percentage succeeds at doing both.

Little Fuzzy tackles the issue of sapience. How does one define sapience? It’s a question that only science fiction can address with any kind of meaning and one that Piper has massaged into a brilliant story.

Science Fiction and Fantasy, when they’re done right, are mediums that can address controversy and questions of ethics and morals that other books cannot. They have a kind of distance about them that makes them safe. Take Star Trek VI as an example. The entire movie is about racism and the ugly side effects it can have while two races strive to overcome their prejudices and word together, and many member of those races that cannot. That’s a dark topic and painful to many people but by making it between Klingons and Humans with Captain Kirk as the most prejudiced of all it humanizes it in a way that much other literature cannot do without making us uncomfortable.

The definition of sapience is one that most people probably don’t think about. We are people, everything else is an animal. But, if we do not define what we consider sapience carefully then we can delude ourselves that it is okay to kill people who we do not consider people. This might sound unlikely on the surface that it could ever happen but thousands of sapient infants are killed in abortions every year (and that’s a conservative estimate). Much of the justification for those deaths amounts to ‘it’s not a person yet’.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to turn this into an abortion debate. I’m merely raising the point that this is a question that needs to be addressed.

For years the rule in the Terran Federation has always been ‘talk and build a fire’. Fuzzies can do neither yet Jack Holloway insists that they are sapient beings and, as such, have the rights to due process and protection from crimes that other people have. The Zarathustra Company who will lose their charter for the planet Zarathustra if Fuzzies are proved to be sapient insists that they are not.

What follows is a courtroom drama that could only take place on a distant planet in a future that we’ll never have.

I’ve read this book at least a dozen times and I love it just as much every time. There are only six books that hold that qualification for me and four of them are by Tolkien.

If you haven’t read this book then you should, it can be found free online in ebook and audiobook form because it’s in the public domain. It will make you think and it will probably make you cry. And you will be grateful it did.


3 thoughts on “Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper”

  1. Brian ALdiss’ The Dark Light-Years (1964) is along the same lines — a “sapient” creature which is the antithesis of humanity — it rolls around in mud ponds all day pooing. A flawed work but worth reading as well since it asks similar questions….

      1. Aldiss is an ideas writer. The only one of his works with a well fleshed out plot is Non-stop (1959) — variant title Starship. BY far his best book — and his first. The rest of his works (at least the ones I’ve read) are idea heavy but rather slim and hasty overall. I have multiple reviews of his works if you’re curious.

        Bow Down to Nul (1960) —

        The Dark Light-Years (1964) —

        Earthworks (1965) —

        Starship (Non-stop) (1958) —

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