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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

Little Fuzzy

Little Fuzzy - H. Beam Piper I remember loving this when I first read it as a teen, rereading it decades later I can see why I loved it then and why I am a little less keen on it now. The “Fuzzy” aliens are very cute, as shown on the various book covers, or if you visualize them from [a: H. Beam Piper|128647|H. Beam Piper|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1335650823p2/128647.jpg]’s descriptions. They look cute and the act cute, they must be one of sci-fi’s most charming alien species. My teen self was indeed very charmed, my current self was reminded to make an appointment for my annual dental checkup.

Even with all the cuteness overload Little Fuzzy only reads like a children’s book half the time, the other half is a more mature exploration of the meaning of sapience* and a theme of understanding and compassion toward less civilized, sophisticated or educated folks. I enjoy both the juvenile and the mature facets of the book though I have to confess I do find much of it too calculatedly cute, especially with names like Pappy Jack (nickname for Jack Holloway) for the main character, Goldilocks, Cinderella, Ko-Ko etc. for the aliens. I find the aliens too cute and too anthropomorphized to be believable, for example they think of humans as “the Big Ones” who are mostly good and want to live with them for comfort and protection. A lot of humans are of course very keen on them on account of their extreme cuteness, the situation just seems too pat and overly idealistic to me.

The theme of “what is sapience?” is – for me – the best aspect of this book. It starts with a simplistic definition of “anything that talks and build a fire” to more rigorous tests of language, communication, problem solving, social interaction etc. Here is an example passage:

“It isn’t communication, it’s symbolization. You simply can’t think sapiently except in verbal symbols. Try it. Not something like changing the spools on a recorder or field-stripping a pistol; they’re just learned tricks. I mean ideas.”

I like how Little Fuzzy developed into a courtroom drama where the aliens’ sapient status is at stake. The arguments are very interesting though the antagonists who oppose to recognizing the Fuzzies as sapient never become much of a threat. The human characters are all forgettable including Jack Holloway himself. The Fuzzies are of course very well-conceived and vividly described, though too deliberately cute for my taste.

The Fuzzies are likely to be the inspiration for the Ewoks in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (an observation made in many other reviews of this book). The plotline also remind me a little of the Athsheans from Ursula Le Guin’s excellent and more serious [b: The Word for World Is Forest|276767|The Word for World is Forest (Hainish Cycle #6)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1283091038s/276767.jpg|3256815], though Little Fuzzy predates Le Guin’s book by many years.

The most obvious book inspired by Little Fuzzy is of course John Scalzi’s popular “reboot” [b: Fuzzy Nation|9647532|Fuzzy Nation|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1316132345s/9647532.jpg|18280046]. I have not read [b: Fuzzy Nation|9647532|Fuzzy Nation|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1316132345s/9647532.jpg|18280046] but in general reviews tend to be very positive, the book is a commercial success, and having read some of his other novels I believe he probably did a very good job. My only reservation is that I don’t like the idea of rebooting books, I think we have enough of that sort of thing in movies and I hope it does not become a trend for authors.

In any case Little Fuzzy is something of a minor classic and I highly recommend it to the young and old alike. It is also in the public domain so you can legally grab a free e-book from Project Gutenberg, or a free audio book from Librivox (quite nicely read actually).

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Note:

* For some reason [a: H. Beam Piper|128647|H. Beam Piper|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1335650823p2/128647.jpg] prefers "sapience/sapient" over the more common "sentience/sentient" often used in science fiction. If I understand correctly “sentience” is more related to responses to or consciousness of sense impressions, whereas “sapience” places more emphasis on the ability to think, and to reason. If this is wrong please enlighten me in the comments.