Friday, June 5, 2020

Fuzzy Sapiens by H. Beam Piper

Less profound than its predecessor
Over the course of his career, science fiction writer H. Beam Piper established a fictional timeline known as the Terro-Human Future History, which consists of a total of 16 novels and short stories. Like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Piper’s speculative history charts the diaspora of the human race over thousands of years as we spread out through the stars to colonize other planets. One such world is the planet Zarathustra, where a trilogy of novels takes place roughly 600 years from now. This trilogy, known as the Fuzzy series, began with Little Fuzzy, published in 1962. Its sequel was published in 1964 under the title of The Other Human Race. In 1976, however, the title was changed to Fuzzy Sapiens, which has stuck with it ever since.

You don’t have to know much about Piper’s Terro-Human Future History to enjoy the Fuzzy books, but you do need to have read Little Fuzzy to understand what’s going on in Fuzzy Sapiens. The story of this sequel begins about a week after the events related in Little Fuzzy. In that first book, a gem prospector named Jack Holloway discovered a species of monkey-like beings, dubbed fuzzies. A legal battle ensued between Holloway’s friends, who asserted that fuzzies are an intelligent life form that deserves human rights, and a resource-exploiting corporation, who asserted that fuzzies are just dumb animals. This brought up some fascinating philosophical debates about the nature of what it means to be human, but since a decision was reached at the end of Little Fuzzy, the Fuzzy franchise shows it is losing steam in this second installment.

In the week that has passed since the first novel ended, Jack Holloway and most of his cronies have been appointed to government positions. Piper, when writing science fiction, enjoys playing with imaginary governments like other people enjoy playing chess. In this novel, the fledgling government of Zarathustra encounters a few fuzzy-related problems they need to solve, and Piper moves his civil servants around the bureaucratic game board to get them resolved. Despite quite a bit of recapping, it is still quite difficult to keep track of which characters in this large ensemble cast are scientists, lawyers, administrators, military officers, and so on. The corporate villains from the last book have now proven they’re not evil after all, so everyone works together towards a common good. Piper introduces a few new villains, but they are just discussed in absentia for most of the book while the heroes go about their administrative duties.

An undocumented fuzzy surprisingly shows up in a main character’s office, and no one knows where he came from. This leads to suspicions that some nefarious gangsters may be capturing fuzzies for slavery or human trafficking. Meanwhile, Holloway and friends are setting up an agency for people to adopt fuzzies as pets, which quite frankly doesn’t seem all that different from fuzzy trafficking. While so much ado was made in the last book about the humanness of the fuzzies, in this novel they are reduced to something equivalent to housecats that talk. Piper previously used the fuzzy species to comment on imperialism, colonialism, and Indigenous rights, but here the only parallel is that the independent fuzzies are confined to a reservation, similar to Native Americans, which Piper portrays as a good thing.

Piper’s imaginative writing is still entertaining as always, but unlike its predecessor this fuzzy sequel just feels empty of meaningful ideas. It doesn’t make me excited to read the third book in the trilogy, Fuzzies and Other People, which wasn’t published until 1984, two decades after Piper’s death.

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