The main reason I picked up this book was because John Scalzi wrote a book set in this same universe, called Fuzzy Nation. I’ve only read one Scalzi book, Old Man’s War, but it was good enough that I wanted to read more of his stuff. So when I read that he was working on Fuzzy Nation, I thought it was a good idea to catch up on the original material. And here we are.
The book is a collection of two novels set in the Fuzzy universe — Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Sapiens– and the books are very different from each other. The first covers the discovery of the creatures on planet Zarathustra, and the battle between Jack Holloway, who discovered them, and the Chartered Zarathustra Company, the über-corporation that owns most of the discovered planets in the universe, over whether ot not the Fuzzies are sapient beings. See, if Jack and his friends can prove that the Fuzzies are sapient, then the Company will lose all contract rights to Zarathustra, which means they’ll lose a lot of money. The creatures are viewed as pets by all parties, but only Jack and his friends are convinced that they have self-awareness and deserve to be treated as sapient beings. So the whole novel has a nice conflict that underlies the main theme: What is sapience?
It’s really fascinating to think about, and even more so to realize that the book was originally written in 1962. Piper makes very astute observations about intelligence and consciousness, and takes us along on the revelations that are made about sapience over the course of the trial. Fuzzy Sapiens takes that premise a little further along, looking at how one sapient race integrates itself with another one, and the difficulties that arise from such an experiment. Like the previous book, the conflict arises from those who view the Fuzzies as people, and those who view them as animals, and of course i’s very easy to root for the Fuzzies in that situation. I won’t go into much more detail, but I found the themes of the two novels to be well worth reading the series.
Story-wise, the novels felt a little dated, though there seemed to be some progressive thought wound through the characters. After all, it would be hard to have a novel about independence and equality if the women were just subservient to the men. There still seemed to be some stereotypes in the roles and mannerisms, but it was slight, and easily overlooked as products of their times. But there was something about the structure and flow of the narrative that made the story feel like it was from the 1960s. It took me a little longer to read the book because of it, but not because I wasn’t interested in what would happen.
I’m glad I read the book (at the very least, it prepares me for Fuzzy Nation), and I’d recommend it to anyone who finds the premise interesting, and is also interested in Golden Age-era science fiction. I think those folks would really enjoy it.