By H. Beam Piper; read by Jim Roberts
Audible Download – 6 hours 45 mins [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Jincin Recordings
Themes: / science fiction / philosophy / extraterrestrial / sentience
Little Fuzzy is a poor man’s, a thinking man’s, Avatar. It tells the story of a capitalistic corporation exploring a far-off planet with a classical name, Zarathustra. While harvesting the planet’s unobtanium brightly-colored sunstones, prospector Jack Holloway discovers a stange new species, and makes it his life’s work to defend the new creatures. Missing are Avatar‘s flashes, bangs, and rich world-building, but the novel more than compensates with intriguing storytelling that both challenges the mind and touches the heart.
Events in Little Fuzzy take place on the planet Zarathustra. The Chartered Zarathustra Corporation owns the world in all but name, and harvests its resources for trade on the intergalactic market. The world itself is poorly realized. Apart from anti-gravitational devices, hovering cars, and super-advanced CCTV lie detectors, very little in the novel suggests a science fiction setting. Guns, paper, and cigarettes predominate. The novel hints at a rich and storied history of the galaxy with its mentions of the Atomic Era, but these allusions never find ample explanation. The novel does take place in Piper’s Terro-Human Future Universe, however, so readers eager to learn more can probably do so in other novels and short stories.
The major exception to the book’s lack of world-building is the wild flora and fauna on Zarathustra around which Little Fuzzy ultimately hinges. Prospector Jack Holloway finds one of the titular foot-high golden-furred creatures, and soon realizes that the fuzzy fuzzy Holloway Zarathustra (yes, that becomes its official classification) exhibits behavior that may point to sapient consciousness. One of the fuzzies soon meets its demise at the hands of a Zarathustra Corporation agent, and Jack Holloway kills another agent in the ensuing scuffle. The rest of the novel explores the question of consciousness through the narrative framework of a criminal trial. Like the works of Isaac Asimov, Little Fuzzy abounds with cerebral dialogue that, at times, reads like a philosophical proof, but never drones on long enough to become monotonous.
The real show-stopper is Jack Holloway’s emotional connection to his newly-discovered species. At various points he fulfills the roles of teacher, champion, and father to the beleaguered little fuzzies. Thiis emotional power pulls the reader by the heartstring’s through the book’s one or two bare spots to a satisfying conclusion.
Little Fuzzy is also a brilliantly-written novel. Some of the fathers of science fiction appear to take themselves far too seriously, but this certainly can’t be said of H. Beam Piper. While the novel hardly qualifies as a comedy or satire, colorful splashes of humor indicate that, though the book addresses intriguing intellectual issues, at the end of the day Piper is having fun as a writer and a storyteller.
Jim Roberts’s performance of Little Fuzzy for Jincin Recordings won’t win any awards, but his tone fits the mood and content of the novel. His reading is strong enough that even the book’s few tedious passages won’t put the listener to sleep.
Originally published in 1962, just two years before H. Beam Piper’s suicide, Little Fuzzy was written at the zenith of his writing career, and it shows. As a proof-of-concept novel about the nature of consciousness, the book could have easily crossed the line between fiction novel and science lesson, as do some of the other science fiction novels of Piper’s era. Sprightly writing and emotion that almost, but not quite, verges on sentimentality make Little Fuzzy a stand-out novel of its time, and indeed for all ages.
As a footnote, John Scalzi recently announced that he’s written a reboot of the series with the blessing of the Piper estate, dubbed Fuzzy Nation, and that he’s currently shopping it around to publishers. The franchise is certainly in capable hands.
Also be sure to take a look at Jesse’s review of the Audio Realms edition of Little Fuzzy
Posted by Seth Wilson
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The Night of the Long Knives
By Fritz Leiber; Read by Mark Douglas Nelson
3hr, 37 min.- [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Wonder Audio
A Deathlander’s life is a rough one. Atomic radiation, murder and sex preoccupies the sparse inhabitants of what used to be a great portion of America’s West. Kill or be killed is the law of this sickened land. Multicolored radioactive dusts floats in the atmosphere of this nuclear desert.
When Ray Baker meets a woman on his sojourn, he doesn’t know if he wants to kill her or sleep with her. Ray doesn’t understand his urge to murder. But he feels it like all the other Deathlanders. Just as he knows the girl feels it. Laying down their arsenal of weapons will leave them both vulnerable. The cost of a moment of intimacy may lead to the last moments of their lives. And what to do when the act is over, and both their minds turn back to murder.
Parasite Planet: The Ham & Pat Stories
By Stanley G. Weinbaum; Read by Mark Douglas Nelson
3hr, 47 min.- [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Wonder Audio
The short and meteoric career of Stanley G. Weinbaum produced many instantly hailed classics. None had the breadth of wonder, and adventure with philosophic insight as the trilogy of stories that feature Ham Hammond and Patricia Burlingame.
Parasite Planet begins with Ham Hammond trekking across the surface of Venus. The environment is parasitic, filled with bizarre alien life forms like the lasso throwing Jack Ketch Trees and the doughpots, a mindless omnivorous ball of animate cells that devour all living things in their path. When Ham meets the contentious Patricia Burlingame, they have to march across Venus to safety. It’s not clear what is going to kill them first, Venus’s hostile environment or each other.
In The Lotus Eaters, Ham and Pat are on a special scientific expedition to the dark-side of Venus. They discover a strange warm-blooded plant. The most disconcerting thing about the plant is when it begins speaking English and waxing philosophically.
The Planet of Doubt brings the duo to Uranus on another special scientific expedition. The cloudy shrouded terrain strikes terror into the heart of Ham as tries to find the lost Pat who he hopes is still be alive!
Posted by The Time Traveler of the Time Traveler Show
The Callahan Chronicals
By Spider Robinson; read by Barrett Whitener
12 cassettes – 18 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Telepathy / Empathy / Callahan’s Place / Extraterrestrials / Time Travel
There is nothing which has been contrived by man by which so much happiness has been produced as by a good tavern or inn. — Samuel Johnson
With that quote begins Spider Robinson’s omnibus collection of short stories entitled The Callahan Chronicals. Included in this audiobook are the collections Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Time Travelers Strictly Cash, and Callahan’s Secret. Time Travelers is not included complete – in the original paperback, some non-Callahan stories appeared that are not collected here.
The stories center around a bunch of very good folks that spend quite a bit of time at Callahan’s Place, a bar owned and tended by Mike Callahan. In the author’s words, Callahan’s is “an environment in which shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased, and the puns really suck.” It’s a place that a person can bring his or her troubles, and find people that are willing to listen – and believe. A typical story finds the patrons enjoying each other’s company (often tossing horrible puns at each other) when someone enters and tells his or her story. This person is changed by the experience of sharing his or her troubles.
Some of the stories are marginally science fiction, but most involve some kind of science fiction idea engendered in one of the characters. Telepaths, time travellers, extra-terrestrials, and even Spider Robinson himself are among the bar’s visitors. Robinson is able to reach an emotional depth not often seen in science fiction. Each story is touching in its own way, and they often reach peaks of joy and depths of pain, all within minutes of audio. In short, these stories pack an emotional punch. I found them difficult to listen to one after the other, as a person can only feel so much. They would be better heard individually, with a bit of time to digest and reflect in-between. I plan to revisit them in this way – they are worth listening to again, and are worth the pause.
Barrett Whitener is exceptional here. He understands the material and adds just the right touch in nearly every story. No easy task with these touching stories. A job very well done.
At the beginning of the audio, there are three introductions. The first is titled “Backward”, written by Spider Robinson for the entire volume. Next is “Spider Robinson: The SF Writer as Empath” by Ben Bova, which provides a look into the life of an editor as he describes Spider’s first sale to Analog. Then comes a forward written by Robinson for the original version of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. All of them were interesting, and I’m glad Blackstone left them in there.
I was disappointed only by the fact that there are no breaks between these stories. The final sentence of a story is read, immediately followed by the title of the next, and straight on till morning. I would have appreciated some kind of break there.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson