Review of Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

SFFaudio Review

Little Fuzzy
By H. Beam Piper; read by Jim Roberts
Audible Download – 6 hours 45 mins [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Jincin Recordings
Published: 2010
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

Review of Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott CardSpeaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card; Read by David Birney, Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle de Cuir, John Rubinstein, Scott Brick, Amanda Karr, Lisa Nemacheck, Don Schlossman
12 CD’s – 14 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1593974760
Themes: / Science Fiction / Relativistic Space Travel / Sentient Life / Families / Communities /

Have you ever wished your computer was an intelligent entity you could interact with? Yeah . . . me either. And why don’t we? Because one day when you sit down at your terminal the computer will ask you, “Shall we play a game?” And you’ll say, “How about some Halo 2?” And it will reply back, “How about Global Thermonuclear War?” And unless you think fast and figure out some child’s game that will teach the computer the pointlessness of nuclear war, you’re in a lot of trouble.

There are many other examples of the basic evilness of intelligent computers, like Hal 9000, the recently released Stealth and the entire world of The Matrix.

But in the world of Ender Wiggin there is Jane, restoring hope to all us social skill-less speculative fiction nerds that one day we can be adored by a digital babe. (And don’t give me that “I’m not a nerd, I’ve got skills” stuff–how many other artificial intelligence characters that I didn’t list have you thought of already? Hmm?)

As a sentient, non-human being that interacts with Ender via an interplanetary network of computers, Jane is the ultimate information resource. Not only is she not threatening humanity, Jane is pleasant, caring, and humorously informative. She is easily one of the most likable non-human characters you’ll read, but that isn’t why you should listen to this book.

You should listen to this book because it is a masterwork on human behavior. Orson Scott Card is often praised as a master developer of characters, but if every other book he has written had flopped, this book itself earns him that recognition.

Andrew (Ender) Wiggin was unable to return to earth after he destroyed the Formics in Ender’s Game. Racked by guilt after learning he destroyed a (relatively) innocent form of life, he wrote a book explaining the whole situation, and by doing so became the first “Speaker for the Dead.”

Fast forward a few thousand years. Andrew is only a couple decades older, thanks to the relativistic effects of space travel, and a mythology has developed about him. He is known historically as “Ender the Xenocide,” whose name evokes the same warm fuzzy feelings we associate with the name “Hitler.” “Andrew Wiggin” is also remembered, but as the writer of the near-canonized The Hive Queen and The Hegemon and initiator of the profession of speaking for the dead.

Those around him don’t know that both the Xenocide and the original Speaker were the same person, or that Andrew is him. Andrew is drawn to the colony planet Lusitania to help preserve another sentient species (the piggies). Speaker for the Dead picks up with events that lead to conflict between the piggies and humans, and Ender’s decision to go to Lusitania to help. There he meets the family of a man whose death he is to speak, and who are in the middle of the piggy problems via their scientific/anthropological roles.

As Ender comes to know the family we come to know and love them too. We learn what understandable need or desire or pain is behind their choices. For example, at no point do you agree with the mother’s behavior as years of angry distance from her children starts to bear bitter fruit. But you also see how love, pain and loss have distorted her reality. You despise her behavior, feel compassion for her suffering and understand her intentions. That is reality in all its rich, painful complexity.

But Speaker for the Dead does something even more amazing. It accurately shows the process of change. Change for an individual is a complicated enough process. Showing how a family changes is much more complicated. I am astonished at how accurate that process is portrayed in the book. I have yet to read another book that comes close to describing family change as well as Speaker for the Dead.

Having David Birney and Stephan Rudnicki both narrate the book is like have Shaq and Michael Jordan both on your team in a pick-up game. Those are the only two listed on the CD case, which is really unfair because there is an entire cast and not one person falls short of absolute excellence in their narration. They are the U.S. Olympic Team of readers. The others include Gabrielle de Cuir, John Rubinstein, Scott Brick, Amanda Karr, Lisa Nemacheck, and Don Schlossman.

And while I’m complaining about the case, couldn’t they have put a relevant picture on it? That funky tower thing and the planet surface below it looks like Capitol, but that’s a whole other set of Orson Scott Card stories. I guess the publisher wants the association with the original book cover, but Jane or a pequenino, or any other image actually related to the story would have been nice.

And why stop my spiral of increasingly trivial complaints there? I decided I really don’t like cardboard flap-around cases for the CDs. They are harder to handle, which matters if you are listening while driving, and I think it is easier to scratch a CD in that than in the hard plastic cases with soft sleeves.

I find that I especially like listening to books I have read in the past. If you’re already a fan of Speaker for the Dead, the audio version is a must.

Posted by Mike