Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Little Fuzzy and kin

So, here I am in Springfield IL. I was rather hoping that all the other girls entered at the show this weekend would be of, shall we say, lesser quality, thus allowing my Kenya to cruise to another major win. Alas, all of the girls entered in the Open class with her are in fact very nice. Someone else got the major today. There’s still tomorrow, but it’s impossible to guess how it will go when the animals are all about equally good. Crossing my fingers!

And reading LITTLE FUZZY. The original, I mean, by H Beam Piper. Anybody else ever read that? I see it was copyrighted way back in 1962. Wow. Honestly, I hadn’t realized it was written quite that long ago.

LITTLE FUZZY and FUZZY SAPIENS form a duology that today would just have been published as one (medium-long) book. They’re both quite short. I think they hold up to the passage of time quite well. You know how the plot goes, right? A miner with a heart of gold (Jack Halloway) discovers, or is discovered by, an extraordinarily cute alien species, like hokas only envisioned by Michael Whelan and thus superior. The mining company wants to declare the Fuzzies nonsapient so it can retain rights to the world, Jack and his friends want to protect the Fuzzies and make sure they retain rights to their own world, and stuff ensues, in the course of which we find out — surely you don’t mind a spoiler for a book that’s been out for fifty years? — that the Fuzzies aren’t actually native to that world, either. Their ancestors crashed ages ago and, since they’re not actually well-suited to the world, they’ve had a pretty tough time since and are now actually dying out.

Naturally everything works out very nicely.

Now, it’s hard for me to judge these books. I’ve read them before, multiple times, so I’m pretty familiar with them, obviously. I’ve just been re-reading LITTLE FUZZY and I’m finding it a little boring but still charming. The characters are fairly flat — I don’t think I thought so when I was a kid — really the only character with more than one dimension is the head of the Company, Grego, who starts off as a bad guy and then changes into a good guy. The Fuzzies are cuteness personified and treating them as pets is okay because they don’t mind. I’m exaggerating, but not massively. There’s a bit at the end that serves as an epilogue and you can see that the Fuzzies attain Real Person status eventually.

Now, the reason I got these books back off the shelf is that I just read FUZZY NATION, which is, as you may know, John Scalzi’s re-telling of the Fuzzy story. I don’t have any idea what led to the notion that, hey, wouldn’t it be great to get Scalzi to re-tell this classic Piper story, but I avoided Scalzi’s book for a while because I liked the original just fine. But then there the Scalzi book was at Archon, so I picked it up after all.

Now.

I have to admit that Scalzi did a good job. Jack Halloway gained immensely in depth. His heart of gold? Not nearly as evident. At first I really disliked him, but okay, all right, yes, he worked out just fine as the protagonist. The secondary characters were okay. The bad guys were pretty bad, which was fine, I don’t mind if the villains are definite villains. And I enjoyed the dog! Which was a real dog, too. I think Scalzi must own dogs, because he sure didn’t treat Halloway’s dog like a special-wonderful-magic-robot dog, but like a well-trained ordinary dog.

Scalzi’s dialogue has more zip. It really does. His plot is tighter. It really is. The nongendered Fuzzies don’t make any sense, but hey, Scalzi’s a writer, not an evolutionary biologist, and I guess he can’t be blamed for not realizing that sexual reproduction is not just a random chance in a wide universe, but essentially inevitable for all kinds of reasons. Fine, fine, I can stand that even if I hate refering to the Fuzzies as “it.” Fine! It’s a good job and a good story.

But . . . one of the plot elements I sort of liked, the idea that the Fuzzies were wrecked on this world and weren’t native, Scalzi took that out entirely. Maybe just to simplify the story? But I don’t know, I sort of regret the loss. I *liked* the idea of a spacefaring society of Fuzzies potentially turning up in the future, looking for their lost colony. And the way Piper had his Fuzzies on the verge of extinction set up this real imperative driving the integration of Fuzzies into human society, and I regret losing that. The way Scalzi has it set up, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to get essentially turn the whole world into a great big reserve for primative Fuzzies, and I don’t think that’s doing them any favors when humans are already in space. I don’t like where Scalzi’s story is headed as well as I liked the direction Piper gave his story.

Plus . . . did anybody but me read Ardhath Mayhars GOLDEN DREAM? Not sure what it is about this particular world of Piper’s that sucks in other authors, but Mayhar wrote her book from the point-of-view of the Fuzzies. Mayhar’s book was always actually my favorite. Like reading a great dog book such as 101 Dalmations, combined with SF. (I was all about animal books as a kid and didn’t read SFF till later.)

And Mayhar really pulled me in. I enjoyed seeing how the Fuzzies functioned on their own, before they met the humans. I loved watching all the events in Piper’s books, only from the Fuzzy pov. And of course, all those events? They are not compatible with Scalzi’s book at all. So if you take Scalzi’s version as definive, well, poof! There goes Mayhar’s version, down in flames.

Ah, well. I guess I will just treat Scalzi’s version as one more version and keep all the books. But for me, Piper is canon, Mayhar writes in the canon, and Scalzi definitely does not.

UPDATE: Okay, okay, before everybody, or anybody, jumps on me — I just finished reading LITTLE FUZZY and FUZZY SAPIENS and I now realize that in fact H Beam Piper did not write the book in which it’s revealed that the Fuzzies are actually from another world. That book is FUZZY BONES, by William Tuning.

I actually think FUZZY BONES is probably better written than the two by Piper, but Turing really captured the flavor and style of Piper’s original duology and I had simply forgotten that there was a whole ‘nother book, much less that it was written by another author.

FUZZY BONES is totally consistent with the canonical Piper duology, but it actually turns out that Piper himself wrote a third book, FUZZIES AND OTHER PEOPLE, which I’ve never read. It was published decades after the first two and is evidently not consistent with FUZZY BONES or GOLDEN DREAM. Now I guess I should pick this one up, too?

So: open-ended question — what is it that leads so many people to want to write books set in the Fuzzy world? I guess this is an early example of the 1632 phenomenon. Or is it a kind of professional fan fiction?

If I were going to write in this world, I’d want to take the FUZZY BONES and GOLDEN DREAM books as true and then move forward in time, to the period where humans finally encounter the society of space-faring Fuzzies. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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4 Comments Recent Reading: Little Fuzzy and kin

  1. Elaine T

    I must have read the Mayhar, but I don’t remember it very well. Since I’ve never gotten around to reading the Fuzzy books, it may not have meant much. But I went through a period of reading lots of Mayhar, and GOLDEN DREAM is still on our shelves.

    On your post below, I wonder if what Carroll is discussing is the same thing I picked up on in Jo Graham’s book, which I read immediately after reading LeGuin’s LAVINIA, which also deals with Aeneas. Graham’s suffered by the comparison, and it felt … genre-like. There was a sense of doing what readers expect. IMO, etc. The writing may or may not have been cliched (I don’t remember), but the presentation was.

    I like invisible prose, but I also like prose that fits the story. McKillip’s fantasy would be nothing special without her careful, lyrical writing.

    And BTW, we visited a real bookstore recently (B&N), and they had three of your books: Griffin omnibus, FLOATING ISLANDS, and HOUSE OF SHADOWS. They were also in all different parts of the shelves. (sigh)

  2. Rachel

    Good to know the bookstore had copies! Not sure why they shelved ’em in different places, but hey, if they’re on the shelves, I’m not complaining.

  3. Annie Gass

    “sexual reproduction is not just a random chance in a wide universe, but essentially inevitable for all kinds of reasons…”

    You wanna discuss that with reference to griffins?

  4. Rachel

    Griffins are magic! I have no idea how they are, uh, born. Maybe they coalesce out of sand and fire? If I were writing The Griffin Mage trilogy again, I think I would avoid any references to “mates”.

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