A while back I taught a science-fiction-as-lit workshop at the Kenai Public Library. Part of the pre-class assignment was to read H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, watch the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Measure of a Man," and come prepared to discuss the definition of sentience. Everyone had an opinion and the discussion was high, wide and handsome.
Little Fuzzy and the two sequels, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People are seminal texts in the science fiction canon, as well as thumpin' good reads. In the far future on the distant planet of Zarathustra, miner Jack Holloway comes home from a hard day's work finding sunstones to discover a visitor in his shower stall, a two-foot high biped covered with gold fur who is unlike any other of the native fauna on Zarathustra. As soon becomes evident Little Fuzzy is sentient as well. This leads to consternation at the Chartered Zarathustra Company, as the Company got their charter on the planet because it was adjudged to hold no sentient life and if Little Fuzzy is found to be sentient the Company will lose their charter. There is mayhem and kidnapping and murder and the Federation Space Navy gets involved and it all winds up in a frontier courtroom in a legal battle over the definition of sentience. Piper's style is so natural and colloquial that it feels like he's telling a story about what's going on next door, with an understated humor that keeps you chuckling all the way through.
The three books have been reprinted in an omnibus edition called The Complete Fuzzy, and you should definitely read them. But wait, there's more.
Tomorrow, John Scalzi publishes Fuzzy Nation, what he calls a "reboot" of the first novel. "I took the original plot and characters of Little Fuzzy and wrote an entirely new story from and with them," he writes on his blog. Why? "Because I am a huge fan of the original novel and of H. Beam Piper’s work. It’s a good story and he’s a very good story teller; Little Fuzzy wasn’t nominated for a Hugo on accident, you know. And while the original novel is still, as they say, a “cracking good tale,” I thought there was an opportunity to revisit the story and put a new spin on it to make it approachable to people who had not read the original or did not know about Piper, and also to give fans of the original the fun of seeing some old friends in new settings."
You'll remember Scalzi's Old Man's War? Another thumpin' good read? I can't wait to see what he does with Fuzzies. I'll be getting my copy tomorrow, and I will be unavailable for communication for a while thereafter.
Just for fun, here's the devastating scene from "The Measure of a Man" when Riker damn near sends Data on a one-way trip to the Daystrom Institute, and the following scene where Guinan (Whoppi Goldberg in her best role ever) shows Picard what's really going on. One of the best scenes in TNG, and one of the best sf scenes ever.
And here's the scene where Picard proves indisputably that Data is not a toaster.