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Fuzzies and Other People by H. Beam Piper3 stars

Buy from PowellsTwenty years after H. Beam Piper’s death and the publication of Fuzzy Sapiens, his long-rumored third Fuzzy novel, the manuscript for which had been thought lost, turned up in one of those improbable found-in-an-old-trunk scenarios. Some writers, I suppose, have a flair for the dramatic even in death. Otherwise I guess they’d simply attach a Post-It to their wills saying “By the way, check the trunk!”

Whether Piper had any designs to continue telling Fuzzy stories after this one, we’ll never know. But Fuzzies and Other People at least provides a more or less complete trilogy, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have gone on from here. Why Piper buried this one in a trunk is a question that may be known to his closest friends or his biographer, but I can only speculate, mere reviewer that I am. Possibly he felt it needed more polish. As it stands, Fuzzies and Other People takes even more time getting around to its story than Fuzzy Sapiens. Yet its best scenes are among the best in the whole trilogy. Piper wasn’t big on white-knuckle action and drama in these piquant and happy little tales, but he does provide his readers with a commendable dose of both in this short book’s second half.

It can be summed up this way: when the Fuzzies take center stage, this book is delightful entertainment. When its human characters do, it’s a fairly stodgy, talky and (much moreso than the first two books) dated affair. In the months following the momentous Pendarvis Decision, which legally granted Fuzzies status as sapient beings, the loss of the Zarathustra Company’s charter to exploit the planet’s natural resources exclusively, and the arrest of a nefarious gang who had been training Fuzzies to steal sunstones from a Company vault, things have settled into an administrative routine.

Much of the book’s first half shows the human colonists enjoying plenty of leisure time with their adopted Fuzzies. The relationships between them are exactly that of doting parent to child. Interestingly, there seem to be no human children anywhere on Zarathustra, which may explain why the parental urge is so strong (everyone refers to their adopted Fuzzies as “the kids”). Still, it does get a bit saccharine to see these scientists and researchers and politicians acting more like suburbanites than anything else. If Piper avoided getting too cloying in Little Fuzzy, he tackle-hugs it at a full run here. And boy, do these people love cocktails! You can tell that Piper was a writer very much from the Mad Men generation by the way everyone breaks for cocktail hour with the promptness and devotion to tradition you’d expect from Edwardians taking afternoon tea. I suspect you could create your own drinking game simply by taking a swig every time the word “cocktail” appears in the text. You’ll be as sloshed as a mid-century suburban housewife in no time.

The only conflict between the human characters again involves the sketchy lawyer from Fuzzy Sapiens, who intends to challenge a key point regarding the Fuzzies’ legal status in order to defend his clients — the aforementioned gang of thieves, who may be facing a firing squad on enslavement charges. But Piper doesn’t really build his story around this conflict, instead following the colony’s progress as it tries to ratify a workable constitution and hold its first free elections. A potentially intriguing problem does arise, though: the Fuzzies seem incapable of lying, and this ironically might keep them from legally testifying in court for reasons I’ll let the book itself explain.

The book’s best scenes center on a family of Fuzzies who are aware of humans but have yet to be introduced them. Seen briefly toward the end of Fuzzy Sapiens, they’re now trudging through the wilderness towards the colony. Meeting up at one point with Little Fuzzy, who’s been separated briefly from Jack Holloway, they must survive some nasty surprises and hardships, with Little Fuzzy teaching them hitherto unknown skills like rope-making and raft-building that he’s learned from “the Big Ones.” (Readers of Fuzzy Nation who thought it was a bit much for John Scalzi to have his lead Fuzzy erupt in a burst of mild profanity at the end might be startled, in this book, to hear how much Little Fuzzy lets the expletives fly when he’s lost in the woods. It’s really funny though.) These scenes have all the ingredients of high adventure, and they’re enjoyable enough that I almost wish Piper had written a story starring the Fuzzies exclusively, with little to no intrusion by the humans.

As uneven as it is, Fuzzies and Other People can only be recommended to completists with a deep and abiding love for Piper and the earlier books. Had Piper overcome his depression and gone on to give us years and years of more Fuzzy stories, who knows what wondrous adventures might have flown from his pen? But he’s left SF with an inspiring storytelling legacy all the same. Those of you of a spiritual bent might imagine Piper now, enjoying his pipe and a cocktail with his family of Fuzzies in the Wonderful Place.