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A fascinating Sci Fi story by H. Beam Piper about what truly makes a creature sapient.

Jack Holloway, a sunstone miner, lives a solitary life in a wilderness area of planet Zarathustra. The planet is basically "owned" by the Chartered Zarathustra Corporation (under Victor Grego), which installed basic services and colonial outposts initially, and now reaps the benefits of new discoveries, such as the valuable sunstones.

One day, Holloway returns to his little shack to discover a tiny humanoid, covered in golden fur. The little creature has armed itself with a chisel from his workbench, but is peaceful and mostly unafraid. The miner gives the little fuzzy some Extee-Three, a kind of canned emergency ration cake, and the fuzzy devours it greedily. It is soon apparent that the creature is highly intelligent, and he soon brings his family band to join "Pappy Jack" at the shack.

Victor Grego soon tries to intervene, claiming that the Fuzzies are just animals, not sapients. If ruled sapient, the entire planet would be declared a protected aboriginal zone, and the Chartered Zarathustra Company would lose its exclusive rights to the resources there. Leonard Kellogg, one of Grego's staff, kills a fuzzy and this leads to a court case which hinges on whether the fuzzies are animals or sapients.

After much discussion of what it means to be "sapient" (speech and fire use being one definition), the matter goes to court. In the midst of the proceedings, the Terran Navy commander reveals that his people have been studying Fuzzies, and that they can indeed speak. The tiny people use ultrasonic frequencies, which to human ears sound like "yeek." When processed with the proper electronics, the sounds are rendered as a complex language. The Navy experiments prove that Fuzzies have at least the mental capacity of a ten-year-old human, and are therefore protected under Terran law. Judge Pendarvis declares them to be aborigines, and the Charter of the Zarathustra Company is immediately invalidated.

Enjoy it courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Piper wrote two sequels, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People; several sequels by other authors have also been written. It is also the subject of a Continuity Reboot by John Scalzi (licensed by the H. Beam Piper estate), called Fuzzy Nation.

Tropes used in Little Fuzzy:

  • Alternative Number System: The fuzzies initially use a modified form of base 5. 1, 2, 3, 4, one hand. By 125, they've reached a hand of hands. It then goes to many, and many many. They soon adopt the human's base 10 system.
  • Author Existence Failure: Nearly. Piper committed suicide leaving the final Fuzzy novel in storage; no one knew he'd finished it, and two authorized sequels were published before it was found.
  • Badass Grandpa: Jack Holloway
  • Courtroom Antics: The murder trial of Jack Holloway and Leonard Kellogg
  • Due to the Dead: The Fuzzies bury their dead, which is what convinces the police that arresting Kellogg for murder is justified.
  • Fun with Acronyms: To avoid the expense of changing logos on everything from buildings to stationery, Grego renames the CZC to the Charterless Zarathustra Company.
  • Heel Face Turn: Grego in Fuzzy Sapiens
  • Head Pet: Baby Fuzzy
  • Heel Realization: Kellogg breaks down and commits suicide after admitting to himself that he murdered a sapient being.
  • In the Local Tongue: Discussed. Some of the names of alien animals and plants are... strange.

 You pointed to something and asked a native, and he’d gargle a mouthful of syllables at you, which might only mean, "Whaddaya wanna know for?" and you took it down in phonetic alphabet and the whatzit had a name.

  • Large Ham: Gus Brannhard. Also Ben Rainsford, but he's kind of overshadowed by Gus.
  • Lie Detector: The veridicator is an infallible one, and consequently a vital part of the legal system.
  • The Mole: Ruth Ortheris is secretly a Navy spy.
  • Morality Pet: Diamond, for Grego.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: One word - "Yeek".
  • Straw Vulcan: Hoenveld in book two. Other characters go so far as to point out that his overly narrow and unimaginative outlook makes him a pretty crappy scientist.
  • Tenchi Solution: Fuzzy sisters Goldilocks and Cinderella briefly squabble over Ko-Ko before deciding to share him.
  • Theme Naming: Any group of Fuzzies "adopted" by humans promptly get tagged with these. Flora and Fauna; Id, Ego, Complex, and Syndrome...
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Extee Three, a poundcake-like ration food, for the Fuzzies.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The point of the whole book.
  • Xenofiction
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