The Fuzzy Conundrum, by John F. Carr & Wolfgang Diehr – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Fuzzy Conundrum, by John F. Carr & Wolfgang Diehr.
Boalsburg, PA, Pequod Press, May 2016, hardcover $32.00 (421 pages), Kindle $7.99.
The Fuzzies’ story goes on! For the record, this is the sixth approved novel in the series. They are: Little Fuzzy (1962), Fuzzy Sapiens (1964), and Fuzzies and Other People (1984), by H. Beam Piper; Fuzzy Ergo Sum (2011), and Caveat Fuzzy (2012), by Wolfgang Dietr; and The Fuzzy Conundrum (2016), by John F. Carr & Wolfgang Diehr. For the full history, read “The Fuzzy Story” by yours truly. Yes, we know about Fuzzy Nation (2011) by John Scalzi, but that is a tribute to Piper’s original novel and not a part of the series.
The copyright on Little Fuzzy has lapsed and the whole novel can be read for free on Project Gutenberg. I must’ve read it a dozen times over the years; it’s one of my favorite s-f novels.
The first three novels tell of the discovery of the Fuzzies on the colony planet Zarathustra, a member of the Terran Federation, by sunstone prospector Jack Holloway; the legal establishment of their childlike human sapience; and their protection by the Zarathustran government. The next two novels, written by a Fuzzy fan with the approval of Piper’s estate administered by John F. Carr, create backstories for Jack Holloway and other established characters, add some new human characters (including strong women; one of Piper’s weaknesses), and expand on the Fuzzy-human relationship.
The Fuzzy Conundrum begins by establishing that the events of the previous two years, including the attempt by the Zarathustran underworld to train kidnapped Fuzzies for crime, were high-profile news throughout the Terran Federation. The Fuzzies have been shown on galaxywide news as so cute and cuddly that, even though their intelligence is emphasized, millions of people just have to have one as a status symbol. Those who study the Fuzzies’ official status, which is as a protected species for their human childlike mental level, apply to adopt one as a legal child. Those who just want to own one and have more money than smarts buy one illegally as a pet. The Zarathustra planetary government finds hundreds of spaceships landing at the Mallorysport terminal filled with applicants to adopt a Fuzzy. At the same time, it becomes aware that new criminals are seeking to kidnap wild Fuzzies from the Beta continent reservation, not to train them for crime but to sell them to those who do not know or care that this is illegal.
The focus switches back and forth between several stories. Buck Trask, an agent of the Federation Bureau of Criminal Investigation on Terra, is assigned to go to Zarathustra to uncover the criminal organization responsible for trapping and transporting kidnapped Fuzzies to Terra:
“Trask mentally processed the list and stalled on the last item. ‘Wait … Fuzzies? Wasn’t there something in the news about a year and a half ago about some big court battle that proved these …these Fuzzies were sapient beings?’
Springbok nodded. ‘Damned straight. And they were locked up in cages like animals under the casino. Lousy conditions, too. Moreover, they were being used as entertainment; dancing, mock duels, and some acrobatics.’
‘That’s slavery and then some, sir. A bullet in the head for everybody involved.’ Trask read the Colonel’s face and could see there was more to come. ‘What else?’” (p. 19)
The kidnapping and taking Fuzzies offworld seems so well organized that Trask goes to Zarathustra prepared to investigate for corruption in the planetary government – including Jack Holloway, who is now the Commissioner of Native Affairs, and others who have been the cast of earlier novels.
–Jack Holloway and his friends and family, of course. The novels by Diehr establish his son, who comes to Zarathustra. The Fuzzy Conundrum expands the Holloway family in both directions, adding a newborn grandson and Jack’s elder sister.
–The criminals: who the Fuzzy kidnappers are; how and why they’re trapping wild Fuzzies; what Jack Holloway and the Zarathustran government and police are doing about it; and what the wild Fuzzies are doing about it. The first contact that some tribes of Fuzzies have with humans is with their criminals, and the Fuzzies fight back, often with deadly force.
“Darius, the inner moon, hung low in the orange sky as the morning sun cleared the horizon. Little Fuzzy pressed his nose to the shatter-resistant glass as the contra-gravity vehicle made its descent. Once grounded, Jack told everybody to stay close to the aircar.
‘Are you worried about something, Jack?’ Pat asked.
Jack nodded. ‘Like I said before, these Fuzzies are very different from my crowd down south. More advanced in terms of weaponry and social development, and they do not – underlined, italicized and in big red letters – not like Big Ones sticking our oversized noses in their business. They had a very unfortunate first contact with our species and you never get a second chance at a first impression.’” (p. 98)
–A group of six young scientists who come to Zarathustra to investigate the world’s planetary oddities:
“‘Hmm. Oh, I get it,’ Cinda said with a smile. ‘You are all here to figure out why Zarathustra isn’t just a big chunk of ice.’
‘Exactly,’ Dmitri cried. ‘As you must be aware, for a planet this far from its primary to maintain the extant temperatures, it should orbit a G0, or at least a G1 star. Freya, for example, is approximately .61 AU from its K0 primary, and manages a world climate comparable to pre-atomic Terra. Zarathustra defies the very laws of physics by being so hospitable to Terran life forms.’” (p. 60)
One of them is a womanizer. One them is a ringer.
–And the Fuzzies; mainly Little Fuzzy as the head of those who are comfortable around humans, and Red Fur, the Wise One (leader) of the wild and often hostile Fuzzies. This subplot centers around the ominous mystery of Fuzzy sterility. Something about their contact with humans is making the Fuzzies unable to conceive children, potentially threatening the Fuzzies with extinction.
The Fuzzy Conundrum is a s-f novel, not a furry novel. There are more humans in it – a few of whom, fortunately only minor characters, talk mit thick Cherman agzents — than Fuzzies, but there are enough of the latter to keep the interest of most furry fans. The Fuzzy Conundrum (wraparound cover by Alan Gutierrez), and the entire Fuzzy series, is highly recommended.
Full disclosure: I am a rabid Fuzzy fan. My first fanzine book review was of Piper’s Little Fuzzy in January 1962. I helped proofread The Fuzzy Conundrum, and I have a credit in it: “And to Fred Patten for his help in keeping the continuity straight and true to H. Beam Piper’s vision.”