Little Fuzzy is the first of three science fiction novels by H. Beam Piper that take place on the planet Zarathustra, which has been settled by a million humans so far. The planet is controlled by the Chartered Zarathustra Company.
One day Jack Holloway, an old prospector, finds something that looks like a small monkey with golden fur; it makes sounds like yeek. He aptly names this creature Little Fuzzy. This first Fuzzy is introduced in Chapter 2, and even before his kin are introduced in Chapter 3, we're on the side of the Fuzzies.
It's been the driest Spring in centuries on Zarathustra, and there is a record land-prawn population. The Fuzzies have been drawn south along with their food source. Holloway finds his missing wood chisel being used by Little Fuzzy. He watches the Fuzzy skillfully behead a land-prawn with the chisel.
Little Fuzzy and his family move in with Jack Holloway. Shortly the man shows the Fuzzy a canister with his colorful mineral collection:
Little Fuzzy looked the can over, decided that the lid was a member of the class of things-that-screwed-onto-things and got it off. The inside of the lid was mirror-shiny, and it took him a little thought to discover that what he saw in it was only himself. He yeeked about that, and looked into the can. This, he decided, belonged to the class of things-that-can-be-dumped, like wastebaskets, so he dumped it on the floor. Then he began examining the stones and sorting them by color.
The Fuzzies obviously are sapient. Why is this so important to human settlers on Zarathustra? — Because if the planet is inhabited by a sapient race, the Zarathustra Company will lose its charter and monopoly.
Almost from the beginning, the Fuzzies are sharing bravely and intelligently in the adventures:
Stepping out about twenty feet [Holloway] started around counter-clockwise. There was no damnthing on the north side, and he was about to go around to the east side when Little Fuzzy cane dashing past him, pointing to the rear. He whirled, to see the damnthing charging him from behind, head down, and middle horn lowered. He should have thought of that: damnthings would double and hunt their hunters.
He lined the sights instinctively and squeezed. The big rifle roared and banged his shoulder, and the bullet caught the damnthing and hurled all half-ton of it backward. The second shot caught it just below one of the fungoid-looking ears, and the beast gave a spasmodic all-over twitch and was still. He reloaded mechanically but there was no need for a third shot. The damnthing was as dead as he would have been except for Little Fuzzy's warning.
He mentioned that to Little Fuzzy, who was calmly retrieving the empty cartridges, Then, rubbing his shoulder where the big rifle had pounded him, he went in and returned the weapon to the rack. He used the manipulator to carry the damnthing away from the camp and drop it into a treetop, where it would furnish a welcome if puzzling treat for the harpies.
The "good guys", Holloway and his biologist friends, have to learn as they go and often disagree among themselves as to what they're seeing:
"You know, what impressed me most in the taped account was the incident of the damnthing," said Ruth Ortheris. "Any animal associating with man will try to attract attention if something's wrong, but I never heard of one, not even a Freyan kholph or a Terran chimpanzee, that would use descriptive pantomime. Little Fuzzy was actually making a symbolic representation, by abstracting the distinguishing characteristic of the damnthing."
"Think that stiff-arm gesture and bark might have been intended to represent a rifle?" Gerd van Riebeek asked. "He'd seen you shooting before, hadn't he?"
"I don't think it was anything else," [Holloway said]. "He was telling me, 'Big nasty damnthing outside; shoot it like you did the harpy.' And if he hadn't run past me and pointed back, that damnthing would have killed me."
The "bad guys", led by Victor Grego, head of the Zarathustra Company, act reasonably from their point of view. All the characters are well portrayed. While the basic issue seems clear early in the story, all of the characters have to go through a lot of learning, mistakes, and adjusting.
In the immediate sequel The Other Human Race (1964; later printed as Fuzzy Sapiens), Zarathustra Company executives are still trying to control the changed situation. I think this book is as good as the first one. A third Fuzzy novel, Fuzzies and Other People (1964; first published 1984), sadly was only in rough draft when Piper died. The Fuzzy novels are part of Piper's Terro-Human Future History series.
I enjoy these books and recommend them to anyone who likes science fiction dealing with good adventures on interesting planets, and extra-terrestrial humanoid beings.