Series: Fuzzy 1
Reviewed date: 2013 Sep 30
The planet Zarathustra is overflowing with natural resources, which makes the Zarathustra Company--and everybody who works for them--rich. Then a prospector named Jack Holloway discovers a race of fuzzy little hominids that might be sapient.
If the Fuzzies are sapient, Zarathustra is a class IV inhabited planet. If Zarathustra is a class IV inhabited planet, the Zarathustra Company's charter is void: it is only valid for a class III uninhabited world. So the Company seeks to prove that the Fuzzies are no more than clever animals, even when everyone can plainly see they are intelligent.
There's a lot of action--a company man--Leonard Kellogg--stomps a Fuzzy to death, Jack Holloway tries to prevent it. A company thug draws his gun on Jack, and Jack shoots him to death in self-defense. Jack is accused of murder, and in turn he accuses Kellogg of murdering the Fuzzy. So we get a courtroom drama.
Nobody disputes the facts, so both trials hinge on whether the Fuzzies are sapient. If they are, Kellogg is a murderer and Jack's actions are justified. If not, Kellogg is innocent and Jack is guilty.
The courtroom scene is dramatic, but it's a cheat. They have a foolproof lie-detector device called a veridicator. When the witness lies, the big light over their head turns red. Since every single one of the company's witnesses believe the Fuzzies are sapient, their testimony to the contrary isn't very convincing. But the fact remains that the Fuzzies, no matter how intelligent they appear, don't speak. Without a language, can they truly be sapient?
And in a deus ex machina, the Navy shows up in court and explains that they've been studying the Fuzzies. The Fuzzies do speak, but in the hypersonic range. They distribute earpieces to everyone in court, and everyone can hear the Fuzzies talk.
That settles the question. Kellogg is guilty, Jack is innocent, the Zarathustra Company's charter is void.
It's a fun book. I enjoyed it well enough. It might work better as a novella--the plot seems kind of bare to me. It would work great as a movie!