Long slandered as lacking in anything but escapism, science fiction and fantasy provide a virtually limitless tableau on which to build a story.  As such they are ideal genres for satire and social/political commentary. Jonathan Swift used it three hundred years ago.  H. G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs used it one hundred years ago.  And in the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Philip Wylie, Robert Heinlein, and John Brunner (to name a few) used it to warn against the dangers of unbridled industrialization, political extremism, bigotry, and social elitism.

Add to this list H. Beam Piper who is best known today for introducing the world to Fuzzies.  When my book group selected “Little Fuzzy” I recalled a cute fifty-year-old story about some playful, lovable mammals from a mining planet six hundred light years from Earth.  When they are discovered by a prospector who adopts them, the reader settles in for a delightful diversion.  But when old Jack realizes that they are far more than pets, he sets off a pitched battle that was a powerful allegory for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  On one side are Jack and his friends who believe the Fuzzies are sapient beings entitled to the same basic rights as the humans who have taken control of their planet.  On the other is the big, bad Company that stands to lose its monopoly to exploit the planet’s natural resources unless it can prove that the Fuzzies are mere animals.

Oddly, though it was also written during the heyday of the feminist movement, “Little Fuzzy” treats women rather gratuitously, except for one who acts heroically and actually turns the tide of the battle, which was typical of the way Negroes were portrayed in the books and movies of the previous decades.  But give Piper his due.  “Little Fuzzy” was a courageous, outspoken commentary on the American values of the time that inspired many other writers after his death.

It may be just coincidence, but as I was reading “Little Fuzzy” last week, the Attorney General of the United States announced that the Justice Department was entering the fight against reactionary forces that were attempting to deny ethnic and racial minorities their basic right to vote.