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Author Topic: John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation
MattLeo
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ONE LINE SUMMARY REVIEW: *Fuzzy Nation* is a "reboot" of a classic 1962 sci-fi novel which competently re-engineers the story to modern standards of technology, storytelling, and political correctness but which falls short of the original's charm and emotional impact.

DETAILS:
I've never read anything before by John Scalzi, but given that he is the object of the Rabid Puppies hatred and Sad Puppies deep ambivalence, I thought I'd check out *Fuzzy Nation*, his "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's classic *Little Fuzzy*.

Why reboot a classic sci-fi novel? Well there's the commonplace problem of technology outstripping sci-fi for starters, particularly the original's lack of personal digital information and communication gadgets. In the original Jack Holloway consults books on microfilm, develops movies in a darkroom, and can't reach characters by videophone because they're away from their houses. This is all very anachronistic to a generation that grew up with databases, cell phones and personal computers.

There's also the issue of contemporary tastes in politics. The planet Zarathustra in the original was clearly based on South Africa of the early 20th Century. The names of some of the animals even sound slightly Dutch-ish (e.g. "Veldbeest"). The outcome of the original novel's dispute over the "sapience" of the Fuzzy species seems incomprehensible to modern political sensibilities. If the Fuzzies turn out to be people who were living on Zarathustra before humans came, most modern readers would assume that this means humans need to clear off the planet. But in the implicit politics of H. Beam Piper's universe humans can still run things and exploit the mineral and biological wealth of the planet, they just have to work *around* the natives, while they *run the natives' affairs for them*.

This is the politics of paternalism; of "white man's burden". That might not seem strange at all to a reader in the early 60s who had grown up on Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard, but to a modern reader that attitude is almost inexplicable. So while "politics" may be a dirty word, it's not unreasonable to tweak the unexamined imperialist and paternalistic assumptions of the original in order to reach modern audiences.

So far so good, but the place where this re-imagining falls short is re-tooling the story for modern tastes in storytelling. The original novel's Jack Holloway was a larger-than-life archetype of frontier self-sufficiency, an upright and elderly but still-sharp prospector and sometime gun-slinger. The new Jack Holloway is a young and crooked lawyer eking out a living prospecting after being disbarred and alienating just about everyone he meets. Why re-imagine Holloway this way? Because conventional wisdom is that flawed and somewhat unlikable characters are more interesting. While this is fine as well as it goes, it's a bit simplistic because what really matters is what you do with the character.

Scalzi hits another writing-workshop bullet point by giving his picarseque Holloway greater agency in the plot outcome than Piper's Holloway hgas. In the original Jack Holloway plays a key role in initiating the events of the novel, but by the story's third act he is largely sidelined and the main action is resolved by deus ex machina -- a major no-no according to polite canons of literary taste.

So in outline form Scalzi's story looks like a major upgrade to the H. Beam Piper version. But fleshed out, it doesn't quite measure up to the classic. Why? Because while Scalzi is a fine writer, he's just not as good here as H. Beam Piper is. A story like this takes a tremendous amount of exposition; in Piper's version this imbues the setting with a kind of Golden Age wonder but in Scalzi's version it simply weighs down the narration and dialog.

What's more while Scalzi's version is unquestionably more competently plotted, there's a lot more to care about in Piper's version. Piper stocks his story with memorable and vivid characters where Scalzi's supporting cast is sufficient to move the story forward but forgettable. Piper's version is, under the charm, a serious sci-fi attempt to address the question of where "human" rights come from. In Scalzi's version this is merely a plot point.

And H. Beam Piper's version scores over the Scalzi version in this one respect: character arc. The classic H. Beam Piper protagonist is a self-sufficient, rugged individualist, but in many ways *Little Fuzzy* subverts this archetype. *Little Fuzzy* was conceived at a time Piper had moved to Paris, where he missed his friends and his marriage began to fall apart. *Little Fuzzy* is really about the the tension between self-sufficiency and loneliness.

So it misses the point the reconstruct *Little Fuzzy* to give Jack Holloway more agency in the fate of the Fuzzies, because it's not really about the Fuzzies. It's about a lonely old man who adopts a family and through them develops new friendships. That arc is what gives the *Little Fuzzy* its powerful emotional impact. Scalzi's Holloway starts out the story as as secretive, manipulative schemer and ends as a successful, secret, manipulative schemer. It's sufficiently entertaining, but not particularly moving.

*Fuzzy Nation* is a cute and entertaining book that is utterly inoffensive to standards of literary taste or politics -- standards that I generally endorse. There's nothing wrong with a book being adequate and inoffensive, but that's not what greatness is about. A great story is timeless. It's been over fifty years since the publication of *Little Fuzzy*, and despite being dated in several respects it still stands up. Will people still be reading *Fuzzy Nation* in 2070? I doubt it. They'll be reading *Little Fuzzy*.

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JSchuler
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So while "politics" may be a dirty word, it's not unreasonable to tweak the unexamined imperialist and paternalistic assumptions of the original in order to reach modern audiences.
No, I'm 99.99% sure that is a terribly unreasonable thing to do.

If you find a work that has a message you like, but find aspects of it are problematic for you, and you want to try your hand at it, then write an original story. Do not hijack another person's work and put your words in their fictional mouth.

This is akin to conducting a posthumous religious conversion.

To future generations: if, somehow, someway, I ever write something you are still reading, and someone decides to reboot my work to eliminate all the terrible, unexamined politics I put in there, TRACK THAT !@#&#$*% DOWN AND !@#$& HIS !@@# AND !#@& HIM IN THE !@#&$* SO THAT HE CAN NEVER, EVER, #$&%*#*@ AGAIN.

You have my permission, which is more than he has.

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MattLeo
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Well in this case the reboot is authorized by Piper's estate, although that in itself is curious since Piper's suicide was prompted in part by his divorce.

To tell you the truth I'm more offended by the artistic mediocrity of the reboot than trying to make the outcome understandable to modern readers. It's been over fifty years since Piper's death and the original is in the public domain.

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Robert Nowall
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Piper's works are in public domain: anybody is free to use them in any way they see fit.

I glanced at this when it was in the stores, thinking maybe it was another sequel...and decided it looked more like a reworking of Piper's Little Fuzzy with more violence. Now, I'm not above this sort of thing---some of my most satisfying work has been Internet Fan Fiction---but the idea of plunking down money for something trashing a beloved work by one of my favorite writers seemed somehow repellent to me. No go...and I've avoided Scalzi's work since then, too.

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JSchuler
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Well in this case the reboot is authorized by Piper's estate

Which is not Piper. Doesn't matter if all his closest friends and relatives were in agreement about how happy he would be with the changes, they aren't him. I know of too many cases where an estate did things that the deceased would have abhorred while alive for that to make a difference in my assessment.

Especially when writing an original work takes less effort on the legal front. Artistic mediocrity is pretty much baked into the cake when this is the route chosen for a book. (Movies and television series are different, as unless you can bankroll your own production, reboots are easier to finance)

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extrinsic
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My differences with Scalzi's Fuzzy compared to Piper's Fuzzy is one's superficial action is backdrop to foreground moral human condition action, the other's superficial action foreground to backdrop moral human condition action, and the latter less satisfying for it.

If I were to reimagine Fuzzy, I'd develop Holloway's moral struggle more prominently and place external contention in proportion to individuals' internal contentions: Fuzzies, Holloway, allies, and opposition. I feel that both versions are too monodimensional as they are: polar opposites of nobility and ignobility aligned by persona in contention rather than apportioned to each individual. If each individual's moral crisis develops and is transformatively influential, a narrative is far more satisfying than one of little to no internal transformation.

Frankly, both versions are static in those transformation regards, Scalzi's more so, and entail strong traces of daydream and writer surrogacy writing.

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Robert Nowall
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My understanding of the public domain issue---regrets that I don't have the book I cribbed this out of in front of me, and Wikipedia was unhelpful---is that Ace Books bought out the estate of H. Beam Piper in the 1970s, paving the way for their series of reissues of his work. Then by copyright law, their control of it lapses after a certain time, which came in the mid-2000s.

Mention was made of Piper using words that were "slightly Dutch-ish." More "Afrikaans-ish," as in from South Africa. One of the premises of Piper's Terro-Human Future History was that World War III was fought, wrecking and killing most everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, but the bulk of the Southern Hemisphere survived to rebuild civilization, such as it was.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
If I were to reimagine Fuzzy, I'd develop Holloway's moral struggle more prominently and place external contention in proportion to individuals' internal contentions: Fuzzies, Holloway, allies, and opposition.

Well, not every protagonist needs to be tortured, nor is every story necessarily better for having that kind of protagonist, but I do see your point. The plotting of LITTLE FUZZY starts falling apart in the second act and is a hot mess by the third; presenting Holloway with a few significant choices along the way would definitely improve matters, particularly in the second to third act transition.

Here's how I would improve LITTLE FUZZY. First, I'd increase the seriousness of Holloway's legal jeopardy and give him an opportunity to avoid trial, thus presenting him with a critical choice to make at the 2nd-3rd act transition. Second, I'd fix the trial itself. The central problem of the trial is that "sapience" -- the mental quality which legally qualifies an animal as a person -- has no legal definition, only a rule of thumb which doesn't apparently apply to the fuzzies. After the trial is over a definition of "sapience" has been given, but it plays no part in the outcome of the trial itself. That's a serious flaw in the story.

I have to disagree with Jim's assertion that inferiority is baked into the entire enterprise of rebooting a story. Before modern copyright law stories used to pass from hand to hand and each person who told the story added his own embellishments and dropped pieces he didn't care for. Many of Shakespeare's plays are reimaginings of earlier stories.

What's baked into the reboot process is comparison to the original. If you're going to rewrite CATCHER IN THE RYE, you'd better be prepared to have your writing compared to J.D. Salinger. If you're going to reboot LITTLE FUZZY you've got to be prepared to have your writing compared to H. Beam Piper.

One of Piper's gifts as a writer is evocation. A great writer doesn't just shove detail into your head, he does a kind of dance with your imagination in which your imagination is an active partner. Scalzi in contrast is a much more careful writer. If you look at the trial scenes in both books, Scazi's is to the critical eye more credible. But the genius of a great sci-fi writer is to make the reader accept the incredible.

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extrinsic
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Every agonist does need to contest, not per se tortured, only the agonies of competition, external and internal, as it were. Holloway's basic nature, personality, and behavior are substantively unchanged by the action -- the antagonism of either version. He's the same rogue at the end that he starts out.

In terms of a moral human condition struggle, the basics are wrath, greed, gluttony, pride, envy, sloth, and lust. Holloway internally struggles with none of the former; he externally contests with nemeses and villains who represent several of them, greed and pride in particular.

With what sort of dimensional depth would Holloway internally struggle? Greed is most on point for both versions and, in the interests of unity, an approach worth consideration. Holloway is a wildcat prospector. His greed in that regard is where that could be a struggle that influences the action.

However, Piper and Scalzi, and the general Golden Age Campbellian and neo-Campbellian movement to which Scalzi and the Puppy slates subscribe, presume protagonist beliefs and values adhere to a Western European Industrialized Rich Patriarchy Christian system, in which individualism and free will exercise favor laissez-faire capitalist libertarianism's tenets. Both novel versions misconstrue government's role in that belief system.

An approach that adheres to the above would place Holloway internally at odds with Fuzzies impacting his earnings and externally with the government, which comes to the rescue of Fuzzies as much as Holloway does. Neither of which develop in either novel. Government problems are somewhat more pronounced, though, in the Scalzi version.

These above considerations give me pause, in large part because my beliefs and, consequently, my writing approach the WEIRD PC anti-political correctness capitalist ideology and its counter-attachment libertarianism's socialist ideologies as two comparably equal social necessities and predicated on each's socially responsible and irresponsible contributions.

Anyway, ideological undercurrents make for a difficult and challenging shoal to negotiate successfully for publication in the current fantastical fiction marketplace. Scalzi, et al, and the works of the culture group segment represent an ideology that predominates in fantastical fiction publishing culture. Tel 'est la vie de escritur: such is the life of writing.

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MattLeo
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I'll disagree on Jack Holloway's supposed lack of story arc in LITTLE FUZZY. When he (in effect) gains a family, Holloway goes from being completely independent and indomitable to being dependent upon the friendship of acquaintances and the goodwill of strangers for the survival of that family. He's out of his competency zone; he can't save the Fuzzies with his gunslinging skills. That's the emotional mainspring of the story. It's a creatively subversive use of the rugged individualist trope. Holloway's newfound vulnerability is what makes the reader glad to see him appointed guardian of the Fuzzies' interests; getting that control through trickery is a more ironically ambiguous result.

This is a bit like the criticism I've seen leveled at the movie IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, namely that George Bailey is rescued by a deus ex machina rather than by his own actions. While you can construe the story that way, it misses the point: George's real strength is in the community he has built. You can't make that point by having George beat Mr. Potter at his own crooked financial game. Caper stories where the fox is outfoxed do have their own satisfactions, but they're different satisfactions.

I'd like to bring the discussion back to something you said earlier about writer surrogacy (aka "self-inserts"). I always have a problem with that particular critique because it's not about the story on the page but rather an inference about how that story was constructed. It's not that the inference is wrong, but I think that describing the problem this way misses what actually has gone wrong. I'll bet non-ironic author surrogacy happens all the time without our noticing it because the surrogacy per se isn't the problem.

I believe the problem with so-called "self insert" protagonists is actually weak antagonists and uninteresting secondary characters.

FUZZY NATION illustrates this. Yes, Jack Holloway wins his case in court via his own legal acumen, but only because his corporate lawyer opponent doesn't know the law which governs her employer's charter, even though she had reason to review that law just a few days earlier. We might overlook this if Scalzi had worked harder (as Piper does) to establish that the opposing lawyer is formidable.

In LITTLE FUZZY Jack Holloway might be larger than life, but that's in a story chock full of memorable, larger than life characters. Sure, Jack is an author surrogate, but so is Victor Grego, Leslie Coombes, Ben Rainsford, Gus Brannhard are all author surrogates too. And if prescience is what you look for in a sci-fi story, Ruth Otheris is a bright, socially conscious young professional woman who's having difficulty balancing work and personal life.

Except for its amusingly underhanded protagonist, FUZZY NATION suffers from forgettable characterization throughout. That's what makes FUZZY NATION mediocre -- not bad, but not a classic either. The new, more picaresque Jack Holloway might be able to carry a new, very different story, but he needs a better supporting cast.

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extrinsic
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The story arc for Holloway, both versions, is external. Depth and fuller reader effect and satisfaction come from internal arc, which neither version fully, if only a little or none, realize.
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Robert Nowall
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I took Little Fuzzy and its two sequels as an exploration of how the main characters change and grow in response to their contact with the Fuzzies. (For instance, Victor Grego, the villian of the first book, is the hero of the second book.) From what I've learned about Piper's life, I've come to realize he put a little of himself in all of these main characters, too.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Depth and fuller reader effect and satisfaction come from internal arc.

This statement sounds like it should be true to me, but I don't think it really stands up to examination.

Let's take the classic folk tale of the valiant little tailor, a clever but ridiculously puffed up little man who makes a belt proclaiming "killed seven with one blow" after swatting seven flies, and who parlays this up into marriage to a king's daughter. Let's imagine an alternate story in which the tailor realizes his cosmic insignificance and remains a tailor to the end of his days. Now this new, internal arc version might well turn out to be a wonderful, deeply moving story, but I don't think it's necessarily a better story, it's just more compliant with the conventions of modernist fiction.

What's more giving the story a tastefully conventional psychodynamic spin also misses the whole undercurrent of social satire in the original. The story isn't satisfying because the vulgar little tailor is somehow internally elevated; it's satisfying because the doddering old aristocracy is debased by having to accept him.

In some cases a character who refuses to change personally as circumstances change around him is actually more compelling than a psychologically adaptable one would be. Take Stevens the butler in Ishiguro's *Remains of the Day*. Reversal of fortune in most tragedy (and yes, I do know it's called peripeteia) is almost always a reversal in external fortunes -- an external arc not an internal one. Oedipus doesn't have a sudden change of heart towards incest, nor does Macbeth suddenly start thinking for himself. Hamlet, a true student, continues to procrastinate until he's given a hard deadline.

I frankly doubt that you can always draw a clean distinction between an internal arc and an external arc, because you can't always separate a person's internal character from his external circumstances. Becoming a parent changes you in profound ways, but is that internal change or external change? In that case at least it's an artificial dichotomy.

So I'm afraid I can't sign onto the notion that an "internal" arc is necessarily a better alternative than an "external" one. An arc which elicits a greater reader emotional response is better than one that elicits a lesser response.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I took Little Fuzzy and its two sequels as an exploration of how the main characters change and grow in response to their contact with the Fuzzies. (For instance, Victor Grego, the villian of the first book, is the hero of the second book.) From what I've learned about Piper's life, I've come to realize he put a little of himself in all of these main characters, too.

In a really great writer there's always an element of mystery, something that makes you wonder where the heck that came from. Piper had a high school education back from the day when that was pretty basic stuff, and spent most of his adult life as a laborer in a rail yard in Altoona, and yet he ended up writing a deeply influential book about where the rights of personhood come from.

I often come across sci-fi stories that use the word "sapience" and I'm morally certain that writer has read LITTLE FUZZY.

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Robert Nowall
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Perhaps, but the Merriam Webster online dictionary dates first use of "sapience" to the 14th century.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
Perhaps, but the Merriam Webster online dictionary dates first use of "sapience" to the 14th century.

However the use of the word has been in constant decline since the eighteenth century. Google's NGRAM service is often useful in tracking the history of a word:

ngram view of sapience.

Today "sapience" is an exceedingly rare word -- forming about two millionths of a percent of the contemporary corpus. It's doesn't make the list of the top 100,000 most common words in English, and a search of the Contemporary Corpus of American English reveals that in the past two decades the word is used almost exclusively in science fiction.

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Robert Nowall
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I certainly can accept it as an older word being reintroduced into Modern English, but by who and when? (A few passes through Google hasn't revealed anything that can help me, but I'm hopeful...I get some indication that "sapience" has been used by John Keats, D. H. Lawrence, and Herman Melville, though.)

There's a mess of words reintroduced by Tolkien, all well documented...but for H. Beam Piper info is limited...

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MattLeo
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I expect that Piper got "sapience" through his interest in Alfred Korzybski's "General Semantics", which was quite the rage in sci-fi circles in the 40s and 50s. It was an attempt to put rationality itself on an empirical basis, to take conscious control over the process of extracting meaning from sensation. A lot of the discussion in LITTLE FUZZY about levels of cognitive abstraction and conscious awareness of abstraction come more or less straight from Korzybski.

The reason I think that LITTLE FUZZY is influential in propagating some of the ideas of General Semantics is that the writing is entertaining but in some ways crude. Characters make philosophical speeches where the ideas are presented more or less as-is, without the kind of transformation you'd see in a more imaginative work like Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, but LITTLE FUZZY is still entertaining enough to be interesting to people who aren't scholars of science fiction literary history.

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Grumpy old guy
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An interesting discussion to be sure, but to what point? Sapient, and sapience, are simply derivatives of the Latin sapere: to be wise.

Which happens to be a little self aggrandizing in that we describe our own genus and family as Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

Given the the predilection of the 'golden age of Sci-Fi' to indulge in faux-philosophy, I see nothing unusual in the idea that such writers would latch on to the notion that a self-aware creature could be described as wise, or sapient.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Depth and fuller reader effect and satisfaction come from internal arc.

This statement sounds like it should be true to me, but I don't think it really stands up to examination.
Depends on how accessible and accessed internal arc emerges, if one exists. A general trend for fantastical fiction's, fiction generally, ephemeral works is little or no internal character arc. Timeless works are another story, Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, for one example, folk tales for others.
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Let's take the classic folk tale of the valiant little tailor, a clever but ridiculously puffed up little man who makes a belt proclaiming "killed seven with one blow" after swatting seven flies, and who parlays this up into marriage to a king's daughter. Let's imagine an alternate story in which the tailor realizes his cosmic insignificance and remains a tailor to the end of his days. Now this new, internal arc version might well turn out to be a wonderful, deeply moving story, but I don't think it's necessarily a better story, it's just more compliant with the conventions of modernist fiction.

The subject folk tale title is "A Story About a Brave Tailor:" "Von einem tapfern Schneider" from the Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. The lazy tailor fashions a suit of armor with "Killed seven with one blow" engraved upon the suit, with which he finds favor as the king's champion.

The internal arc of the tale is a vice-virtue struggle between laziness -- sloth -- and diligence. However, that action is slanted in that the tailor's vice is made virtue. He is outwardly lazy to the end, though diligent in intelligence. He works smart, not hard or lazy.

Folk tale's functions are to inform, caution, adjust, correct, castigate, and control social behavior, socially responsible behavior. The tailor is socially irresponsible at first, though becomes socially responsible while the tale unfolds. His proud hubris and laziness complicate his life, and he wins through in the end on his smarts. He's smart lazy in contemporary idiom expression. The tale approves of smarts that serve a common good, in other words.
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
What's more giving the story a tastefully conventional psychodynamic spin also misses the whole undercurrent of social satire in the original. The story isn't satisfying because the vulgar little tailor is somehow internally elevated; it's satisfying because the doddering old aristocracy is debased by having to accept him.

The king's court is shown to be dumb lazy and jealous -- envy vice -- of the tailor's diligent smarts. The knights and etc., need intelligent and responsible direction to give their contributions value for a common good.
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
In some cases a character who refuses to change personally as circumstances change around him is actually more compelling than a psychologically adaptable one would be. Take Stevens the butler in Ishiguro's *Remains of the Day*. Reversal of fortune in most tragedy (and yes, I do know it's called peripeteia) is almost always a reversal in external fortunes -- an external arc not an internal one.

Transformation best directs from misfortune to fortunate circumstances, or personal growth, internal arc; from good to bad fortunes and likewise internal arc; or bad to worse fortunes and internal arc; not good to still good fortunes or internal arc, which is static action and static character. Not to say that each is parallel, per se; one can go from bad to good external fortunes and good to bad internal arc. Also, one's external fortunes can go from good to bad or vice versa and no change in internal arc. Things become more complex there, though. Is the static moral arc resistance to vice or resistance to virtue? And note that vice and virtue need not be unequivocal. Sloth can be outwardly a vice though in suitable context and texture virtue, as for the folk tale tailor.

Bildungsroman: maturation narrative, is personal growth at proportionate personal cost, for example. Good fortunes diminish while virtues increase.
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Oedipus doesn't have a sudden change of heart towards incest, nor does Macbeth suddenly start thinking for himself. Hamlet, a true student, continues to procrastinate until he's given a hard deadline.

Maybe we read those narratives differently. Oedipus certainly does have a sudden, profound change of heart toward patricide and incest. Macbeth, another area where the revelation -- anagnorisis -- is abrupt and profound. No, Macbeth does not suddenly begin to think consciously, critically, responsibly for himself, only that to his external and moral detriment he allows others to think for him. Prince Hamlet's moral crisis and internal arc resolve around his stolen birthright through his envy, pride, and wrath. The revelation at last comes to him he has committed regicide out of impulsive, foolish youthful arrogance for his own selfish ends.
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
I frankly doubt that you can always draw a clean distinction between an internal arc and an external arc, because you can't always separate a person's internal character from his external circumstances. Becoming a parent changes you in profound ways, but is that internal change or external change? In that case at least it's an artificial dichotomy.

That's the art of congruent external and internal arcs: Are they more appealing if distinctively divisible or distinguishable though indivisible? The latter, I believe, though the former where accessibility without overt preaching matters. Parents, for example, do indeed congruently contend externally and internally. The matter of moral adjustment for an ideal social responsibility outcome lays at the heart of parenthood: parent, partner, and child.
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
So I'm afraid I can't sign onto the notion that an "internal" arc is necessarily a better alternative than an "external" one. An arc which elicits a greater reader emotional response is better than one that elicits a lesser response.

Not either/or; both external and internal arc congruent contests with satisfying, unequivocal, and irrevocable outcomes, noting that an artful internal arc is intangible though accessible and an external one tangible actions.

[ May 02, 2015, 04:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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As to sapience, overtly, that's the arguments of both Fuzzy versions, for sure. Intangibly congruent to that argument, though, is moral aptitude packaged as social-moral responsibility.

The Fuzzies in both represent subjugated innocent, naive, morally needy cultures conquered and justified because they do not hold similar belief and value systems as their conquerors. Colonialism, really, not per se imperialism.

That justification for subjugation has been around a long time, at least as far back as history records, as part and parcel of civilization's rigidly organized hierarchal structure. Innocent and naive sinners need patriarchal moral guidance, as the colonialism belief system justification goes.

The basis of substance for fully realized sapience is and always has been based on moral aptitude. Tragically, resistance to sincerely convert to foreign belief and value systems has been viewed as moral ineptitude and, consequently, justification for according minority social group beings low status in hierarchal social standing. The test of sapience, albeit scratched at the edges of in the Fuzzies, is moral aptitude.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
An interesting discussion to be sure, but to what point?

The point is this: where is fancy bred? In the heart or in the head?

In science fiction, a little bit of both I think.

One of the points of LITTLE FUZZY as science fiction is that we use words like "sapience" or "personhood" without having an adequate definition of them. To be "adequate", a definition would have to entail ALL the things we associate with the word (e.g. property rights, self-determination etc.). This is a very "General Semantics" kind of theme. If we let words drive our actions and we don't have an adequate definition for them, then GS claims our actions can't be regarded as rational or even sane.

This is classic science fiction stuff. A great sci-fi story is always driven by some big idea. It doesn't matter that the author might not be adequately grounded in Western philosophy to mount a serious critique of "Aristotelean Reasoning". The point is that the story invites us to think and feel at the same time.

There is an animal rights group called The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) that is attempting to establish legal personhood rights for chimpanzees. This is the kind of question where most people automatically know their opinion: chimps are not people because they are animals. But humans are animals too, so even if the conclusion of the "chimpanzees are animals" argument is correct, the argument itself doesn't hold water. In principle these NhRP people are raising precisely the question being asked in LITTLE FUZZY: what qualifies an animal for the rights of personhood? The problem is that when we talk about Pan troglodytes we immediately run afoul of our assumptions about what chimps and and cannot do; assumptions that are driven by our confirmation bias one way or the other.

There's really only one way to examine the question of where the rights of personhood come from, and that's with a hypothetical model. Pretty much you're forced into science fiction if you want to really examine the consequences of your ideas on this.

The problem with LITTLE FUZZY as science fiction is that it doesn't work through the problem as rigorously as it ought to. It proposes what it claims to be a workable (and of course very general semantics-y) definition of "sapience", but that definition actually plays no role in the resolution of the story.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The test of sapience, albeit scratched at the edges of in the Fuzzies, is moral aptitude.

This kind of idea is sci-fi gold. It is so compelling, yet raises so many questions. Are psychopaths sapient then? If they cannot be bound by morality, then does morality even apply to them?
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extrinsic
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Psychopaths are socially misadjusted sapients, whose misadjustments mark them as harmful, socially irresponsible outliers. Sapience is to species, less so to individuals: a sapient being may lack sapience altogether and still be numbered among sapients, at least on an off chance an individual might develop suitable sapience qualities at some later time. Whether morality applies to psychopaths is a part of their "value" to society: not applied to them by them, society's responsibilities applied to them and responsibly imposed if must needs be for a common good.

[ May 02, 2015, 04:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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MattLeo: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? spins exactly that question into sci-fi gold. In my opinion, one of the great works of sci-fi that other sci-fi books aspire to be when they grow up.
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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The test of sapience, albeit scratched at the edges of in the Fuzzies, is moral aptitude.

Pardon?

Morals, or morality, are social constructs and are not absolutes. What was considered the height of morality only 300 years ago would get you life in prison today. The most immoral individual human still possesses sapience, as does the psychopath. The mentally impaired, or damaged, however, may or may not, depending on the severity of the injury.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Social constructs are social beings' codes for cooperative coexistence and, of course are not absolute. Cooperation ideals are rarely rigidly abided, more often than not, matters of do as I say, not as I do, even across other social beings of the animal kingdom. Actual practice of social codes ranges between extremes and is situationally dependent, from pure antisocial irresponsibility to pure social responsibility and any proportion in between.

Every test and definition proposed in the Fuzzies is disproven by exceptions, save subjective determinations. Real-world sapience tests and definitions likewise have proven elusively incomplete, too. One test from Piper's Fuzzy is language and independent ability to make fire -- and. Language is now recognized as an ability many social being species possess. Independent ability to make fire stands unique to humanity so far as humanity knows. Piper's novel, though, identifies a nonhuman social species that refuses, is morally unable to make fire as an exception.

Most every other real-world sapience test has likewise fallen to discovered exceptions, save ability to abstractly reason. Two or more degrees of symbolic abstract thought and cognition separation from a tangible, concrete circumstance is unique to human adults aged older than eight or so years old, and is a motif for both Fuzzy novels. Morals as humans recognize them are that degree of abstract cognition and reasoning, in that socially responsible morals are intentional and responsible denial of self-gratifications for an abstract common good.

That what was moral or immoral in the remote or recent past and is today an obverse only illustrates, one, the abstract nature of many human moral values; and, two, that moral impermancy evidences questionable and challengeable moral values in the first place. What was immoral last year could easily be legitimized as moral this year, for example, and be in actuality genuinely moral or immoral, respectively.

Lasting moral values originated long ago and are still with us, though lapses arise. However, the next degree of abstract moral cognition depends upon awareness of right and wrong, regardless of an era's or society's or individual's moral codes. A moral edict, for instance, might proscribe greed as vice, yet wealth accumulation is considered a virtue by many individuals and groups.

Greed is a vice, when socially irresponsible, and destroys the moral values of individuals and whole societies. Do they sleep well anyway? Many are sociopaths; they feel nothing but the drive for more wealth concentration because greed is considered a noble pursuit by variable social groups, usually insider groups. Greed can be a virtue, only when wealth concentration is for a socially responsible common good.

A pursuit of wealth is not in and of itself a disqualifier for sapience; a society-wide acceptance of greed as virtue could be a disqualifier if greed is not open to moral value considerations. Moral aptitude, in other words, is the consideration, is the ability to acknowledge and respect distinctions of right from wrong, is a mark of sapience, and applies to species, not individuals or groups within a social, responsibly cooperative society.

Sentience is another matter, and does apply to individuals, like physically-mentally compromised individuals; sentience being a capacity to sense sensations and suitably respond.

[ May 03, 2015, 12:31 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

Morals, or morality, are social constructs and are not absolutes. What was considered the height of morality only 300 years ago would get you life in prison today. The most immoral individual human still possesses sapience, as does the psychopath. The mentally impaired, or damaged, however, may or may not, depending on the severity of the injury.

Hoo boy, we are so not going to resolve THIS question. Our best bet may be to say what we think in our fiction writing.

For what it's worth, both you and extrinsic may have got different ends of the stick, but I think you've both got a grip on something useful. From a dictionary perspective I agree with how your are using the word "sapience" here. Extrinsic has addressed one the *implications* we conventionally attribute to "sapience" -- certainly one of the implications the story draws from sapience.

In the story animals have personhood rights if and only if they have "sapience". This is supposedly comprised of the abilities to generalize and abstract to an unlimited degree, to symbolize those abstractions and manipulate those symbolizations in order to understand, plan and imagine the future. From a naive standpoint this would seem to imply the capacity for morality, and so it would seem reasonable to consider moral competency and sapience equivalent somehow.

But empirically the existence of psychopaths calls that equivalency into question. So -- does "sapience" confer one set of rights and moral competency another? Should psychopaths be considered first class persons or something less than that? These are provocative questions, and provocative is good.

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Grumpy old guy
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I think part of the confusion comes when writers think that sapience and sentience are the same thing; they are not.

For me, sentience means a creature that understands it is alive and unique; it has a sense of self. Sapience is a philosophical dilemma that I'm not certain I have a solid opinion about. In essence, I am partial to the notion that sapience refers to a sentient being that questions it's own place in the greater scheme of perceived reality.

But I'm still working on that.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
For me, sentience means a creature that understands it is alive and unique; it has a sense of self. Sapience is a philosophical dilemma that I'm not certain I have a solid opinion about. In essence, I am partial to the notion that sapience refers to a sentient being that questions it's own place in the greater scheme of perceived reality.[/QB]

Well you're talking about two different things with different implications; what you call those two things can almost be a distraction.

"Sapience" has a special meaning almost exclusive to science fiction; it's a hypothetical mental quality that confers moral personhood. The dictionary definition of "sapience" is much simpler. It means "wisdom" or "sagacity". "Sentient" means either "responsive to sensory input" or "aware". It's clear that all animals with a reasonably advanced nervous system are in some sense "aware". A squirrel would clearly be sentient, even though it has no conception of itself.

Finding a commonly understood word that means precisely what you need is a challenge when you write about stuff like this. It can be like trying to do eye surgery with a rubber spatula. As far as I can see Piper chose to re-construe "sapience" to fit his needs. It's certainly not a term a modern philosopher or cognitive scientist would use. Today it's nearly exclusively used in sci-fi.

One of the marvelous things about LITTLE FUZZY is how far ahead of its time it was on animal cognition. In the sixties most of what people were taught about animal cognition was conjecture by philosophes. Descartes believed that animals were like mechanical automatons, without any kind of internal mental states. I'm actually old enough to remember scientists scolding people who believed that animals feel pain, accusing them of "anthropomorphizing". Today we've got a lot more scientific data on animal physiology and behavior, so a question about animal cognition would provoke a response that sounds an awful lot like the speeches in the LITTLE FUZZY trial scene.

FUZZY NATION is not nearly so interesting in this regard; it's not a "big idea" book at all.

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