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Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey by Ardath Mayhar
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Ace Books in the early 80's had every desire to continue the Fuzzy stories into a long-running series, but Ardath Mayhar's Golden Dream — originally released in trade paperback back when that format was almost the same special treatment as hardcover — was the last. Possibly the discovery and 1983 publication of H. Beam Piper's long-lost Fuzzies and Other People put paid to those plans. A shame, really, as William Tuning took the saga in a far more satisfying direction in Fuzzy Bones, I thought.

Mayhar's story takes its cues from Tuning's work, particularly the notion that the Fuzzies were not in fact indegines of the Beta continent of Zarathustra, but the descendents of doomed spacefarers who had crashed and gone native generations before. The first hundred or so pages of Golden Dream are simply marvelous, as Mayhar takes an even more anthropological approach and builds upon the Fuzzies' language and societal and family structures. The eldest among them, represented by Stargazer, attempt to keep alive knowledge of the Fuzzies' origins, with the hopeful prophecy that one day, help from the stars will come and usher them home. This will come true, as everyone who's read all the other books knows...just not in the way they anticipate.

The valley where the Fuzzies have made their home is suffering extended drought and climate change. Many clans try to leave and settle where it is hoped there will be more water and better game, particularly the land-prawns whose meat the Fuzzies especially love. Most of these pilgrimages end in disaster. Mayhar spares readers nothing in depicting the hardships the dwindling families suffer on their treks through hostile wilderness, bestowing upon the little creatures the full noble savage treatment. It is certainly in stark contrast to Piper's own increasingly sentimental (sometimes to the point of mawkishness) portrayal of them in his later stories.

Unfortunately, Golden Dream's entire second half consists of what is essentially a scene-for-scene rewrite of Little Fuzzy, this time with the Fuzzies as viewpoint characters. While Mayhar's way of getting into the little creatures' heads and offering us their perspective on their first contact with the tall, strange furless "Hagga" is charming, the fact remains that, in retreading trodden ground, Golden Dream loses virtually all its dramatic conflict as we already know how this part of the story resolves. It's possible that this book, and not Little Fuzzy, was some readers' first exposure to the Fuzzyverse. But with Little Fuzzy a perpetually reprinted, Hugo-nominated classic, that's most likely a tiny minority of readers.

Though her epilogue hints at an idea for a sequel that was never to be, Ardath Mayhar deserves kudos for her excellent fleshing out of what Piper and Tuning had already established. But she never moves the overall saga forward. This is one of those Golden Dreams from which, frustratingly, you wake up too early.