For the past few days I've been enjoying Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper, courtesy of the fine folks at Project Gutenberg. This novel won a Hugo in 1961, and retains its relevance today. I've been meaning to read this since I was a teenager, just never quite got to it, and am glad I finally did.
"Papa" Jack Holloway is a prospector on Zarathustra, operated by a company with a sole concession. Environmental changes brought on by massive wetland draining drive a migration of cute, smart creatures he calls "fuzzies" into his claim. The fuzzies seem to be sapient--which would cause the company's charter to be revoked. So of course they fight it.
The story seems somewhat naive in its faith in government to do the right thing--if the story had been written now it would be quite a bit darker. But it works through several grand themes in SF, including definition of what it means to be a thinking being and the necessity of doing justice to the less powerful. One can see the echoes later in Star Trek, where Captain Kirk and the rest of the Federation agents attempt to do the right thing by the beings they find. David Brin's Uplift Series works this theme as well, in a harsher reality but with the same faith in justice triumphing in the end.
Definitely worth going back for this one. 3 stars