Alton’s Unguessable – Jeff Sutton (1970)
‘BEWARE THE ONE-OF-A-KIND WORLD
To the crew of the exploratory vessel Alpha Tauri, Krado 1 was a planetary paradise waiting to be taken. But had nature gone wild? Was evolution non-existent there? No one could understand why, of all the forms of life that might have populated Krado 1, only one species of bird and one species of rodent existed.
The explorers could not have known what lurked behind the thousands of bright, beady eyes… what manifested itself to the telepath Roger Keim as a soundless roar in the corridors of his mind… what was waiting to be released…’
Blurb from the 1970 76096 Ace Doubles paperback edition
This is a very workmanlike variation on the ‘alien loose on the ship’ story, with echoes of Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There’ and van Vogt’s ‘Black Destroyer’
An exploratory vessel of The Empire, Alpha Tauri, lands on an uncharted habitable world. Apart from vegetation, the planet seems empty of life apart from one species of bird and one species of rodent. The T-man (telepath), Keim, becomes increasingly nervous as he is hearing a constant roar of mental static.
This is because a castaway is already on the planet. Its name is Uli, a virtually immortal being from the edge of the galaxy, and the last survivor of nine who set out to escape an apocalypse in their region of space.
Uli – a small egg shaped beast with an eye at one end – has the power to project portions of his being into other creatures, such as the birds and the rodents. His plan is to infect the crew one by one, and to use the ship to take him back to the Empire of the humans where he can begin his conquest of the galaxy.
There’s a definite van Vogt-ian influence here. The mysterious ‘Empire’ is mentioned in passing but we are given scant details. Keim is the paradigm of a van Vogt hero, logical and alienated from his peers, but who is eventually proven right.
Keim is helped in his battle by Lara, a young crew member who has had to admit her own burgeoning telepathic powers.
The major flaw in the structure is that Uli is revealed and explained to the reader immediately in a massive bit of info-dumping which is, one would think, unnecessary.
There is an exciting ‘battle of wits’ denouement in which Keim and Uli both push their powers of cunning to the limit in order to destroy the other.