Paste up novel based on four older short stories with some new material tacked on. They all involve Allan Odegaard. He has five masters degrees and that qualifies him as a member of the Practical Philosopher Corps. He and the rare few that have the same qualifications go through the worlds in the galaxy and judge if the native life is intelligent. If so, no colonization. The Earth party the New Romans aren’t happy with the loss of business. Allan’s title is Conscience.
The book starts with “The Decision Makers” (1965). Allan is on the planet Sister. It’s almost a carbon copy of Earth. The plan is to bring up a land mass they call Atlantis from under the ocean. The goal is to terraform it for commercial use. Earth is running short of uranium and there’s a lot of it underwater.
The native life in the sea resemble seals. They come ashore using sling shot type weapons and spears to attack the humans. Allan goes underwater to meet with the Decision-Maker. He discovers they are a group intelligence instead of individual intelligence. They communicate by telepathy. Allan has to make a decision of his own.
Next up is “The Shamblers Of Misery” (1969). A spice corporation uses a native life form as a work force to pick spices for them. The natives are named shamblers because of the way they walk. They’re controlled by a drug. One exception is Tes. She’s kept around to do small chores.
Allan has to decide how to declare them. They’re intelligence is higher as children but then after mating their progress stops their intelligence takes a nose dive. When he finds out the cause then he’ll make his decision.
Next incorporated story is 1971’s “The Cryer Of Crystal.” The planet Crystal is so named because instead of carbon all life is silicon based. The planet doesn’t have a moon. During the day special goggles have to be worn because of the reflections from plants,animals and everything else. You can only get the full impact at night and that’s only for a short time before your eyes are permanently effected.
One night in the jungle Allan is almost attacked by an animal. The beast realizes that Allan isn’t good eating and backs off. A voice is heard saying “Leave Us.” Turns out it’s coming from a plant. Allan sets up a microphone and speaker and gets the plant to communicate. It’s known as Unity.
The plants have roots that all connect. The humans have been mining silver and that’s put up a barrier effecting the plants. A group representing the New Romans arrives. Allen shows them the plant and they listen to it speak. Just before leaving for Earth the head of the group tells Allan he probably had someone hiding in the jungle to pretend the plant could talk and that the whole thing was a hoax. When they get back to Earth they’re going to take a vote to disband the Practical Philosopher Corps.
Allan gets Unity to create a smaller plant that Allan can take back to Earth with him. The night before the trial someone steals the plant. Allen gets security and they tear through the hotel to find it. When they do Allan heads for the trial. He has to convince them all that it really is a talking, intelligent plant.
A year goes by and Allan has been promoted to Section Chief. He’s sent to Beauty from the 1971 story “The Butterflies Of Beauty.” Here he has to determine if the giant butterflies are intelligent.
Now the newer material kicks in. He’s on the planet Zwergwelt populated by dwarfs. He’s captured by a small group that called themselves the Safeguard Squad. They’re renegades from the Space Patrol that are supposed to be security for the Practical Philosophers. They demand he justify his past decisions and put him on trial right then and there. He’s forced to sign an agreement which will be sent to Earth. It doesn’t mean anything because he can always rescind it. That’s when the first lasar beam contacts him. He manages a narrow escape.
When he wakes up he sees a clay statue with nine arms has come to life. It has the voice on an old college friend named Clay. Dream or not Allan finds out a lot of things including what he should do with his future.
The last section finds Allan back on Earth in Geneva. There’s an important election coming up. What ever the future holds for him means nothing if he can’t avoid all these attempts to kill him. A lot of this section reads like a pulp crime novel. Green never wrote any of those but it might have been interesting to see how he would have done in the field. The problem with this section is the character he introduces to the story. It would have been a lot better without Bigfoot. Still it doesn’t sink the novel.
The book is entertaining. If you’ve never heard of Green this is a good place to get acquainted.