I first stumbled upon this title years ago when I picked up a copy of "Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials" and the concept intrigued me. I picked up the book but only made it half way through before losing my copy of it. I had forgotten about it until I found out that Amazon recently aquired the rights to sell this as a kindle version and I picked it up right away.
Joseph Green is a master at creating new worlds and bizzare new creatures. The book is full of wonderful descriptions of new planets and the creatures that inhabit those worlds. Some of the worlds may, today, seem a little cliched, but you have to remember this book was written over 40 years ago, and while some things are a bit cliched it still holds up. While some of the creatures Green creates are quite fantastical, he grounds his descriptions in very believable biology, making the reader believe that such creatures could possibly exist.
The plot revolves around Allen Odegaard whose job it is to travel to newly colonized worlds to determine if the native creatures are "intelligent" or are well on their way to developing intelligence. If intelligent creatures are discovered the planet becomes off limits to colonization. Of course, back on Earth this creates much political tension between the parties that feel this is the right thing to do and other parties that believe in the "might is right" mentality. This puts Odegaard in a few hairy situations as numerous attempts are made on his life in order to stop him, and others in his profession, from doing their jobs. Along the way we travel to numerous worlds and meet an array of of fantastic creatures, all brillantly brought to life.
I truly enjoyed this book and wish I could give 5 stars but there are 2 flaws, with the narrative that I just can't forgive. The first is the Elemental that Odegaard meets after an attempted assassination plot leaves him wounded and close to death. In a book that takes such great care to describe alien creatures in a very biological way it is jarring to be introduced to such a "god like" being that transcends space and time and seems more at home in a fantasy novel than in a sci fi novel. The second issue is with the final part of the book, which takes place on Earth, in which the hero (Odegaard) suddenly comes face to face with Bigfoot. This whole last scene, while well written, just seemed so out of place in this book. And one has to question, on a planet Earth that is suffering from such overcrowding how does a creature like that go undetected. Yes, I know, when reading sci fi you often have to suspend belief to an extent, but this just seemed to be asking a bit much of the reader.
Overall though, I love this book and any true fan of the genre should pick this up. It's a quick read and is sure to not disappoint.