All Judgment Fled by James White (1968)
This week's contribution to Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books is a "first contact" science fiction novel by Irish writer James White, who began writing science fiction in the 1950s. White's most popular contribution to science fiction was his "Sector General" stories and novels, about a large hospital in space which is staffed by many races, including humans. White's non-series stories are also worth-while, displaying an inventiveness ground by realistic characters.
In All Judgment Fled, a large spaceship has taken up orbit just beyond Mars, but making no effort to communicate. Russia has spent her capitol on a Venus expedition, leaving the United States the only country to send rockets to investigate. Two small modules are sent -- Prometheus 1 and Prometheus 2 -- each with a three-man crew. Among the P-2 crew is McCullough, a psychiatrist and the only medical man among the six astronauts. McCullough must temper his own feelings and fears as he works to reduce tensions among the men in both modules, including one case of full-blown psychosis.
The problems do not stop when they reach the spaceship, a large half-mile torpedo-shaped object, with turrets two rings of transparent domes circling it. The domes, it is decided, must be means of entrance to the ship. With no response from the ship to their signals, the P-2 crew enter the ship where they are attacked by a large starfish-shaped creature which manages to slice open one of the crew's space suit. With no spare space suits, McCullough must "jump" to the P-1 module to borrow one their suits in order to take the injured man back to his module.
On the next trip to the mystery ship, they encounter three distinct life forms, are attacked again by the starfich creatures and kill one of them in self-defense. McCullough takes the alien body back to his module for dissection, not knowing that Earth authorities were broadcasting every word said aboard the alien ship to the whole planet. The broadcasts, meant as a public relations ploy to garner support and funding for the space program, ignites a torrent of opposition when it is discovered that Earthlings have killed a supposedly sentient alien. The political firestorm grows when it is discovered that McCullough autopsied the body.
Efforts to communicate with the various aliens continue, but how does one communicate with something truly alien, especially when one of the alien races seems hell-bent on killing you? The crew's orders from Earth become contradictory, changing with the rapidly moving political winds. Two members of the crew are killed; while three more suits are destroyed, forcing two of the crew to remain on the alien ship. The limited supplies of food and water on the two modules are waning, making a return trip to earth possible. The question now becomes a matter of survival, as well as a matter of communication.
All Judgment Fled presents a vivid and inventive story with engaging characters stretched to their physical and mental limits. Recommended.