Humans in a spaceship orbiting an alien planet have a machine that they can hook their heads up to that lets them take telepathic control (and receive the senses of) of massive (I think at least something like Rhinoceros-size) six-legged leonine creatures on the planet below. Not direct muscle control -- the creature just feels an intense desire to go in the direction the orbiting human in the headset wants it to go. The main human character, stays in daily contact with one creature over a few weeks. The main character gradually realizes through the link that the creature being coerced to travel to a coast (far outside of its usual hunting range) is actually intelligent.

The feline-like aliens don't see with eyes, instead having IR-sensing plates, I think perhaps due to a perpetually darkly overcast atmosphere.

At the end the main chracter actually meets the creature in person, I think (a shuttle touches down on the coast). I don't remember why the humans were there -- research? Maybe prospecting for resources? The planet was not remotely hospitable to humans -- I think it was either too dense, too hot, wrong gas mix, or some combination.

I had a copy of the paperback book that someone gave me, that was missing the front cover (maybe they got it from a book store's discards that are supposed to be pulped), but on the back was a picture of the snarling or roaring face of one of the creatures, black-furred like a panther. I think it was a gray- or silver-background cover.

This book would probably have been from the 1990s or 1980s.


I think I may have found my own answer to a question of mine again. While looking through other threads, hoping to find some question I could answer for anyone else, I came across "Short story from decades ago: The premise​ is a precursor to the movie "Avatar"" and a comment mentioning Winds of Altair by Ben Bova rang a bell. Sure enough, the panther-ish head on the front cover of https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/isbn/0523485832/ looks like what I remember from the back cover


Jacob has answered his own question, but for the record the first few chapters of The Winds of Altair are available on the Baen web site. This confirms that the aliens, Wolfcats, have six legs:

He (the Wolfcat) rose from his sitting position, up onto all six legs, his claws digging into the grassy soil.

And in chapter 2 we find the reference to the infrared sensors:

"I understand. But he did make firm contact. All the sensory inputs came through? Even visual?"
"Yes," Carbo replied.
"Then the animals aren't blind, after all."
"Those scaly-looking areas across the top of the head are infrared receptors. We knew that. Apparently they have a visual cortex and can see in the infrared wavelengths, where we can't."

  • Shouldn't this just have been edited into the accepted answer, as additional info? – Alex M Oct 30 '19 at 0:00

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