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This was a short story or novella I read in the 1980s when I was a teenager. I read this in the United States. I'm guessing the story was written in the 1970s. I think I read this as part of a paperback anthology, probably a "Best of <author>" or "Best of <year>" collection. (I only say that because I remember my family had a lot of those "best of" anthologies around the house at that time, most of them from the 1970s, and most of the other science fiction I read at the time was from a small number of favorite authors. It definitely wasn't written by one of my favorite authors, because I would have remembered who wrote it if it was.) The story was written in the manner of a historical account, with the main focus on descriptions of events. There was comparatively little dialog or character development.

The story was about a single amoeba-like creature that was so huge its body filled all of the oceans of its planet. It was the only living thing on the planet. It was discovered by a lone man whose spacecraft crashed there. The creature was highly intelligent, and was able to communicate telepathically with the human. It quickly became clear that the creature had never had contact with another intelligent being before. It was very friendly, but it had very little knowledge of much of anything, because it had lived in isolation all its life. By reading the man's mind, it was able to learn how to utilize new technologies very quickly. It was able to create anything the man asked for by reading his mind and building the machinery that was needed. It eventually started coming up with new technologies on its own.

When the human government found out about this creature, they were worried it might learn so much technology it could become a threat to humanity. They decided to keep the creature strictly quarantined to limit how much it could learn. No human beings were allowed near the planet, except for two caretakers who were assigned to live on the planet and keep an eye on the creature. To limit how much the creature could learn from them, only caretakers with very low IQ scores were eligible for the job.

Because the human caretakers weren't very bright, they constantly made unreasonable demands of the creature, forcing it to be inventive and come up with clever ideas. For example, they wanted the creature to change the weather of the whole planet so it never rains anywhere (because they didn't like getting wet on rainy days), so the creature figured out a way to move all of the moisture on the planet into a vast, complex system of underground pipes and reservoirs. There were many other such demands. The creature continued to learn new technologies even more rapidly than before, but now it no longer needed to read human minds.

Eventually the human government decided the creature was too much of a threat. They decided to send a fleet to destroy the entire planet, and the creature with it. But when the fleet got there, the entire planet was gone. The creature had anticipated this event, and had found a way to escape along with its planet. To this day, nobody knows where it went.

What is the title of this story, and who wrote it?

Additional note:

This was not Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, or a sequel / prequel to it. While there are certainly many parallels, the planet-wide being in my story was much less mysterious than the one in Solaris. It was communicative and eager to please. It happily created food, shelter, machinery or anything else that any human asked for. From the point of view of the human caretakers, an assignment to this planet was a vacation in paradise. There was no mention of it creating mysterious copies of people. The creature was able to read people's thoughts, but it only used this knowledge to create things in a conventional manner (e.g. by refining raw materials into metals, using those metals to build machinery, using that machinery to build more advanced machinery, etc.)

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  • Do you remember the condition of the book? Was it printed much older, or around that time? Maybe it was part of a collection of short stories? Where did you read it/ how old were you? Where did you find the book?
    – Afez
    Nov 11, 2018 at 3:38
  • @Afez - I added the answers to some of your questions (as many as I can remember) to the first paragraph of the post. Unfortunately, I cannot remember much about the book itself or what condition it was in, but circumstantial evidence suggests it may have been a "best of" collection of some sort, probably a paperback, probably between 5 and 15 years old at the time (which would put the publication date somewhere in the 1970s) I only say that because I was reading a lot of books that fit that description at the time. Nov 11, 2018 at 4:40
  • This is the prequel to "Solaris".... Nov 11, 2018 at 13:12
  • @DavidTonhofer - I'm pretty sure this was not related to Solaris. I have added more information to the post. Nov 11, 2018 at 22:13
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    @DavidTonhofer Sorry. I'm embarrassed now, because I didn't get the joke. Humor often doesn't communicate well on the net. My jokes backfire on sites like this. We've all been there, done that. So don't feel bad.
    – a4android
    Aug 4, 2019 at 9:23

1 Answer 1

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This is almost certainly The Lonely Planet, by Murray Leinster. Originally published in 1949 and included in the anthology The Best of Murray Leinster in 1978 (Del Rey/Ballantine, ISBN 0-345-25800-2).

The report stated that the planet was covered by a single creature, which was definitely one creature and definitely alive. The ordinary distinction between animal and vegetable life did not apply to Alyx. It was cellular, to be sure, and therefore presumably could divide, but it had not been observed to do so. Its parts were not independent members of a colony, like coral polyps. They constituted one creature, which was at once utterly simple and infinitely diverse.

....

Alyx no longer required supervision. Its consciousness had become intelligence. Until the coming of men, it had known warmth and cold and light and dark and wetness and dryness. But it had not known thought, had had no conception of purpose beyond existence and feeding. But three centuries of mankind had given it more than commands. Alyx had perceived their commands: yes. And it obeyed them. But it had also perceived thoughts which were not orders at all. It had acquired the memories of men and the knowledge of men. It had not the desires of men, to be sure. The ambition of men to possess money must have puzzled a creature which possessed a planet. But the experience of thought was pleasurable. Alyx, which covered a world, leisurely absorbed the knowledge and the thoughts and the experiences of men—six at a time—in the generations which lived at the one small station on its surface.

....

From this time on, the six men were chosen on a new basis. Those selected had no technical education whatever and a very low intelligence. They were stupid enough to believe they were to govern Alyx. The idea was to give Alyx no more information which could make it dangerous. Since it had to have company, it was provided with humans who would be company and nothing else. Certainly Alyx was not to have instructors.

....

But by the time Alyx had been inhabitated for four hundred years it had received moronic orders that the occasional thunderstorms which beat upon the station must be stopped. Intelligent men would have given no such orders. But men chosen for their stupidity could see no reason why they should not demand anything they wanted. To obey them, Alyx reflected and devised gigantic reservoirs within its mass, and contrived pumping devices which circulated water all through its colossal body just where and as it was required. After a while there were no more clouds in the atmosphere of Alyx. They were not needed. Alyx could do without rain.

....

Alyx had to be killed, because it was more intelligent than men. It was wiser than men. It could do things men could not do. To be sure, it had served mankind for five hundred years.

....

It was. The silver screen around Alyx had been back in position for less than an hour when, quite suddenly, every ship of the war fleet found itself in total blackness. Alyx’s sun was obliterated. There were no stars. Alyx itself had vanished.

The detectors screamed of imminent collision on every hand. Each ship was neatly enclosed in a silvery shell, some miles in diameter, which it could not pierce by any beam or explosive, which it could not ram, and through which it could send no message.

For a full half hour these shells held the fleet helpless. Then they vanished, and the sun of Alyx blazed forth, with all the myriads of other suns which shine in emptiness. But that is what they shone on—emptiness. Alyx had disappeared

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    Could you edit to explain how this matches? See this guide for some help.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 30, 2018 at 10:10
  • This is definitely the one. It looks like I mis-remembered a lot of details, but the important parts are all there. And I did have access to a paperback copy of The Best of Murray Leinster at the time. Nov 30, 2018 at 23:17

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