I've been looking at the guides to posting a good question, but I really can only remember this one scene from a sci-fi book. I read it sometime between 1995 and 2010. It was a U.K. library book.

The plot: A woman is involved with making contact with aliens on a far distant world. I can't recall if she was ship crew or an independent scientist, but I think she was often arguing with other humans.

She is in conversation with the aliens (no description, sorry), and they pull some kind of test on her. They suddenly reveal they have both mind reading and teleportation.

She is astounded to find herself hanging several feet above a pool of bubbling lava in a pit. Her frail old dad from Earth has appeared and is hanging there in shock also. The aliens tell her she has to choose him or her; she instantly let's go and drops into the lava. As she enters she is instantaneously teleported away to hospital where she is screaming in agony. Afterwards, she has several weeks of emergency burn treatment and skin grafts.

Finally able to move, she returns to alien world and resumes discussions, confident in her ability to strike some rapport.

An hour later the same scenario suddenly happens again, and again she drops right away into the lava to save her aged dad. Again she's in horrible agony in the burns unit.

That's it, all I've got. I hope it rings familiar.

Edit/update (just remembered) After recuperating from the burns unit she once again journeys to the distant planet. Maybe she likes the pain? This time she establishes proper communication with the aliens and proves some mysterious point. I still can't think of anything else

  • 2
    These aliens are seriously ethically challenged. May 29, 2021 at 9:10

1 Answer 1


I think this is Joe Haldeman's "Worlds Enough and Time", the final book in his "Worlds" trilogy.

The darkness snapped off and I was blinded by a brilliant yellow glare from below. Gravity dragged me down and I clamped the rope between foot and ankle, wrapped it around a wrist. I swung wildly, sneezed, and coughed. The atmosphere was smoky, sulfurous with a tinge of chlorine or something.

Ten meters below me bubbled a river of molten rock, so hot it ran like syrup, bright yellow with scabs of black shot through with red.

The pain on my bare soles was terrible; I could feel the skin burning, blisters swelling.

Sandra swung a few meters away, shrieking incoherently, a similar rope binding her wrists together. Younger and stronger, she pulled herself up into a gymnast’s ball, to get as much of her as far from the heat as possible, but her naked back and buttocks were angry red, blistering as I watched. Her hair started to smoke.

Hang on for twenty seconds and you will be spared. But your daughter will drop to her death. Let go and your daughter will live.

In the novel, the second incident takes place a couple of years after the first ordeal, as that is how long it takes the protagonist to be healed.

  • 3
    Wow, I didn't remember this in that book at all. But I think you nailed it. The 2nd time it's not her dad, but her older mentor/lover. This also reminds me why I quit reading Haldeman around this time. May 30, 2021 at 19:24
  • 1
    Ditto the comments by Organic Marble
    – Danny Mc G
    May 31, 2021 at 2:07

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