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I know this is a very long shot, but for years I've been trying to ID a sci-fi novel, quite likely the first I ever read.

  1. Published pre-1982. Fairly short paperback, like an old Tor novel. Novella? Single story, not part of anthology.
  2. A group of space travellers (likely human) come to visit (crash on?) a planet.
  3. Discover planet was previously inhabited. I believe they find an old road.
  4. Road leads to a city.
  5. I think the city was inhabited by an alien race or a regressed human race. I vaguely remember they are apelike (no, not Planet of the Apes!), possibly lizard-like.
  6. Conflict of course.
  7. I seem to remember there was another, old spaceship that was discovered.
  8. I think the cover showed a rocket, the road and perhaps the city in background. But that could be a figment.

I know, super, super vague. I wish I could provide more, sorry. Thanks.

2 Answers 2

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This could be Star Rangers (also known as The Last Planet) by Andre Norton, originally from 1953. It's a short book. It's been decades since I read it; I'm going by the Wikipedia synopsis here.

A scoutship of the Stellar Patrol crashes on a mostly-uninhabited planet. The crew includes reptile- and bird-like people. The survivors meet up with the survivors of another wrecked spaceship, who have inhabited an abandoned city. There's definitely conflict, a rebellion and some psychic combat. There's mention in the synopsis of natives, so I guess some of the original inhabitants were still around.

Could this be the cover you remember?

The Last Planet cover

This is the cover of the version I have from the early 80s:

Star Rangers cover

And this may be the cover @R.Hamper remembers:

Three rangers and hiding robot cover

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    Also my immediate thought. May 31, 2021 at 10:27
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    Holy cow! That's it!! You and @DavidW nailed it and so fast! I've been thinking about that book on and off for years and basically given up hope that I'd ever identify it. I just stumbled across this site last night and I figured, what the heck, give it a try.
    – R.Hamper
    May 31, 2021 at 16:09
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    Apparently I only have a short time to edit, so this is a continuation. Thank you, thank you!! Not sure how the reward system works on this site, but I've up voted you all. Neither cover is the one I remember, I seem to recall a simpler, day time landscape, but who knows. :) Now that I know the title, I'll scour the Internet for it!
    – R.Hamper
    May 31, 2021 at 16:21
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    I found the cover!! Unfortunately, I don't seem to have enough authority yet to link images, but it is the one with the three "Rangers" and a hidden robot. Perhaps one of you could link it? So, the elements of my memory were there: the ship, the road and the city. How i missed the robot I don't know. Like some cover art, there may have been some license with the image, because I'm not sure there was a robot in the book. I do remember that my young self had some dissonance with the cover and perhaps that was it.
    – R.Hamper
    May 31, 2021 at 17:00
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    So, on top of it all, while searching for the cover art, I stumbled across a sci-fi fantasy blog run by a person who had the same book in their junior high school library, at nearly the same time in the SAME province!!! Our entire province has less than a million people. Apparently they spent a long time tracking down this book too. Wild.
    – R.Hamper
    May 31, 2021 at 17:16
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I wonder if you're remembering Andre Norton's Star Rangers (also released as The Last Planet). It was originally published in 1953, but had several reprintings in the 1960s and 1970s.

The mixed-species, but predominantly human crew of a Stellar Patrol ship are stranded on an uncharted planet when their old, insufficiently supplied spaceship crashes. They find a road buried in the sand that leads to a city where survivors of another crash are under the control of a projective telepath. Again, these are mostly human, but there are also some reptilian-type Zacathians.

The telepath is defeated, freeing those in thrall to him, so he takes off and tries to enslave a group of natives. The natives are very human-like, but slightly different; I don't think they were described as devolved or apelike though.

They didn't discover another spaceship, but they did find the original hall of leave-taking, and they were able to guide in another ship load of refugees from the collapse of the empire.

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  • It is!! Wow! and thanks to you and @LAK! Amazing. See comments above. I can't swear it is the very first sci-fi I ever read, but likely that it is and it is definitely the earliest I remember. Makes sense that it was an Andre Norton book too, as I was getting into fantasy and D&D at the time. So stoked! I'm going to track that book down and get a copy! Again, many thanks for extracting that memory worm!
    – R.Hamper
    May 31, 2021 at 16:30
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    PS Since that was so successful, I'm going to ask about an old fantasy novel next. Keep an eye out! :)
    – R.Hamper
    May 31, 2021 at 16:33

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