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Enjoyed this book, but can't recall title. Collection of planets connected by ways. Travel on ways need elephant-like animals that are hitched to train cars with basic vacuum engineering. Plot was like a detective story. Main character was from outside of connected planets, but was marooned. AFAIK, was a one-off first novel, but seemed really polished writing, so maybe written under a pen name.

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  • Hi, welcome to the site. In roughly which year (or range of years) did you read this, and when do you think it might've been published? Also, do you recall anything about the cover? Jun 22 at 5:40

1 Answer 1

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I think this is probably The Shadow of the Ship, by Robert Wilfred Franson. He published a chapbook version in 1976, but it's more likely that you read the 1983 mass market paperback.

Cover

The animals pulling the train cars are called "squeakers" or "waybeasts", who travel along trails on a black surface, called the "meadow":

At this point in the venture the trail was an eerie, misty blue with an elfin inner glow, its gentle curve revealing the forward cars of the Special Caravan. Small in the distance ahead were the forty teams of giant squeakers, the plodding draft behemoths which drew uncomplainingly a few men and their works between places where there are worlds. In the lonesome illumination of the forward gas spotlight, these waybeasts were huge clots of golden hair, thick legs pumping slowly, with here and there a gleam of ivory tusk.

...

The squeakers would not leave the trails, but no means other than the squeakers could pull a train of cars on the meadow. The great creatures projected a mentational field, as yet unanalyzable in the Nation, that buoyed the merely material. ...

The protagonist, Hendrik Eiverdein Rheinallt, is from another culture (Earth's) which can build starships, but has been stranded in the trail-travelling civilization. A rumored starship brings him on an expedition to find it:
... Of the whole complement of the caravan, passengers and crew, only he and Arahant had ever seen a true starship before, a vehicle which could traverse the meadow without benefit of trails, or of squeakers to pull it through breakpoint. ...

...

... However, given a moderately malfunctioning ship; the resources of the Trails culture, particularly of the burgeoning engineers of the Nation; and himself to mate them properly—this combination might do wonders for his and Arahant's stranded situation...

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  • Thanks for the warning! I'll take care to pass over it if I see it in a thrift shop. Jun 22 at 7:50
  • Thanks. That's the one!
    – Qwertyuiop
    Jun 24 at 3:35

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