As a kid I was greatly influenced by a book where a girl (I believe her name was Marlena) lived in a ship orbiting an alien planet. The ship was intended to colonize the planet but the humans had encountered difficulty. People on the surface early on had gone incurably mad. The planet was covered with single cell organism, but no other life. Other than the "bacteria" it was sterile.

The girl, along with most of the colonists, was still living on the orbiting ship for the foreseeable future. The girl had an uncanny knack of reading people's minds by noting minute changes in behavior and body language, kind of like Sherlock Holmes' famous observations. Eventually she got a chance to go to the surface, and found the planet trying to communicate with her. In one memorable scene the swirls in the water of a stream formed a face and started trying to call her name, "Eeeena, Aaleeena, Aarleena, Marlena!"

It turns out that the single celled organisms on the planet comprised a hive mind which had tried to communicate telepathically with previous humans by altering their brains slightly, causing the madness. The girls's brain was different, however, constantly modifying and changing itself so that it was not damaged by the hive mind's attempts to communicate with it.


2 Answers 2


It looks like Isaac Asimov's Nemesis is it.

Cover of "Nemesis" by Isaac Asimov

Here's the scene with the face in the water (ch. 33 - Mind):

She was staring at the creek, and she suddenly realized that while she had been communicating with the voice in her mind, the creek had been the only thing she had been sensing. She had not been aware of anything else around her. It was as though her mind had enclosed itself, in order to make it more sensitive to the one thing that had filled it.

And now the veil lifted. The water was moving along the rocks, bubbling over them, swirling in a small eddy in a space marked off by several of those bubbles. The small bubbles turned and broke, even as new ones formed, setting up a pattern that, in essence, didn’t change, and in fine detail was never repeated.

Then, one by one, the bubbles broke noiselessly and the water was flat and featureless, but still turned. How could she see it turn if it were featureless? Because it glistened very slightly in the pink light of Nemesis. It turned and she could see it turn because the shimmers formed arcs that spiraled as they turned and coalesced. Her eyes were caught in it, slowly following the turns as they collected into the caricature of a face, two dark holes for eyes, a slash for a mouth.

It grew sharper, as she watched, fascinated.

And it took on definition and became a face, staring up at her with empty eyes, yet real enough to recognize.

It was the face of Aurinel Pampas.

The rest of your description checks out as well - main character named Marlene, with a highly adaptable brain. Otherwise-barren planet covered with "bacterial" life. Colonists going insane due to the hive-mind bacteria trying to communicate - all there.


There’s also Robert Heinlein’s “little people” in Methuslah’s children, a hive race which communicates telepathically.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. This question already has an accepted answer, which means you should only post a new answer if you think you can demonstrate that you've found a better answer to the question. You need to show that your suggestion matches all the details of the question (e.g. a little girl named Marlena) at least as well as the existing answer.
    – DavidW
    Nov 6, 2023 at 23:48

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