The Living World was written by E. C. Tubb under his alias Carl Maddox and published by C. Arthur Pearson (1954) via the Tit-Bits Science Fiction Library series. The cover illustration by Ron Turner features a space-suited man, firing a beam into the planet’s surface while gaping in fright as the very surface expands outward and seems to be reaching up and toward him in a menacing manner. It’s a gorgeous work of art and one I imagine readily gripped potential reader’s with awe.
The tale opens with ship captain Rex Tendris arriving at the planet Deneb IV to attend the Auctions, a flesh-for-sale event. He is disgusted by this but is searching for an old friend, Carl Stanert (a spaceship engineer skilled in the tending of Hyper-Drive engines) whom he knows has been captured and is to be offered for sale at the auction. While on the planet, Rex befriends a young officer (Stef Carson); he invites Rex to share his accommodation.
Attending the Auctions, the engineer he seeks comes up on the auction-block and Rex Tendris gets into a minor bidding war and wins Carl Stanert. He in turn asks Rex if he has any additional funds, to which Rex acknowledges he does. Carl asks Rex access to those funds to purchase a decrepit old wizened man.
Getting into a heated auction with Bronson, an evil space man possessing immense wealth, Bronson relents and permits the pair to win the professor. Rex’s funds are now wholly spent.
Rex Tendris, Carl Stanert, Stef Carson, and Professor Whitney depart the Auctions and Carl explains that the professor has discovered the whereabouts of the Cradle. The Cradle refers to an ancient alien civilization that once colonized the galaxies. The remains of their long-since abandoned worlds have been discovered and explored by humanity. Humans desire to locate the home world of this lost race, along with the preciously rare metal urillium used on those worlds.
Rex is in disbelief, but after they attempt to coax the coordinates from the professor, someone outside the room fires a deadly shot. That shot was meant for Rex, but the professor catches the murderous shot himself. With his last dying breath, the professor writes the coordinates on the ground with his blood.
The information is valuable but useless to Rex Tendris. He hasn’t funds to refuel or rebuild his broken vessel of a ship, but Stef volunteers his own saved funds. He has dreamed of the romantic stars and exploring them. Rex attempts to dissuade him, that the world afar is not just glamor and riches. Stef is undeterred, so Rex accepts and Stef becomes a ready member of the venture, to split the proceeds equally among themselves. Assuming they survive.
Rapidly departing the planet, Rex orders Carl to get the hyper-drive functional. He is certain Bronson will stop at nothing to get the coordinates or blast them out of space; Bronson may well not require the coordinates from them, if he was able to decipher the bloody marks left by the professor on the ground.
Bronson’s ship approaches and opens fire. Rex’s ship only has one turret against Bronson’s trio, and Rex’s turret is inaccurate. Carl manages to get the hyper-drive engines functional and they vanish, leaving behind a very angry Bronson. While he might have professor’s coordinates, that does not mean he knows where Rex will come out. The race is on!
Unfortunately, Rex’s ship was battered by the assault and the engine-room is in ruin. The hyper-drive is vibrating and Carl is certain that the vibrations will worsen to the point of turning them into jelly. Carl with the assistance of young Stef manage to mend the engine-room and make it functional. Setting the coordinates for the approximate location of the Cradle, Rex exits hyper-drive just outside the Coalsack. With the aid of hyper-drive, one may pass through the Coalsack with ease; the real danger occurs once more when they exit. There could be all manner of debris where they return to normal time and space. Plus, the hyper-drive is not functioning properly.
Tense minutes pass when the ship was set to abandon hyper-drive, but Rex personally attends to this and he gazes upon a sinister-looking planet. Better than this is the fact that he discovers a sleek vessel in orbit circling the alien planet! Seemingly abandoned, the trio take it for their own according to space laws. No living bodies are found inside, yet the ship is fully functional. How long has it been there? What of the crew? Are they on the planet? Dead or alive?
Removing the ship from orbit, they fly over the planet and eventually a smaller vessel is spotted on the surface. Realizing it was the landing ship, Rex lands and with Carl, they investigate. Looking inside the ship’s screen Rex sees a wreck of a human in tattered clothes and unkempt hair, gibbering insanely.
Rescuing the figure and returning to the newly acquired ship, Rex coaxes out of the maniac that he was the captain of the doomed venture. He remained within the landing vessel while four others explored the planet. Utilizing a drill, they attempted to mine the surface…then the planet assaulted them. The captain in a fit of fear then dies while reliving the memory.
Instructing Carl and Stef to man the ship’s turrets, Rex repeats the earlier explorer’s mission and with a drill, attacks the planet’s surface. His mind is battered by a painful shriek that assaults him. Carl and Stef fire at the planet’s surface surrounding Rex and he is safely brought back aboard the ship to explain what happened.
The surface is made of liquefied urillium metal, but it is alive, sentient. How is this possible? Rex surmises that they arrived where the Cradle had once been located, but they are five million years too late. The Cradle is no longer there, in space. With proper mathematical computations, they may be able to compute where the Cradle has shifted in space.
So, if this is not the Cradle, what is this planet of living metal?
Rex believes at one time the planet was constructed by the ancient beings using the urillium, perhaps as a self-repairing robot, and then abandoned. The area is highly radioactive and over the millions of years the urillium developed a life of its own.
Donning his space suit once more, Rex exits the ship and lasers off small chunks of urillium waste from the planet. Being a sentient planet, Rex had a mental conversation with it, a bargain that essentially states he departs with some of the rare metal and never returns, nor divulges the location of the planet, otherwise more greedy adventurers will return and murder the living planet for its wealth.
The urillium planet agrees to the terms and Rex and his two companions vacate the living world quite rich, to have more future adventures…