Whipping Star by Frank Herbert
The last Caleban in the universe is being tortured to death by mad, sadistic billionairess Mliss Abnethe. If the Caleban dies, then so does every sentient being in the universe.
Jorj X. McKie, agent of the Bureau of Sabotage, is assigned to try to communicate with the pan-dimensional Caleban, find where Abnethe is hiding, and prevent the Caleban’s death at all costs.
Frank Herbert’s extraordinary imagination is certainly on show in this short novel. He has created a wide ranging cast of alien species, from the incomprehensible, pan-dimensional Caleban to the conifer-like Taprisiot’s, who can communicate over interstellar distances using their needle-like speech appendages. And who wouldn’t like a chairdog in their house — a bioengineered, living chair, which massages the occupant after a hard day’s work.
The extraordinary imagination is not matched by the writing, however. The novel feels like a weird cross between pulp-era adventure and late 60s/early 70s mysticism. The aliens may be memorable, but the characters themselves are two-dimensional and don’t really develop as the story progresses. The plot is certainly original though, and makes the book a worthwhile read, even if it is nothing to shout about.
Recommended for anyone with an interest in Frank Herbert’s writings outside of Dune.