Shakespeare's Planet

Novel, first published: Berkley/Putnam 1976

In Shakespeare's Planet (1976), Simak returned to the interplanetary adventure novel, a background he had not used for many years. Carter Horton awakes from a thousand years of cold sleep on a pleasant Earth-type planet. From his robot servant Carter learns that his three compamons are dead and that he can never return to Earth. He traveled in a sentient spaceship, made up of a trio of Earth personalities (a monk, a committee woman seeking something she could not find, and a scientist) similar to the Trinitarian protagonist in The Werewolf Principle. .
In exploring the planet, Carter meets Carnivore, an ugly bear-like alien who informs Carter that he has Just eaten another human called Shakespeare - at Shakespeare's request. Both Carnivore and Shakespeare arrived by "tunnels" connected to other worlds, but Carnivore cannot return because the tunnels only seem to work one way. Carnivore warns them about staying outside during the "god-hour" after nightfall. Horton ignores the alien's warning and feels a force like a mental blow, probing and analyzing his very being. His mind is almost on the verge of grasping at the ultimate meaning of the universe, when the force stops.
Carter enters Shakespeare's dwelling, where, again on orders from his human friend, Carnivore hung Shakespeare's skull over the doorway. Carter finds a copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare and reads some marginal notes in which the stranded human reveals he is suffering from 'a brain tumor. The namesake Shakespeare describes Carnivore as a member of a warrior race for whom killing is a way of life; Carnivore is a hero who travels from world to world to challenge and kill the most deadly species on that world. In his musings, Shakespeare also ponders the destiny of his own kind in a motif now almost a cliche in Simak's novels - the human race, in its expansion to the stars, has lost its sense of values.
A woman from the future appears, a member of a team trying to map the interstellar tunnels. (Apparently Horton will return safely from the planet.) After two millennia the human race is scattered, colonies have lost contact with each other, and Old Earth's civilization is destroyed by economic collapse and war. The group then makes some amazing discoveries. They find the ruins of a city, perhaps evidence of the establishment of a penal colony, which would explain the one-way tunnels. Near the city is a "stinking" pond, its fluid thick and heavy like mercury, slippery but not wet. Also, in one of the buildings is a cube containing a huge creature the group surmises is frozen in time.
Horton has a conversation with Shakespeare's skull, who advises him to ask the Pond for some answers. The Pond is actually a colony from a liquid planet, a single planetary being similar to Stanislaw Lem's planet Solaris, and the "god-hour" is the result of its telepathic signals sent to other colonies of the liquid intelligence. Carnivore, Elaine, and the Pond are all eager to leave the planet with Horton and the Ship.
Some of the riddles are resolved by the appearance of more strange visitors. The creature, freed from its cube, turns out to be a glorious dragon who cannot fly, a creature Simak reanimates from an earlier novel, The Goblin Reservation (1968). From one of the tunnels emerges a mock-human thing of evil. Carnivore slashes the monster's throat but is fatally wounded. The dragon also dies, too long encased in frozen time. Other visitors, three upright, fat and happy slugs, beckon them to a tunnel that is now open. Elaine now cannot go with Horton - she is committed to find the mystery of the tunnels. Horton scoops up a jug of the Pond to take along, and the Ship, now one person instead of three, leaves this "cluttered, messy" planet.

Ewald, Robert J.: When the Fires Burn High and the Wind is from the North, p.109-110