From the author of The Snow Queen (1980): an overstuffed but moderately appealing ""soft"" sf adventure. World's End is a nasty place, a vast desert swarming with dangerous creatures and human outcasts, whose mineral wealth is exploited by the ubiquitous Company. Interstellar inspector of police Gundhalinu must enter the desert in search of his profligate brothers (they squandered the family holdings) and to find Song, a mad ""sybil"" who lives by the dread Fire Lake. Gundhalinu barely survives to reach Fire Lake, whose dire reputation is well deserved: the mad Song controls a community of misfits and slaves, but she in turn is being controlled by an intelligent entity--the Lake itself. Song infects Gundhalinu with the sybil's disease; he now finds he has paranormal powers, but when the Lake talks to him he thinks he's gone mad too. It turns out that the Lake is an organic machine whose function is to produce an interstellar drive, but when its Old Empire spaceship crashed long ago it was damaged, resulting in Fire Lake's weird and uncontrollable phenomena. And finally Gundhalinu triumphs over all his difficulties and returns to civilization. True, Gundhalinu isa rather self-pitying hero whose past exploits form a noisy, distracting backdrop. But the ideas here are well worked-out in a brisk, mostly diverting narrative--less pretentious, more satisfying than The Snow Queen.