Henry Kuttner is one of my favorite authors from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He wrote a lot, in several different styles, but his work was nearly always fast-paced, full of action, and either humorous or creepy, depending on what was called for. His novel THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY has some of all of that, and more.
Originally published in its entirety in the November 1940 issue of the pulp STARTLING STORIES under the title "A Million Years to Conquer", this novel starts out far, far back in Earth's pre-history with the crash-landing of a spaceship from an advanced civilization. A couple of the aliens, Ardath and Theron, are the only survivors, and Theron, who is the commander of the expedition, is mortally injured and lives just long enough to order Ardath to complete their mission, which is to find a suitable planet where their doomed civilization can relocate.
This is going to be difficult since Ardath is the only survivor and the spaceship is damaged enough that it can't achieve interstellar travel anymore. It can, however, make it back into earth orbit, and since the equipment used to put its crew into stasis is still working, Ardath decides to put himself to sleep and wake up every few thousand years to check on how Earth is developing. He has a machine that will detect super-intellects, and he figures that if he can find enough of them, he can breed them and recreate his own advanced civilization on Earth.
Kuttner zooms through all this back-story in just a few pages, then jumps to 1924, when Stephen Court, one of those super-intellects Ardath is searching for, is eight years old and already aware that he's a genius. The little boy runs away from his parents, takes up with a hobo, and sets about making himself the world's leading scientist.
Back into pre-history Kuttner goes, switching storylines as Ardath wakes up and captures a barbarian named Thordred, who is smart enough that Ardath can transfer some of his knowledge to him through one of the alien machines. Then back to 1941, where
Stephen Court has succeeded in his quest to be the world's leading scientist, even though he's a cold, emotionless, all-around jerk of a guy. He'll need all his scientific genius, because a strange new plague that turns people radioactive has cropped up, and it threatens the very existence of the world.
Keeping up? Good, because all of this hopping back and forth in time that Kuttner does will tie together eventually and wind up with our scientist hero Court going head-to-head against the evil Thordred, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the character Vandal Savage, who came along in 1943 to be one of DC's longest-lasting villains in comic books. Did the writer who came up with Vandal Savage (another SF author, Alfred Bester) read Kuttner's novel in STARTLING STORIES? Who knows, but there are definitely similarities.
It's amazing that Kuttner could cram all of this kitchen-sink plot (I didn't even mention the trip to Atlantis) into a novel that's probably around 40,000 words and still make an exciting, coherent story out of it. Like most SF from that era, THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY is pretty dated at times, but it also has the cosmic sweep and sense of wonder that used to be common in science fiction. (I'm not saying you can't find that in today's SF, but I think it's harder to do so.) It's also a lot of fun as Kuttner keeps things racing along, pausing only occasionally for a moment that's either eerie or poignant, and very effectively so. And yes, the scene depicted in that great Frazetta cover on the paperback reprint does take place in the novel, and it's a dandy.
I wouldn't recommend THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY to everyone who reads science fiction, but if you're an old geezer like me or a younger reader who can put yourself in the right frame of mind (just imagine it's 1940), I think there's a good chance you'll enjoy it, and copies of the paperback are plentiful and inexpensive on-line.
(And if you can read that title and not hear Buzz Lightyear saying it in your head, you're better than I am.)