Trader To The Stars by Poul Anderson
Trader To The Stars contains three stories. The stories do not lead into one another or otherwise need to be read with the others. What they have in common is a central character and his particular skill.
This is 1950's / early-1960's space adventure - interstellar merchants, space pirates, conflicts with alien natives, etc. – with a major difference. The essence of each story isn’t showing off gee-whiz tech or blasting the bad guys. Each story has a puzzle or mystery that must be solved in order for our main characters to survive. The merchant, Van Rigen, doesn’t tend to crawl around with a magnifying glass like Sherlock Holmes, but by the end of the story he presents us with the chain of logic to explain the puzzle. (And Van Rigen is portrayed as a rather colorful character, much more interested in food, drink and women than Holmes was.)
The book may also have been a bit ahead of its time in portraying the galaxy as full of other alien races that are neither pure good nor pure evil. They’re not humanoids, but they’re not all dumb and not all blood-thirsty warriors. It certainly doesn't picture the galaxy as full of uninhabited planets just waiting for humans to make settlements.
Anderson tells us that interstellar war and conquest just isn't worth it enough for much of it to happen. Interstellar governments have trouble maintaining rule over more than a few planets, so it is something more like an interstellar / inter-species Chamber of Commerce that is the organization that concerns itself with the largest region of the galaxy.
There are also interesting presentations of other planets of different gravities, climates, etc.
The Three Stories:
(1) The trading ship has been damaged by space pirates. The ship won't last to reach a known spaceport. They find an alien spaceship of an unfamiliar type and attempt to meet it in hopes the aliens will assist them. The aliens flee thinking the humans are pirates, but the trading ship is able to reach the alien ship. When the humans force their way into the alien ship they find the ship has been stripped of clues of who the alien crew's species is - and the ship's hold is full of unfamiliar alien animals (apparently from a number of different worlds). Presumably, the crew is hiding, pretending to be one kind of the animals. The alien ship is traveling on an unknown course and the humans don’t know how to control the ship. The humans have to figure out which “animals” the aliens are.
(2) The traders are on a strange new planet when the natives decide to get rid of the humans. Most of the humans flee in their two spaceships. Van Rigen, a woman and a loyal native are left to survive as best they can. Their main hope of survival is to meet an investigation / rescue ship when it comes some weeks in the future. But the ship will presumably land at their old base, which is now controlled by hostile natives. If Van Rigen and his companions stay near the base, they will probably be found by the natives. If they don’t stay near the base, they probably won’t be able to meet the ship when it comes.
Considering this was written about 50 years ago, it is interesting to read the description of global climate change, the greenhouse effect and efforts to reverse it - even though the discussion applies to a planet that isn't that Earth-like.
(3) The traders are on a planet with two intelligent species. The two races are related, but one is dominant, the other subservient. After a period of friendly relations with humans, their attitude changes. The humans do not understand what occurred to cause the change. An ambush takes place. Although the humans eventually fight off the attack, the natives leave with some human prisoners. The humans pursue the natives to free the prisoners. Afterwards, the natives’ attitude towards humans changes again, and once more the humans aren’t sure why. There are a couple of theories, but Van Rigen (as usual) unravels it for us.