Putting this section into this website is really straining things to the breaking point since there is little or no hard scientific evidence that such a thing exists. But, like faster-than-light starships, it shows no signs of going away. Just ask the Luke Skywalker. Not to mention the Lensmen, Slans, Vulcans, and the nasty Psi Corps.

Psionics are mystical powers of the human mind that always seem to be absent when tested for in a research lab. Sort of like Mr. Snuffleupagus. These are powers such as telepathy and psychokinesis

In other words, psionics is Magic with a fancy science-fictional name.

Science fiction authors occasionally mix scientific terms with the psionic terms to make it sound more plausible. In David Brin's Startide Rising the humans working with the alien starship had to check all the psionic "impedance" of all the connections in order to avoid leaking telekinetic static. In Diane Duane's The Door Into Shadow one of the protagonist cannot deal with a monster because he did not know the "protocol" for a brainburn (meaning he didn't know the sequence of steps in the magic spell that would short out the critter's cerebrum).

Just to head you off at the pass, remember why one cannot use Quantum Entanglement for FTL communication? Well you cannot use it for ESP either. And for the same reason. I warn you about this because it is far to common in science fiction. If you use it you will be tarred with the same brush. I'm not saying don't use it, just be aware of the possible pushback from your readers.

A common trope in pulp science fiction is that such magical powers are part of the next stage in human evolution. This dates back at least to E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series (1937) and A. E. van Vogt's Slan (1940). The fact they are talking about "stages" of evolution just goes to show that they are unclear on the concept.

You can find a discussion of the theme of psionics in science fiction in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

As you could have predicted, there are a few psionic related entried in TV Tropes:

WARNING! TV Tropes links, infinite time sink


There's a commercial on cable stations lately that talks about moments of epiphany—moments when you understand something that changes your life.

I've had at least one of those moments—and when it was over, my life had been changed forever.

It was when, when I was eleven or thereabouts, I went looking in the living room for something to read.

Now, in my house, books were everywhere and there was very little my brother and I were forbidden to read. We both had library cards as soon as we got past "Run, Spot, run," and by the time I was nine I was coming home with armloads of books every week and still running out of things to read before the week was over. By the time I was ten, I had special permission to take books out of the adult section—yes, in those dark days, you needed a permission slip from your parents to read things that weren't in the children's section.

Now, the peculiar thing here is that although I read anything that looked like a fairy-tale and every piece of historical fiction I could find, I hadn't discovered classic juvenile science fiction. I can't think why—unless it was because my library didn't have any. It was a very small branch library, and I hadn't yet learned that you could request anything that was in the card-catalog for the whole county-wide system. It might also have been because my branch library had helpfully segregated the juvenile section into "Boys" and "Girls," and I wasn't brave enough to cross the invisible line-of-death dividing the two. I do recall reading two little books called Space Cat and Space Cat Meets Mars and loving them—and also something called City Under the Back Steps about a kid who gets shrunk and joins an ant colony—but that was in a different library, before we moved, and perhaps the books hadn't been so helpfully segregated there. Be that as it may, although I was knee-deep in the historical novels of Anya Seton and Rosemary Sutcliff by then, I hadn't ventured into the adult Science Fiction section. I hadn't fallen headfirst into Andre Norton's myriad worlds, I hadn't joined Heinlein's resourceful heroes, I hadn't discovered Anderson, Asimov, Clarke, Nourse, Simak. . . .

All that was about to change. Because my father had. 

My father was a science fiction reader; in our house, where library books were everywhere, it was my father who bought the paperbacks. They were divided pretty equally in thirds—suspense (including spy-novels), war, and science fiction.

It was the start of summer vacation, I had already bored through my stack of nine books, and we weren't going back to the library for another two days. I was desperate. I ventured into the living room, and picked up James Schmidt's Agent of Vega. 

I'm not sure why. It certainly wasn't the cover—in those days, science fiction books were sporting rather odd abstract paintings—possibly trying to divorce themselves from the Bug Eyed Monsters of the pulp covers so that they could be taken Seriously. That wasn't going to happen, not in the Sixties, but you couldn't fault the editors for trying. It wasn't the title—I hadn't a clue what, or who, Vega was, and I wasn't interested in the James Bond books (yet) that featured the only other "agent" I knew of. Perhaps it was just desperation. I asked politely if I could read it, was granted permission, and trotted away to my room with my prize.

Five minutes later, it was true love.

It was an epiphany.

Here was everything I had been looking for—exotic settings, thrills, adventure, heroines who were just as resourceful and brave as the heroes, and something more. There was a magic in the words, but there was more than that. It was imagination. 

No one, no one, since my fairy-tales, had written like this. This James Schmitz fellow seemed as familiar with androids and alien planets as I was with the ice-cream man and the streets of my home town.

And here, for the first time, I encountered psionics.

Psi! There was even an abbreviation for it! Telepathy! Telekinesis! Teleportation! Empathy! Precognition!

Oh, these were words to conjure with! Better than the magic of the fairy-tales, these were scientific which meant that someone, somewhere (oh let it be me! Me!) might find a way to get one of these powers for himself!

Much has been made of the "sense of wonder" that science fiction evokes, and believe me, there was nothing to evoke that sense quite like the worlds of James Schmitz. Especially for someone who had never read anything like this before. The man had the right stuff; no doubt of it. By the time that I was done with that book, I was well and truly hooked.

And my life had just taken that irrevocable, epiphanal change.

From Introduction to AGENTS OF VEGA & OTHER STORIES, by Mercedes Lackey (2001)


Psi Powers

The full spectrum of magic-like mystical powers of the mind. It is subdivided into active and passive psi-powers. And those pesky psi-powers that do not fit either catagory.

Active psi powers are when the person sends energy outward to a target, such as when they use psychokinesis to move an object. Passive psi powers are when the person absorbs energy from a target, such as when they use telepathic receiving to read the target's mind. Most passive psi powers act like new extra senses added to the conventional five senses everybody has.

Refer to the partial list below.

The term is derived from the Greek ψ psi, 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet and the initial letter of the Greek ψυχή psyche, "mind, soul". It was coined by Bertold Wiesner

As previously mentioned, psionics is Magic with a fancy science-fictional name.

Abbreviation of Psi Powers.
A Psi
A person who has psi powers. Unlike Espers and Psychics, a Psi can have both passive and active psi powers.
A Psionic
Synonym of A Psi. The "-onics" part appears to have come from the word electronics. John W. Campbell Jr. originally coined the term to be applied to machines that can augment psi powers. After the 1960's nobody took such machines seriously anymore so the term came to mean a snazzy word for Psi.
The study and use of psi-powers.
Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP)

Also known as the "sixth sense". It is the ability to obtain information by not using any of your mundane senses like eyes or ears, but rather by the mystical power of your mind.

This uses passive sensory-like psi powers such as telepathy, clairaudience, clairvoyance, precognition and retrocognition. That's where the term "extra-sensory" comes from. ESP does not include active psi powers like psychokinesis.

Person with Extra-Sensory Perception. Generally they only have passive psi powers.
Synonym of Esper.

The study of psi phenomena, plus the study of paranormal phenomena such as near-death experiences, reincarnation, apparitional experiences, and other weird happenings.

It is, of course, routinely denounced as a Pseudoscience. As the Ghostbusters learned when the Dean threw them out of the university. It is a term used when people want to study such alleged powers but do not want to sound like total crack pots.

The ability to move and manipulate objects with the mystical powers of your mind. Also know as "mind over matter."
A way to say "supernatural" without actually using that word. Technically the difference between praeternatural and supernatural is the former is about bizarre phenomena that actually have scientific explanations but which are currently unknown. But in practice most people think the words are synonyms.
Wild Talent
Synonym for Psi Power. Term was coined by Charles Fort in 1932.

Psi Powers

Psionics are divided into assorted powers or "talents", because usually a character in a novel can only do one or two. Only the outrageously powerful can do all of them. A person who can read minds probably cannot also teleport.

This is only a partial list.

When a particular psi power is used, there are four dimensions:

  • Effect: what does the power do? Read minds, teleport yourself, see the future, move objects?
  • Power Level: how much energy is in this particular use. This is measured in units of "psychic energy", "mana", or "thaums"
  • Information Content: how much information is involved in this particular use. For instance, with telepathic receiving it is the amount of data harvested from the target's mind. With psychokinesis it is the desired motion of the target object.
  • Vector: the direction in which the the psi power is applied. Generally this is either from the Psi to the target or from the target to the Psi.

For purposes of his game, Isaac Bonewits set one unit of mana equal to 4.2 joules (1 gram-calorie). "Mana" is a Polynesian word (pronounced “mahnah”), and is not to be confused with "manna" (“man-nah”).

In the satirical Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, the wizards of the Unseen University measure magical energy in "thaums" (from the word Thaumaturgy). One thaum is defined to be the amount of magic which is needed to create a white pigeon or three billiard balls. This is measured by a device called a, wait for it, "thaumometer". Bah-DUM-tishhhhhh!

Apparently strong emotions in the Psi lead to the generation of mana, somehow. Which is given as an explanation for why most non-psi-trained people cannot send telepathic cries for help unless they are dying or otherwise emotionally upset.

Active psi powers are when the Psi sends energy outward to a target, such as when they use psychokinesis to move an object.

Passive psi powers are when the Psi absorbs energy from a target, such as when they use telepathic receiving to read the target's mind. Most passive psi powers act like new extra senses added to the conventional five senses everybody has.

Some psi powers do not fit into either the active or passive categories. There is always some blasted thing that refuses to fit, as Charles Fort noted.

Please note that telepathic sending is totally different from telepathic receiving. Sending is an active psi power where the you put a message into the target's mind. Receiving is a passive psi power where you read the target's mind. A Psi might have one of these psi powers but not the other.

In order for a Psi effectively use active psi powers, they must posses the psi powers Amplification, Retuning, and Deflection.

  • Amplification allows the Psi to add to the Power Level of a psi power use, from their body's internal supply of mana.
  • Retuning allows the Psi to add Information Content to a psi power use.
  • Deflection allows the Psi to control the Vector of a psi power use.

Otherwise the Psi cannot put any power into it, specify what it supposed to happen, or aim it at the target.

These three psi powers are listed below in the Anti-Psi defences, for the case when they are not used internally by the Psi for their use, but instead on the psi powers of somebody else. That is, on an enemy Psi sending something nasty at you.

  • EXTRA-SENSORY PERCEPTION (ESP): reception of data without using the mundane sense channels (though it often seems to be sensory). If several ESP psi powers are used simultaneously, this is called "General Extra-Sensory Perception" (GESP). ESP powers are mostly passive psi powers. Sometimes called the "sixth sense", which Isaac Bonewits thinks is a stupid term since there are more than five mundane senses.
    • Clairsensing: extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in one of the Psi's mundane senses. That is, information is obtained by mystical powers of the mind, but the information is encoded in terms of one of the existing mundane senses. And the information cannot be coming from somebody elses mind, because that would be telepathic reception.
      • Clairaudience: extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in the Psi's mundane sense of hearing, e.g., a Psi's clairaudience warns them of danger with a phantom sound that isn't really present. Or when Obi Wan Kenobi said "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."
      • Clairempathy (clairsentience): extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in the Psi's feelings, e.g., a room that creates sinister "bad vibes" or an ominous feeling for no apparent reason.
      • Clairgustance: extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in the Psi's mundane sense of taste, e.g., a Psi meets a person, and their clairgustance warns them of the others evil intent by the meeting "leaving a bad taste in their mouth."
      • Clairolfaction: extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in the Psi's mundane sense of smell, e.g., a Psi meets a person, and their clairtangency warns them of the others evil intent by the other "having a bad odor." Or smelling smoke when a loved one is trapped in a burning building in a remote location.
      • Clairtangency: extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in the Psi's mundane sense of touch, e.g., a Psi meets a person, and their clairtangency warns them of the others evil intent by the other "feeling slimy." The touch can be a sensation of heat, cold, pressure, wetness, etc.
      • Clairvoyance ("second sight"): extra-sensory perception where the information received appears in the Psi's mundane sense of sight, e.g., waking up and seeing the ghostly form of your friend standing in the room while at the same moment your friend is dying somewhere else. Sometimes appears in the form of "remote viewing" where the Psi sees a vision of events happening at a distant location. The US Army was intrigued by the concept of clairvoyantly spying on Soviet secrets, especially since there were rumors that the Soviets were investigating along the same lines. The US Army blew $20 million US on Project Stargate before it was shut down.
    • Projection
      • Astral Projection: to the Psi, it appears like they leave their physical body, and inhabit an immaterial ghostlike replica of their body. They can then travel to remote locations and spy on stuff, while their physical body lies in a trance. Often there is a thin silvery umbilical-like cord connecting the ghost body to the physical body. What is probably really happening is that the Psi is using one or more of the Clairsenses, with the ghostly body being just a comforting illusion manufactured in the Psi's mind. Especially since the ghostly body commonly has ghostly clothing. Besides travelling to locations on Terra, Psis can astral project to other mystical dimensions called the "astral plane." These planes are where a shaman goes to meet their tribe's deities. From descriptions they sound like places you'll see in old Steve Ditko "Doctor Strange" comic books. Astral projection is also useful for scouting or navigating primitive seagoing vessels if you have no maps and navigational gear.
      • Mental Projection: Similar to astral projection, but there is no immaterial ghostlike body. Instead there is just a disembodied point of perception. This is commonly less exhausting than astral projection, perhaps because the Psi is not wasting energy making a mental illusion of a body.
    • Chronocognition: note that the clair senses are not limited by space; well, they are not limited by time either. Science fiction writers should be aware that seeing the future can destroy causality, unless there are certain limits imposed. Causality can be destroyed just as dead by time viewing as it can be killed by time travel.
      • Precognition/Retrocognition: using one or more Clairsenses to get information about future events (precognition) or past events (retrocognition). There will be a sensory impression, and the information gained will generally always be true. Sometimes a person so gifted is called a "Precog". In literature such people commonly suffer from the Cassandra Complex. They also commonly chafe under their lack of free will, sometimes avoided by precoging several possible futures. In Frank Herbert's Dune Messiah, Paul is blinded by a stone burner but can still see by using precognition to view events happening one second in the future. In Children of Dune, both Paul and his son Leto can see several possible futures, they duel by debating possibilities while simultaneously seeing which of the futures is strenghtened.
        • Psychometry: using retrocognition on an object to see its past history, including others who have touched the object. Generally the object must be touched or held. A useful skill for archaeologists and homicide detectives. The term is unfortunate, since it already being used in a totally different branch of science.
      • Hypercognition: using super-fast reasoning to deduce what will happen in the future or what has happened in the past. Unlike precognition/retrocognition, there will be no sensory impression. Instead the information will come as a hunch. Also unlike precognition/retrocognition, the information gained will sometimes be false. This is because the mental calculations might fail to include some factors, while precognition is witnessing what actually happened.
    • Telepathy: the direct communication of data mind-to-mind. The communication may be in the form of pictures, ideas, sensations, or emotions. Opposing anti-psi or unfavorable conditions can limit the amount of information communicated.
      • Telepathic reception: Reading the target person's mind. Note this is a totally different power from Telepathic sending. It becomes more difficult to get information as the intelligence of the target goes down (or the intelligence of the Psi). The info level drops as the telepath tries to read the mind of an adult, a child, and an animal. Note that an untrained Psi with telepathic reception that they cannot turn off will become mentally disturbed by the babble of all the voices in their head and probably be diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental illness. Especially since everybody else will be insisting that telepathy is a myth.
        • Empathy: Like telepathic receiving, but can only read the target person's feelings, not thoughts. This is different from Clairempathy. Empathy allows the Psi to read what the target is feeling. Clairempathy allows the Psi to use ESP on various things and situations but the information comes encoded as the Psi's personal feelings.
          • Total Empath (a sensitive): untrained Psi who is open to the entire local "atmosphere" of a location, because they have zero psionic shielding and cannot turn off their empathy. They are totally vulnerable to psionic attack. They tend to die young due to emotional burn-out, due to the flood of emotions from everybody around them.
          • Controlled Empath: an empath that can turn it off on command.
            • Psychic Vampire: Empath that can use their psi power to drain psi energy from others. May be the same as Anti-Psi: Absorption
      • Telepathic sending: the ability make the target person hear your voice inside their head, or implanting images, thoughts and ideas. Note this is a totally different power from Telepathic receiving.
        • Mesmerism: to hypnotize a person using suggestion sent by telepathic sending instead of a verbally. This is especially effective since most targeted people assume that every thought they think was created by themselves, not telepathically planted by somebody else. "These aren't the droids you're looking for."
  • PARAPHYSICS: the mental control of matter. These are mostly active psi powers. Sometimes called "mind over matter".
    • Psychokinesis (telekinesis, PK): the ability to move objects with ones mind. This tends to get you banned from gambling casinos.
      • Psychokinesis Proper
        • Levitation: the ability to make an object float around the room. May be a form of Gravity Control or Mass Control.
      • Portation
        • Apportation: the ability to make an inanimate object vanish from point A and instantly appear at point B without traveling through the space in between.
        • Teleportation: Apportation with a living creature instead of inanimate object. May be bound by certain limitations due to the laws of physics. Authors please note that since a teleporting Psi needs no transmitter nor receiver, there are unintended consequences that might break your novel. Typically SF novels have artificial limits, such as a requirement that the Psi has to have previously personally visited the place they are teleporting to (see Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination). And as per that novel, teleportation can sometimes be used for time travel.
      • Atomic Psychokinesis: the use of psychokinesis on the molecular, atomic, and subatomic level. Presumably the lower the mass of the object being manipulated by psychokinesis, the lower the energy required.
        • Transmutation: the ability to change the molecular and elemental structure of an object. That old "lead-into-gold" gag.
        • Bonding Control: the ability to affect the molecular bonds in objects. Uri Gellar claimed to have this power but all he could do was bend spoons (and only when the researcher got distracted for a few moments). It can be used for such things as splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.
        • Density control: the ability to affect an object's density
        • Electric control: the ability to affect flows of electricity and plasmas. During a thunderstorm this would be handy to cause the target to be struck by lightning.
        • Magnetic control: the ability to affect magnetic fields
        • Gravity control: the ability to affect the intensity of the local gravity field
        • Mass/Weight control: the ability to affect an object's mass
        • Light control (psycholuminescence): the ability to affect photons of light. Can be used to create visual illusions. May also be used to make oneself invisible. Or flashing a bright light into your opponent's eyes at a critical time (or creating the bright light inside your opponent's eyes).
        • Temperature Control (psychopyresis): the ability to raise or lower an object's temperature.
          • Cold Control: psychopyresis where the Psi can only lower an object's temperature. Yes, this is probably due to an identical psi power as used for Heat Control, but the Psi might not be capable of both due to psychological factors.
          • Heat Control: psychopyresis where the Psi can only raise an object's temperature. See Firestarter
        • Radiation control: the ability to affect the decay rates of radioactive elements. Can prevent a nuclear reactor or warhead from operating. Or can be used to make sub-critical masses of weapons grade material spontaneously explode. See Heinlein's short story "Project Nightmare".
        • Weather Control: moving masses of air molecules to change the weather.
        • Cellular Psychokinesis: the ability to affect a target person's living cells for healing, for harm, or for change
          • Curing: healing a target's wounds and diseases by altering their cells. Cellular PK where the information is "Heal"
            • Assimilation: odd form of curing. The Psi "absorbs" the target's disease. The Psi exhibits symptoms of said disease. Then both the Psi and the target are rapidly cured of the disease. Note that if the Psi is not careful, they may fail the "cure" part, thus both the Psi and the target are now permanently afflicted.
          • Cursing: killing or doing grave bodily harm to the target by messing up their organs and cells. Cellular PK where the information is "Kill". It can be used in a variety of ways: killing, crippling, stunning, inflicting various diseases, putting the target into a deep sleep, making the target move in slow motion, etc.
          • Coordination Control ("Klutzokinesis"): the ability to make the target person unusually clumsy. Might also be done with Mesmerism.
    • Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK): Also known as the poltergeist phenomenon. Traditionally this is said to be an invisible annoying ghost that likes to throw things through the air and shove furniture around. In psionics, it is more like a psychokinetic temper tantrum, caused by an untrained Psi living in the house. Generally it is a sexually or emotionally frustrated teenager going through puberty (though not always). Puberty is commonly the time when psi powers manifest, and frustration is a dandy source of large amounts of psi energy. The smoking gun is when the teenager does not think objects randomly flying around is anything to become excited about, "la belle indifference." After all, a tantrum is a satisfying way to deal with frustration. The teenager is probably doing the PK subconsciously, they have no idea they are causing it.
  • ANTI-PSI DEFENCES: interfering with another Psi's use of their psi powers. They can affect any or all of the three dimensions: power level, information content, and vector. For purposes of description, a "psi bolt" is defined as another Psi targeting you with one or more of their psi powers at a particular power level, with a particular information content, and a vector of "from them to you". "You" being defined as "the target who is defending themselves with anti-psi powers." The use of the term "psi bolt" allows me to avoid excess verbage and to avoid the term "cast a magic spell."
    • Absorption: sucks the energy out of a psi bolt (affects power level) and gives you the raw energy. Protects you much as if you were a starship protected by a Langston Field. So what actually hits you is a psi bolt with no energy in it. Of course your powers of Absorption might not be able to suck 100% of the psi bolt's energy, but every bit counts. Absorption can also be used as an active psi power to suck "life-force" out of a target person. This is called being a psychic vampire.
    • Damping: sucks the energy out of a psi bolt (affects power level). Unlike Absorption you do not get the drained energy, it just vanishes. Like Absorption your ability might not be up to the task of damping 100% of the energy.
    • Amplification: ability to help another Psi by adding some of your mana energy to a psi power they are using (affects power level). This is generally not used as a defense, it is more for assisting a member of your team who is targeting somebody else. Amplification is included in the Anti-Psi list because it doesn't really fit in any of the other categories. Amplification is the opposite of Absorption. Of course all Psis have to be capable of doing this internally or they cannot perform any psi powers at all, because they have no access to their store of mana to power it.
    • Retuning: can selectively alter the information content of an incoming psi bolt to whatever is desired. For instance, turning a curse into a cure. Of course all Psis have to be capable of doing this internally or they can only send crude brute force psi bolts, since they have no way of adding the information content to the bolt.
    • Filtering: totally removes the information content of an incoming psi bolt, just leaving pure mana.
    • Apopsi: surrounds you with a psionic force field that interferes with a psi bolt (affects power level, information, and vector). At high levels, they are immune to psi bolts.
    • Catapsi: generates random psychic static or white noise. It interferes with the information content of a psi bolt. Indeed it may interfere with the psi powers of everybody within range. It also make non-Psi people uncomfortable to be around you, because their brains itch. Non-Psis will find Catapsis annoying to be around, for no discernible reason. In the Babylon 5 episode A Race Through Dark Places the rogue Psis would constantly chant the "Mary Had a Little Lamb" nursery rhyme to generate catapsi, hiding them from a Psi Cop's telepathic search. TV Tropes says that musical Ear Worms are often used for the same purpose. Ear worms have the advantage of running automatically, you don't have to concentrate on them.
    • Sploding: generates an emotional psychic scream. It interferes with the information content of a psi bolt. Instead of making Catapsi psychic static, it makes a single psychic signal so loud that it drowns out other signals. In fact, the scream can be so loud that non-Psis can hear it. To top it off, the Psi doing the sploding may be unaware they are doing it, especially if they are untrained. All they know is that they are trying to scream really really hard.
    • Deflection: interferes with the vector of a psi bolt. It makes them miss you, but may strike an innocent bystander. Of course all Psis have to be capable of doing this internally or all their psi bolts will just go in random directions.
      • Reddopsi: a type of Deflection where the vector is bent 180° to send the psi bolt right back at the Psi, as if it hit a mirror. The Psi with Reddopsi may be unaware they are doing it.
    • Negapsi: inverts some or all of the information content of a psi bolt. For example it will turn a Cellular PK Curse into a Cure (and vice versa). Or turn Precognition into Retrocognition.
  • These psi powers can be combined. For instance, if a Psi tries to use Cellular PK Cure on Floyd, but didn't bother to check Floyd's psi powers in advance, they could be in for a rude surprise. If Floyd is unconsciously using Negapsi and Reddopsi, the CPK Cure will be turned into a CPK Curse and reflected back to hit the careless Psi right between the eyes.

    "Also? I can kill you with my brain."
    River Tam, Firefly

    Telepathy, clairvoyance, pyrokinesis — the powers are supernatural, but the names are scientific, which is good enough for soft Sci-Fi. Pointy-eared elves mumbling ancient spells on shiny spaceships would be incongruous; pointy-eared aliens reading minds on shiny spaceships doesn't raise any eyebrows.

    In general, the more powerful and dramatic the psychic, the softer the Sci-Fi — psychic powers are one of the most common ways of including Magic by Any Other Name and recycling Magical Tropes in a scientific environment. The extreme cases are largely confined to the horror, Cosmic Horror Story and superhero genres (with exceptions, such as Star Wars), but the weakest powers can crop up even in mainstream shows.

    In order of increasing power, the standard abilities are:

    • Clairvoyance/Clairaudience — also called TeleSense, Remote Viewing, Remote Sensing, Extra-Sensory Perception or ESP. Seeing (and sometimes hearing, or using other senses, including ones that aren't part of the standard package) far-away places, localizing specific persons one concentrates on, usually involves a trance state; the amount of control over what is seen can vary wildly, depending on the talent and training of the psychic and how the power works in your 'verse.
      • This can get broke down even further into Clairaudience, the psychic ability to hear things that are inaudible, Clairempathy, the ability to feel others' emotions at a distance; Claircognizance, having knowledge one has no normal way of knowing, Clairsentience refers to a psychic's ability to pick up sensations and relate messages from those sensations, Clairgustance, which is psychic supertaste, and Clairalienence, psychic supersmell. Clairvoyance is sometimes aided by hypnotic trances, a process called metagnomy, famously used by "real life" psychic Edgar Cayce.
      • Variants of this include Aura Vision — varying in power from just visible to reading someone like a book; it can encompass a wide variety of other sensing powers, usually tied to Pineal Weirdness and the Third Eye. Astral Projection and BiLocation (the ability to create a double of oneself, physical or otherwise, in another place and/or time). The latter may overlap with some forms of teleportation.
      • In dream form, this is Dream Spying.
    • Retrocognition/Postcognition — seeing things that happened in the past (without watching recordings). Often happens at crime scenes and may be considered a subset of clairvoyance.
    • Precognition — seeing the future in prophetic visions, sometimes in allegorical pictures. Often leads to a Prophecy Twist or Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Dreaming of Things to Come is a common form.
    • Empathy — the talent of The Empath, the ability to sense another person's emotional state. At times, even disturbances in the force and how strong the force is with someone. Sometimes includes the ability to send emotions the other way. Not to be confused with Emotional Powers.
    • Telepathymind reading, can sometimes also transmit thoughts or implant suggestions, etc. Telepathy is the psychic power most commonly attributed to aliens or "advanced" humans.
    • Telekinesis/Psychokinesis — moving physical objects by pure willpower. Can range from atoms to paperclips to cars or, in extreme cases, whole planets. Specialized expressions of it:
      • Pyrokinesis — setting things on fire. In slightly harder sci-fi, this will explicitly reference making the molecules in an object more agitated until it bursts into flames (essentially, that's the way a microwave oven works). Sometimes the fire itself can be controlled, changing size or even becoming a particular shape.
      • Similarly, Cryokinesis — freezing things. Slowing molecular motion until the object stops exuding heat, or just until it freezes solid. Often combined with condensing water from the air to form ice in thick coatings or free-standing shapes.
      • Fulgurkinesis/Astrakinesis - the ability to create electrical discharges and lightning bolts, and/or to control the flow of electrons inside machines. Sometimes encompasses the control of magnetic fields, too, if the author had a passing grade in high school science. (This is sometimes confused with the word "electrokinesis" which, incidentally, has nothing to do with psychic powers.) A variant of this is Machine Empathy or Technopathy — the ability to mentally link to and control computer systems.
      • Biopsychokinesis, or Bio-PK — the ability to influence living tissue on the cellular or molecular level. Used for psychic healing, regeneration, Psychic Surgery or as a darker power the ability to kill people with your brain, traditionally by stopping their heart, but can also cause a massive stroke, simply shut the brain down, prevent the lungs from working...

    • Teleportation, also known as Apportation — the ability to transport objects or people from location A to B, including oneself. A bit like the transporter in Star Trek. Usually the psychic will either call things to them or has to touch them to send them away to someplace else. If they're really powerful, they can move objects from/to both target locations from afar remotely.
    • Mediumship — the ability to see, communicate with or channel spirits, sometimes with the side effect that they'll follow the medium around in attempts to resolve their Unfinished Business.
    • Past Life Regression: A process of hypnosis or meditative visualization for reliving or discovering previous experiences of one's previous lives.

    The first five powers are purely internal. There's no evidence they're being used apart from the occasional Psychic Nosebleed (and of course, the stance). The remaining powers have much more obvious effects. However, all these powers have stronger versions, found generally at the softer end of sci-fi. That is, strong clairvoyance is as good as X-Ray Vision, or even a Crystal Ball. Strong telepathy allows for complete Mind Control. Strong telekinesis or apportation can become a means of saying You Will Not Evade Me, and so on. The ultimate manifestation of psychic power is the ability to just make your thoughts into reality. As generally portrayed, all of these powers display No Conservation of Energy, though there are exceptions, especially if the writer wants to stiffen up the story's science yet still include cool Psionics; if so, expect terms like "quantum uncertainty", "observer effect" and "particle entanglement" to be slung around with abandon.

    Stories can have both Psychic Powers and Functional Magic, but they'll usually be treated as fundamentally different. This does not preclude them from being related or even the same thing; supernatural powers are still supernatural powers, no matter what they're referred to as.

    Compare Ki Attacks, Enlightenment Superpowers, and Functional Magic for other genre's "special powers." See also Mind Over Manners and Brain Critical Mass. 90% of Your Brain is sometimes brought in as an explanation for them. See also Phony Psychic and Not-So-Phony Psychic.


    Metapsychic powers

    The author of the novels, Julian May, prefers the term 'metapsychic' to the terms 'psionic' or 'psychic', which she considers mundane and un-evocative thus 'Metapsychic' powers are psychic abilities by another name. Humans in the late 21st century, along with the other races of the Galactic Milieu (the Lylmik, Gi, Krondaku, Poltroyans, and Simbiari) and the Tanu and Firvulag of the Pliocene epoch, have developed psychic powers. The psychic powers of Julian May's books are seemingly magical powers which go far beyond the 'simple' psychic abilities we more commonly think of, such as clairvoyance, telepathy, and telekinesis. The human race is a blend of 'operant' metapsychics (not very many, but more born every day), 'latent' metapsychics (uncommon, and unable to use their potential abilities for a number of reasons, but their offspring have a higher chance to be brought to operancy when born), and those with no useful metapsychic potential at all (most of humanity).

    Operancy and latency

    Operancy: Psychic powers which are available for conscious, controlled use by a person. Basically, one is considered operant if they have psychic abilities and can consciously use them. In the Pliocene Epoch, the Firvulag were naturally operant. They did not require torcs or other mechanical assistance to be able to use their psychic powers.

    Operant humans in the Galactic Milieu are not allowed to enter Exile, so most humans in the Pliocene are latent at most. The few who are operant are sometimes categorized using terms from the Milieu. These categories include master class (a well above standard amount of metapsychic powers), the grand master class adepts (large amounts of metapsychic abilities, like Elizabeth), and the Paramount Grand Masters (enormous amounts of metapsychic power, including Marc Remillard, Aiken Drum, and Felice Landry). Individuals generally have different levels of ability in the various classes of metapsychic powers. For instance, Felice Landry is Paramount in creativity but only roughly masterclass in redaction.

    Latency: Psychic powers which, although present, cannot be consciously used by a person - because of a lack of training, inhibiting factors, trauma, or mental blocks of uncertain origin. In theory, all humans have some psychic abilities, even though they may be hopelessly latent or extremely meager. The Tanu and the vast majority of humans are latents, with most humans having extremely meager abilities. The Tanu use torcs to allow them to use their psychic powers.

    In places May implies that individuals noted for possession of an extremely high level of a skill or an attribute are often latents who make unconscious use of their metapsychic powers. For example, Felice (an individual with extremely powerful latencies) has a natural ability to control animals, and many individuals with latent Creative powers are gifted artists or scientists, while those with latent Coercive ability may have substantial charisma - animal magnetism.

    Types of metapsychic powers

    There are five categories of 'metapsychic' powers in the series: creation, coercion, psychokinesis, farsensing and redaction.

    Creativity: the ability to create illusions, change shape and manipulate energy. The Firvulag are described as being naturally gifted at creativity, often using it to assume monstrous forms. More powerful individuals could use it to crudely change states of matter (air to plasma and thus throw lightning bolts and so forth) but the most powerful can actually manipulate and change the very form of matter (air & water to fresh cherries for example).

    Coercion: the ability of metapsychic mind control over other people.

    Psychokinesis: (or PK) the ability to move physical objects through space metapsychically. The most powerful PK Tanu used this ability to levitate a number of Tanu and their chaliko steeds as a Pliocene Wild Hunt.

    Farsensing: the ability to communicate with others and to sense remotely via metapsychic means. Analogous to telepathy, clairvoyance and remote viewing. In the story "Intervention", this ability is initially termed ultrasensing.

    Redaction: the ability of psychic healing and, to a certain extent, mind reading. This is most commonly described in the books for mental or psychological healing, but it is also used for healing physical ailments as well. It was also used in the Galactic Milieu to help latent metapsychics achieve operancy. It could also occasionally be used for interrogation and torture. In the Galactic Milieu recidivist criminals would be adjusted with this power.

    Each latent or operant individual has a different combination of these abilities and, amongst the Tanu, those with similar abilities were organized into guilds, called the Five Guilds Mental, each with a guild leader. As of the start of the first novel, "The Many Colored Land", the leaders of the five Tanu guilds were as follows: the Coercer Guild was led by the human Sebi-Gomnol (formerly the embittered Eusebio Gomez-Nolan, ennobled because he invented the controlling silver and grey torcs). The Creator Guild followed Aluteyn Craftsmaster, while the Farsensor Guild was led by Mayvar Kingmaker. The Psychokinetic Guild followed highly influential Nodonn Battlemaster (leader of the Wild Hunt), and the Redactor Guild was led by peaceful Dionket, Lord Healer. All of the guilds came under the authority of a Tanu noble called the Dean of Guilds, Lady Eadone Sciencemaster (the oldest surviving child of the Tanu King Thagdal).

    A sixth power, prolepsis, is alluded to in The Saga of Pliocene Exile and explored a little in the Galactic Milieu trilogy. May does not clarify whether prolepsis, the ability to predict future events, is a separate metapsychic ability or merely a manifestation of extremely developed farsensory ability.

    D-jumping (dimension jumping) or teleportation may also be considered a metapsychic power, but appears more in the Galactic Milieu Series of books also by Julian May. For the purposes of the Saga of Pliocene Exile only Brede, Felice and later Marc may have been able to use this power and it may have been a synthesis of other powers (creativity, psychokinesis and farsense?) rather than a separate power.


    There are three kinds of torc made by the Tanu: gold, silver and grey. Gold Torcs are the original version, worn by all pure-blooded Tanu, as well as the inhabitants of the Daughter Worlds back in the Duat Galaxy. A gold torc makes a person with latent powers completely operant in those powers.

    Dr. Eusebio Gomez-Nolan, a human who was given the name Sebi-Gomnol by the Tanu, invented the silver and grey torcs, along with much simplified torc-like devices for controlling the ramapithecine apes which do the drudge work in Tanu society. These lesser torcs allow for control of the wearer by any gold torc wearer.

    Silver Torcs give operancy equal to that of the gold, but unlike the gold torc they also incorporate control circuitry. This allows a gold torc wearer to compel obedience in the silver torc wearer, allows for punishment or reward of the silver torc wearer via so-called pleasure-pain circuitry, and act as a means of mentally tracking the wearer. (Therefore, a silver torc wearer can never succeed in running away, unless their metaphysical talent is so great it burns out the torc circuitry (see Aiken)). Humans with significant latent powers who come through the time-gate are initially given silver torcs. This allows the Tanu a degree of control over them until they prove themselves trustworthy, at which point they may be given a gold torc.

    Grey Torcs do not enhance metapsychic powers at all, although they do grant the wearer a much simplified version of Farspeech. They have control circuitry like that found in the silver torcs. They are given to humans with no significant latent metapsychic powers at all, but who have skills which the Tanu consider to be vital or sensitive, e.g. physicians, technicians, soldiers/guards.

    From Wikipedia entry for SAGA OF PLIOCENE EXILE

    You Must Learn Control

    Please note that if a person has a psi power that they cannot control, it will be more of a curse than a blessing. For instance, somebody who has the psi power of reading people's minds but who cannot turn off the psi power will quickly go insane in the constant telepathic babble caused by everybody around them. Imagine being forced to live on the floor of Wall Street with zillions of stock traders shouting at the top of their lungs. Such a person will have to either move to a wilderness with no people, or end up in an insane asylum with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. If they are real lucky, they will figure out how to turn their telepathy off on their own, or find a psionic trainer who can teach them how.

    The TV Trope is called Power Incontinence.


    (ed note: Kzanol is a telepathic Thrintun alien who does not realize he has been in suspended animation for about one billion years. He wakes up on Terra. Like an idiot he lowers his mind shield and listens telepathically.)

    He was in an empty, hideously alien building, the kind that happen only on free slave worlds, before the caretakers move in. But…how had he gotten here, when he was aimed at a deserted food planet? The next sight he had expected was the inside of a caretaker’s palace. And where was everybody? He badly needed someone to tell him what was going on.

    He Listened.

    For some reason, neither human nor thrintun beings have flaps over their ears resembling the flaps over their eyes. The thrintun Power faculty is better protected. Kzanol was not forced to lower his mental shield all at once. He chose to do so, and he paid for it. It was like looking into an arc lamp from a foot away. Nowhere in the thrintun universe would the telepathic noise have been that intense. The slave worlds never held this heavy an overpopulation; and the teeming masses of the thrintun worlds kept their mind shields up in public.

    Kzanol reeled from the pain. His reaction was immediate and automatic.

    STOP THINKING AT ME! he roared at the bellowing minds of Topeka Kansas.

    From WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven (1996)

    Much more serious is the "Monsters from the Id" problem. The old saying goes "there is nothing quite so dangerous as an untaught mageborn."

    You see, if your conscious mind can use your psi power, your subconscious mind can use them as well. The trouble is the subconscious is a lot more barbaric and impulsive than the conscious mind. While a person with psi will consciously just grit their teeth when their boss starts yelling at them, the psi's subconscious mind will have no inhibition against teleporting the boss in front of a speeding freight train.

    RSPK is an adolescent who doesn't know they have psychokinetic powers. When they become sexually or emotionally frustrated, their subconscious pitches a psychic temper tantrum and throws things around. The parents think they have a poltergeist on their hands, neither the parents nor the adolescent realize the adolescent is the problem.

    It gets worse: your conscious mind is generally opposed to causing harm to yourself. But in the twisted depths of your subconscious mind there is no such guarantee. If the psi has a deep-seated need to harm themselves, or even a death-wish, they are in deep trouble.

    In Daniel Galouye's Lords of the Psychon (1963), the alien invaders use "psychon plasma" as their machines, a weird substance that can be controlled by conscious thought. Much like a psi power, actually.

    Unfortunately it can be controlled by unconscious thought as well. Psychon plasma will instantly manifest all of a person's deep seated psychoses and other horrors lurking in the depths of their subconscious, sometimes with lethal results. Actually, the psychon plasma merely creating a visual image of the observer's subconscious fears is enough to drive a person into insanity. The fact the psychon plasma didn't actually kill you is small consolation if you will be spending the rest of your life in a psych ward.

    Psychon plasma can only be safely handled by a person who has somehow psychologically purged their subconscious to become perfectly mentally balanced. In the novel, they use psychon plasma itself in a controlled environment in order to undergo a kind of psychoanalysis.

    Problems With The Concept

    Some science fiction authors who were more scientific than they were phantasmagorical wrote about the scientific problems inherent in the concept.

    Impediment by Hal Clement

    Hack sci-fi authors are fond of using telepathy in lieu of having the protagonists spending a couple of years learning the alien's language. Hal Clement points out that this is nonsense.

    Here on Terra, infants have ears, so their parents can audibly teach their language to the child. Telepathic aliens have infants with telepathy, so their parents can telepathically teach their telepathic language to the child.

    But the problem starts with non-telepaths like us humans. Neither Terran infants nor their parents have telepathy. So when it comes to an infant's mental language, they have to make it up themselves as if they were feral children. Everybody on Terra grows up creating their own unique mental language.

    This isn't a problem, until a telepath shows up.

    The telepath is not faced with learning, say, just English. The poor telepath has to decipher and learn a new mental language for each and every Terran the telepath wants to mentally talk to.

    In Poul Anderson's Flandry of Terra novels, secret agent Dominic Flandry's greatest enemy is the alien Aycharaych, the universe's only known xenotelepath. Aycharaych actually can read the mind of all non-telepaths, which makes him powerful enough to be a comic-book super-villain. In the Terran Empire, there is a standing shoot-on-sight order out on Aycharaych.


    The man stared back for a few moments, and then began speaking softly.

    "You know, now. I did not think of it until you had gone—but I should have, from what you told me; and you should long since have known from your own observations. When we first learned to communicate with each other, you told me that my thought-wave pattern was different from that of your race, which was natural enough, as you finally realized. You did not carry that reasoning, which told you it was natural, to its logical conclusion; nor did I. Your people all 'think' alike—so far as either of us is able to tell what thought is. The patterns you broadcast are mutually intelligible to members of your race, but not to me, because you have received those waves from others of your kind from earliest childhood, and I am a stranger. But my people do not communicate in that fashion; as you have learned, we have organs capable of impressing fine modulations on sound waves, and of detecting these modulations. The activity that occurs in our brains is never directly transmitted to other brains—it is first 'coded' and then broadcast.

    "The waves you 'hear' arise from chemical activity in your nervous systems, activity that accompanies thought. They are—must be—controlled to a vast extent by the structure of the nerve pattern in your brains; a structure which is itself controlled during your growth by the impressed waves from outside, in conjunction with whatever strange process accompanies learning"

    Kirk held out a hand to the herald.

    "Look closely at the ends of my fingers. In the skin you will see a complex pattern of ridges and hollows. That pattern, stranger, is unique in me; every one of my people has a similar, but individual, pattern—no two have identical fingerprints. They form the most positive means of identification we possess, although there are more than two billion beings on this planet.

    "And yet, friend, I think I am safe in saying that there are many times as many chances that two of us should bear identical fingerprints as there are. chances that two human brains should be exactly alike, nerve for nerve. From birth, each brain is isolated, can be reached only through the means of communication nat­ural to us; there is no reason that all should develop alike.

    "On that assumption, the tiny currents that pass from nerve to nerve and give rise to the waves that you can sense cannot possibly be the same for any two of us; and so no two sets of 'thought waves' could be identi­cal. You learned some of my pattern, and thought that you had the key to communicate with all my kind; but I tell you sincerely that you will have to learn afresh the 'thought language' of every new human being with whom you wish to converse. You have just discovered that for yourself.

    From IMPEDIMENT by Hal Clement (1942)
    Limiting Factor by Theodore R. Cogswell

    In the story a secret group of Psis called "Superiors" have been working for years to master their powers. They figure they are the next stage in human evolution, Homo Superior.

    However, the Superiors figure that when the ordinary Homo Sapiens (the "Ordinaries") learn about the Superiors, it will be open warfare. So the Superiors decide to build a spaceship and migrate to another planet.

    Being a Superior is a lot of hard work. Levitating up 80 stories leaves you exhausted. Using telepathy leaves you with a splitting headache. And moving a spaceship through hyperspace by the raw power of your mind is punishing work.

    Suddenly they encounter an alien! It must be a member of an alien group of Superiors. Or so they think since the alien is nonchalantly flying through space with no space ship nor space suit. The alien tells them that his name is Mr. Thwiskumb, and that all races produce Superiors after they liberate atomic energy, and usually all the Superiors decide to migrate to another planet. This is unfortunate, they are welome to see the miserable results on Alpha Centauri III, where they were traveling to. Meanwhile the alien says that he is late for a very important date and will check back with them soon. He vanishes.

    The Superiors find on Alpha Centauri III a pathetic dwindling tribe of cave men. The Superiors are sad. Those must be the remains of the poor Ordinaries, abandoned by the Superiors.

    Mr. Thwiskumb reappears and tells the Terran Superiors that they have it all wrong. Those miserable cave men are not the Ordinaries left behind. They are the Superiors.

    To the Terran Superior's growing horror, the alien goes on to point out that while it is cute to use psionics, flesh is weak while technology is not. Sure one can walk from place to place. But to go faster, instead of trying to breed people with bigger legs, does it not make more sense to invent an automobile?

    The same is true of psionics.


    "What about the other price?" demanded Ferdie. "What about that scrawny grimy gang down on Centauri III, sitting apathetically in the hot sun and scratching themselves? We also have no right to condemn the Ordinaries to a future like that."

    "Oh, you wouldn't be doing that," said Mr. Thwiskumb mildly. "Those people down there aren't Ordinaries."


    "Dear me, no. They weren't the ones that were left behind. They are the descendants of those who migrated. Those poor devils down there are pure-blooded Superiors. When they ran into the limiting factor, they just gave up."

    "Then what accounts for you? You're obviously a Superior.'

    "That's a very kind thing to say," answered the little man, "but I'm just as ordinary as anyone can be. We're all Ordinaries where I come from. Our Superiors left a long time ago." He chuckled. "It's a funny thing—at the time, we didn't know they were gone, so we didn't miss them. We just went about business as usual. Later, we found them, but it was already too late. You see, the big difference was that we had an unlimited area of development and they didn't. There's no limit to the machine, but there is to the human organism. No matter how much training you have, there is a limit to how loud you can shout. After that, you have to get yourself an amplifier.

    "A slight neural rearrangement makes it possible for you to tap and control certain sources of physical energy that aren't direetly available to the ordinary man of your planet, but you are still dealing with natural forces ... and natural organic limits. There is a point beyond which you can't go without the aid of the machine, an organic limiting factor. But after several generations spent in mastering what is inside your heads, rather than struggling for control of the world around you, and the time comes when your natural limits are reached, the very concept of the machine has been lost. Then where do you go from there?"

    (ed note: you become a pathetic dwindling tribe of cave men)

    He waited for an answer, but nobody offered one.

    "There is an old story in our folklore," he continued, "about a boy who bought himself an animal somewhat like your terrestrial calf. He thought that if he lifted it above his head ten times a day while it was little, he would build up his strength gradually until he would still be able to lift it over his head when it was a full-grown animal. He soon discovered the existence of a natural limiting factor. Do you see what I mean? When those people down there reached their natural limits, there was no place for them to go but backward. We had the machine, though, and the machine can always be made smaller and better, so we had no stopping point."

    He reached inside his vest and pulled out a small shining object about the size of a cigarette case. "This is hooked by a tight beam to the great generators on Altair. Of course I wouldn't, but I could move planets with it if I wanted to. It's simply a matter of applying a long enough lever, and the lever, if you'll remember, is a simple machine."

    Karl looked dazed. In fact, everyone did.

    "Yeah," he muttered, "yeah, I see what you mean." He turned to the group. "All right, let's get back to the engine room. We've got a long flight ahead of us."

    "How long?" asked the little man.

    "Four months if we push it."

    "Shocking waste of time."

    "I suppose you can do better?" Karl inquired belligerently.

    "Oh, dear me, yes," said Mr. Thwiskumb. "It would take me about a minute and a half. You Superiors dawdle so—I'm glad I'm normal."

    From LIMITING FACTOR by Theodore R. Cogswell (1954)
    The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

    In the novel, scientists discover how to teach people the technique of teleporting themselves by sheer psionic power. This is called "Jaunting."

    The power is discovered in a laboratory on Callisto when a researcher named Jaunte accidentally set fire to himself. Abruptly he teleported seventy feet to the fire extinquisher, and put out the fire. The other researchers then started intensively studying Jaunte to figure out how the heck he did it. The theory was that if it had required the threat of death to goad Jaunte into teleporting himself in the first place, they’d damned well threaten him with death again.

    After Jaunte managed to survive a few death-traps, the researchers figured out enough to try teaching others. They got some suicide volunteers, trained them, and put them in death-traps. About 20% managed to jaunt.

    Now, do you see the little flaw in the novel's reasoning?

    If a person can involuntarily jaunt when threatened with death, why in all the thouands of years of recorded history there is no record of this ever happening?

    Common Psionic SciFi Uses

    FTL Communication

    There are a few cases of science fiction stories postulating that telepathy can be used for interstellar communication because telepathy is faster than light and has an intragalactic range. Because that meanie Einstein may have cursed radio with a speed-of-light limit but even he must fall back helpless when faced with the awesome mystical powers of the human mind. Just ask Darth Vader.

    Stories include:

    • Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg: messages are sent by commercial telepaths (TPs) along a relay chain linking colonized planets. When not "on the clock" the telepaths often stay linked into the network for fun, getting interstellar gossip from other telepaths.
    • Commodore Grimes series by A. Bertram Chandler: military ships carry a telepath for FTL communication. The telepaths are assisted by a device called a psionic amplifier, which is basically a living dog's brain floating in a nutrient tank.
    • Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein: The Long Range Foundation is mounting a series of interstellar scouting missions with slower-than-light relativistic starships. They use telepaths to keep the ships in touch with Terra. The majority of telepaths can only talk with one other person, commonly an identical twin.
    • Whipping Star by Frank Herbert: Interstellar communication is by telepaths of an alien species called the "Taprisiots". They look like animated pine trees.
    • Lensman Series by E. E. "Doc" Smith: Assisted by his Lens, Kimball Kinnison can do almost anything psionic. Including telepathic communication with anybody in the galaxy, whether they are a telepath or not.

    FTL Star Drive

    FTL communication is not the only bone of contention science fiction authors have with Doc Einstein, or even the largest one. The major solar-plexus blow Einstein sucker-punched the authors with is his forbidding the existence of Faster-Than-Light Starships. Again the supernatural power of psionics laughs at the puny limits of relativity.

    • Specialist by Robert Sheckley: Starships are composite creatures. Many planets are home to "wall" aliens who form the hull, some planets have "atomic engine" aliens who are the normal space propulsion system, some have "eye" aliens who are sensors, some have "network" aliens who plug into the minds of all the components for coordination, and some have food producer aliens who create chow for all the others. As it turns out, Terra is planet home to "pushers", who are the FTL drives of starships.
    • SPI's StarForce Alpha Centauri wargame by Redmond Simonsen: Starships or "TeleShips" are jumped or "shifted" instantaneously from one location to another several light-years away by teams of "telesthetic" women with psionic powers. Shifting cannot be done by a machine, it has to be done by a person (though they are assisted by a "Gnostech" or AI computer who was "initiated" by the telesthetic in question).
    • SPI's Universe RPG: using a concept borrowed from StarForce Alpha Centauri, if a starship is at a jump point and has a functional jump pod, a psionically gifted person with the "Psi Naviation" skill can instantly "jump" the starship to another star system.

    Alien Language Translator

    In early pulp-science fiction authors were faced with the problem of space explorers communicating with aliens. It really put the brakes on the plot to force their intrepid heroes to take half a year to learn Alien Pidgin. Such authors would wave their hands and say that telepathy was somehow a universal translator, then get on with the story.

    There are quite a few problems with this short cut.

    Psionic Awakening

    In some science fiction novels, people (generally the protagonist) can be "latent" psis. They are unaware that they possess psionic powers, such powers are locked away in the depths of their minds. Certain events can cause these latent powers to awaken or unlock, the protagonist suddenly finds they have superpowers.

    Of course this can cause problems. A latent telepath undergoing an awakening will unexpectedly find they can hear a torrent of voices in their heads. And if they are not careful going to the doctor will have them diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.

    A common awakening trigger is the protagonist going through puberty. See Harry Potter.

    A less common awakening trigger is the protagonist being psionically attacked by a bad guy. It is sort of like the protagonist can see the bad guy's psionic energies messing inside their head, and can thus figure out how to do it themselves.

    In the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) the protagonist Rey is a latent Jedi Knight. She is unware of this until the bad guy Kylo Ren makes the mistake of trying to use the Force to telepathically extract information from Rey's mind. This psionic attack awakens Rey's Force powers. She not only manages to turn the tables and read Kylo's mind, but later uses the Force to hypnotize a storm trooper into helping her escape. Kylo becomes angry, telling the storm troopers the longer it takes to recapture her, the stronger she will become.

    But the trope is much older than the Star Wars movie. There was something akin to that trope in Novice by James H. Schmitz (the first Telzey Amberdon story) in 1962, and I know I've read earlier stories along those lines.


    (ed note: in the role playing game Traveller, the galactic empire known as the Imperium all but outlaws psionics. Meanwhile the galactic empire known as the Zhodani Consulate is a full psionic society. There is some friction between the two empires about that.)

    Editors Note: This article was written by Brienshqlorieshsv. (press attache for the Zhodani diplomatic mission to the Imperium) shortly before the news of the recent war reached Capital.

    The editor of this publication has requested that I compose a short article explaining the philosophies and motivations of my people. In the interests of improved understanding between us, especially in view of the tensions which have almost always existed between the Imperium and the Consulate, I have cheerfully undertaken this task.

    The physical differences between our two peoples are well-known, and have been fully dealt with in many fine reference works. I will, therefore, pass over our physical appearance except to correct a few of the more blatant misrepresentations. Firstly. your literature hes a disturbing tendency to depict us with heavy eyebrows, a thick beard and either a sinister leer or a scowl, as if we were perpetually contemplating some heinous outrage. Let me assure you, the natural variation in the patterns and length of our facial hair is as great in the Consulate as it is in the Imperium. I admit there is a marked tendency of our nobles to sport beards, but not all of us do so. Among us, too, the class you call Intendants (and a great many of our Nobles as well) wear their head hair longer as a mark of distinction. Secondly, contrary to what many of your holographic film directors seem to think, we smile (and even laugh) as often as Imperials. The Consulate is not the gloomy, humorless place which your entertainments seem always to show.

    Contrary to what most Imperials believe, we are not robots. Creativity, divergence of opinion, freedom of expression...we have all of these within the Consulate. Our government is not oppressive...rather it is wholly concerned with the well-being of our citizens, both as a whole and individually. In return, our citizens respect, obey, and freely criticize their rulers (as is their duty).

    (ed note: in reality because of their psionic abilities, the Zhodani have the most effective authoritarian rule in the history of empires)


    I shall turn now to the major difference between our peoples: psionics. It is the possession of psionic abilities which is the root cause of all tension between us. I have dwelt in the Imperium for years, and I believe I have an understanding of Imperials as great as any of my people, yet even I have only begun to understand the depths of the distrust Imperials feel for us. Most of your populace seems to fear psi powers, even though they have brought our society nothing but benefits (and could yours, if you would but embrace them).

    For example, psionics permit us to advance the science of behavioral psychology far beyond the Imperial efforts. Where your scientists must guess what occurs in a subject's mind, our observers can know. Our doctors can be certain of the precise effects of a particular course of treatment, instead of stumbling about in the dark, as yours do. Since such disorders as greed can be cured, there is no need for a Zhodani to steal. Since our citizens learn to be open and free in their opinions (and to respect and accept those of others), there is no need for a Zhodani to lie. Since most anti-social tendencies can be detected and corrected early, there is almost no violent crime within the Consulate.

    The idea that we constantly monitor our citizens' thoughts is ludicrous. Privacy is not an unknown and alien concept to us. A citizen's privacy ... his personality, his dreams, his thoughts ... are his own, and no one In the Consulate will violate a citizen's right to privacy without good and compelling reasons. In any case, not all of us have the ability to "read minds" as you phrase it. However, many of us are trained in "reading" subtleties of body language, speech and behavior, but these are talents anyone can learn, with or without psionic abilities (a great number of your own psychiatric and behavioral scientists study and use our techniques, so they can hardly be considered " evil" by your intelligentsia).

    Of course, a citizen's right to privacy does have certain limitations. Our Teverchedle patrols occasionally monitor the general state of certain minds (more or less at random), but this is no more a violation of their privacy than when Imperial police stop and question an imperial citizen. It is done to detect the beginnings of mental illness, that such illness may be uncovered and treated as early as possible.

    Which brings us, in a rather roundabout fashion, to another basic difference between our citizens and yours ... their fundamental honesty. In conversations, I have noticed that many Imperials will signal that they are about to speak the truth with a phrase such as "believe me" or "to be perfectly frank." There are no such phrases in our language. They are not needed. Indeed, while we have an intellectual understanding of the concept of "lie," contact with the actual fact that people exist who willingly convey information that they know to be untrue disgusts those of us without special training. Naturally, some of us are often misinformed, and thus convey falsehoods, but these are accidental, and we all strive to be as truthful as possible. Our people believe that the truthful expression of opinion cannot be harmful if it is sincerely and constructively expressed.

    Just as the average Imperial citizen would be uncomfortable in the midst of the Consulate, the average Consulate citizen would be uncomfortable in the midst of the Imperium. He can trust no one. He believes himself to be completely surrounded by liars and thieves. Even if he has no psi abilities, no Imperial will believe him, and he will be shunned as if he has some terrible disease. For these reasons, only those of us with the highest motivations towards peace and mutual understanding can remain long in the Imperium, and even we require special training and education.

    It is, of course, understandable that Imperials should fear the exposure of their innermost thoughts. Because of the structure of your society, anti-social thoughts are allowed to form, and grow without hindrance. An Imperial often grows to adulthood without ever receiving the help he needs to properly adjust himself to society, and make the greatest possible contribution to the common good (and to himself, by doing so). Criminal behaviors grow and fester In his mind ... greed, acquisitiveness, violence, hatred, prejudice ... and come to dominate his behavior. Consider what could happen in your society if the energy, the inventiveness that is channelled into criminal pursuits were instead directed to the benefit of all. What a wonderful place the Imperium could be!

    - Brienshqloriashav

    Psionic Technology

    Legendary SF editor and author John W. Campbell Jr. seized upon the idea of psi powers, and popularized the idea they were linked to the next stage of human evolution into a higher form. This was the "psi boom" in science fiction of the early 1950s. It fizzled out by the mid 1960s.

    Campbell originally coined the term "Psionics" to be applied to machines that can augment psi powers (such as dowsing rods, radionics, and the Hieronymus machine). "Psionics" was a contraction of "Psi" and "electronics". Campbell was of the opinion that these things actually worked in the real world. The Hieronymus machine was especially egregious, the blasted thing worked equally well if it contained the electronics or if it only contained a blueprint of the electronics.

    After the 1960's nobody took such machines seriously anymore.

    In Doc Smith's Lensman series, bad guys could wear "thought screens" to prevent their thoughts from being telepathically read (at least as long as the battery lasts, or until the Lensman can mentally control a spider or worm to craw up and turn the screen off). In Poul Anderson's Flandry novels, Flandry also uses a mind screen to deal with the dangerous telepathic agent Aycharaych. In the Traveller RPG they have "Psionic Shield Helmets." In The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz the pirate haven leader wears a special skullcap to keep Klatha waves from taking over his mind.

    In A. Bertram Chandler's Commodore Grimes series, interstellar communication is performed by telepaths whose powers are amplified by a device which includes a living dog brain in a tank.

    In Alexis A. Gilliland's The End of the Empire tractor beams are human psychokinesis experts who require a laser beam of a Mechanically Simulated Telekinesis device as a sort of crutch.

    In the game StarForce Alpha Centauri, SPI's Universe RPG, and Frank Herbert's DUNE novels, psionic humans are the starship's interstellar drives. In StarForce the telesthetics need the help of intelligent computers called "gnostechs", but no pure machine assemblage can move a starship. In DUNE the Guild Navigators need the assistance of massive doses of the drug Melange. Technically the Guild Navigators are not the FTL drive so much as they are the FTL sensors, using precognition to foresee the safe path through folded space.

    In Larry Niven's "Known Space" series, a psionic device called a mass sensor allows starship pilots to avoid gravitational concentrations that will make their hyperspace starships vanish forever. It is described as "psionic" as an excuse explaining why human starship pilots existed when it would be so easy to run them automatically by computer. It seems that in Niven's universe computers cannot use psionic devices because of Reasons.

    In the old role-playing game Starfaring, humans invent intelligent robots, who promptly revolt and start exterminating humanity. Things look grim because the robots can out-perform and out-fight humans.

    But humanity is saved when aliens give them the wonder drug LSDX-6000. This grants humans psi powers. The robots quickly succumb to precognative human fighter-pilots who can psionically foresee the robots fighter's maneuvers, and human robot-kiler troops who can apport critical bits out of the robot's bodies. After the war, humans ensure that all the robots they make are really stupid.

    (I was considered to do the artwork for the Starfaring game book, but they decided to go with Ernest Hogan)


    "Threbus and Toll know Sedmon, Captain. They visited his place four, five times before I was born. They told me about him. He's got a sort of skullcap he uses that keeps klatha (psionic) waves out of his mind. You can bet he'll wear it tomorrow! But he still doesn't want trouble with witches. He knows too much about them."...

    ...Uldune's lord wore a long black robe and a helmet-like cap of velvet green which covered half his forehead and enclosed his skull to the nape of his neck. The last must be the anti-klatha device Goth had mentioned.

    From THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James H. Schmitz (1949)

    (ed note: Flandry is a secret agent much like James Bond, except that Poul Anderson invented Flandry years before Ian Fleming invented Bond. Flandry's arch enemy is Aycharaych, an enemy secret agent who is the only known xenotelepath. )

         Ruethen cocked an eye at Flandry. And suddenly the man sensed tautness in that massive frame. Just for a moment, then Ruethen's whole body became a mask. "We have met now and then," said the Merseian dryly. "Welcome, Sir Dominic. The cloakroom slave will furnish you with a mind-screen."
         "What?" Despite himself, Flandry started.
         "If you want one."...
         ...Flandry led her on into the ballroom. His mind worried Ruethen's curious offer, like a dog with a bone. Why—?
         He saw the gaunt black shape among the rainbow Terrans, and he knew. It went cold along his spine.
         He wasted no time on excuses but almost ran to the cloakroom. His feet whispered along the crystalline floor, where Orion glittered hundreds of light-years beneath. "Mind-screen," he snapped.
         The slave was a pretty girl. Merseians took pleasure in buying humans for menial jobs. "I've only a few, sir," she said. "His lordship told me to keep them for—"
         "Me!" Flandry snatched the cap of wires, transistors, and power cells from her hesitant fingers. Only when it was on his head did he relax. Then he took out a fresh cigarette and steered through lilting music towards the bar. He needed a drink, badly.
         Aycharaych of Chereion stood beneath high glass pillars...
         ...Lady Diana approached. She seemed uncertain whether to be indignant or intrigued. "Now I know what they mean by cavalier treatment." She pointed upward. "What is that thing?"
         Flandry tossed off his drink. The whisky smoked down his throat, and he felt his nerves ease. "I'm told it's my face," he said.
         "No, no! Stop fooling! I mean that horrible wire thing."
         "Mind-screen." He held out his glass for a refill. "It heterodynes the energy radiation of the cerebral cortex in a random pattern. Makes it impossible to read what I'm thinking."
         "But I thought that was impossible anyway," she said, bewildered. "I mean, unless you belong to a naturally telepathic species."
         "Which man isn't," he agreed, "except for rare cases. The nontelepath develops his own private ‘language,' which is gibberish to anyone who hasn't studied him for a long time as a single individual. Ergo, telepathy was never considered a particular threat in my line of work (secret agent), and you've probably never heard of the mind-screen. It was developed just a few years ago. And the reason for its development is standing over there."
         She followed his eyes. "Who? That tall being in the black mantle?"
         "The same. I had a brush with him, and discovered to my... er... discomfiture, shall we say?... that he has a unique gift. Whether or not all his race does, I couldn't tell you. But within a range of a few hundred meters, Aycharaych of Chereion can read the mind of any individual of any species, whether he's ever met his victim before or not."
         "But—why, then—"
         "Exactly. He's persona non grata throughout our territory, of course, to be shot on sight. But as you know, my lady," said Flandry in a bleak tone, "we are not now in the Terrestrial Empire. Jupiter belongs to the Dispersal of Ymir."
         "Oh," said Lady Diana. She colored. "A telepath!"...
         ...Aycharaych chuckled and took the man's arm. "Come, let us find a more peaceful spot. But I pray you, do not waste so amusing an occasion on me. I own to visiting Terra clandestinely, but that part of it was entirely for the easement of my personal curiosity. I had no intention of burgling the Imperial offices—"
         "Which are equipped with Aycharaych alarms anyway."
         "Telepathizing detectors? Yes, so I would assume."...

    From WE CLAIM THESE STARS! by Poul Anderson (1959)

         Psishield Helmets Set New Fashion Trend
         The war scare in the marches has provided an unexpected bonus for the local electronics firm of Currothers-Aljein. Psionic shields have become items of popular fashion.
         Psionic shield helmets have been on the market for centuries, reported Auges Currothers, senior partner of the firm. " They were popular for a brief time during the psionics suppressions back in the 800's, but they were considered to be something of an embarrassment after that," Currothers said. "Pretty soon, nobody wore them, even during the Third and Fourth Frontier Wars, but for some reason we can't keep them in stock now,"
         Local Imperial authorities are pleased with the trend and suggest that it reflects a patriotic response of the population to the threat posed by mind-reading enemy spies.

         Psionic Shield
         Psionic shield helmets, or psishields, come in a variety of designs, but all work on the same general principles. All models completely encase the wearer's head. A battery powered generator located over the back of the neck creates a weak electrical field at human brain-wave frequencies which psionicalIy endowed individuals perceive as static.
         Psionic shields are available on worlds of tech level 12 or better with a roll of 9+. Chances for finding them are better (DM +3) where the population is suspicious or fearful of psionic activity or on worlds caught up in the current war scare along the Zhodani frontier. On some worlds, they have become fashionable among the well-dressed upper classes, although they are too expensive (and, indeed, unnecessary) for most civilians. They are sometimes issued to individuals working at installations or secret projects which, for various reasons, cannot themselves be shielded.
         Psishield electronics are relatively simple. but prone to breakdown from lack of maintenance or sabotage; therefore, a small meter is provided with the unit for periodic testing of the device's effectiveness. Any character with access to the helmet can disable it temporarily; individuals with electronics -3 can disable it in such a way that even test meters will not reveal tampering.
         The on/off switches of most models are equipped with psi-proof locks to prevent telekinetics from turning the helmet off. Many have chinstraps or other methods of securing the helmet in place. At tech level 14, advanced models are available which are powered from the wearer's body heat, and need no on/off switch.
         Psishields provide little physical protection, but give the wearer an automatic psionic strength rating of 15 (for the purposes of defense against assault only). Shielded individuals cannot be detected by characters possessing life detection , nor can they receive telempathetic or telepathic suggestions. They cannot be probed or have their thoughts read.
         Psionic shielding is built into many large installations and military or scout bases where secrecy is required. Military ships, vacc suits, and armor generally have psionic shield circuits built into them to prevent enemy telepaths picking up battle strategy during combat. The shield circuitry for ships and buildings is considered a prime target for enemy saboteurs and is heavily guarded during times of crisis.

    From PSISHIELD HELMETS SET NEW FASHION TREND by William H. Keith jr. (1980)
    The Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society No. 9

    (ed note: Darell of the First Foundation is trying to find a defence against the agents of the Second Foundation. Those agents can use their mental powers to instantly telepathically brain-wash a person. )

         “All right, can you do something like this?” He sketched rapidly on the pad he held in his lap, then passed it over to the old physicist, who peered at it doubtfully, then chuckled.
         “Y’know, the brain gets calcified when you get as old as I am. What are you trying to do?”
         Darell hesitated. He longed desperately, at the moment, for the physical knowledge locked in the other’s brain, so that he need not put his thought into words. But the longing was useless, and he explained.
         Semic was shaking his head. “You’d need hyper-relays. The only things that would work fast enough. A thundering lot of them.”
         “But it can be built?”
         “Well, sure.”
         “Can you get all the parts? I mean, without causing comment? In line with your general work.”
         Semic lifted his upper lip. “Can’t get fifty hyper-relays? I wouldn’t use that many in my whole life.”
         “We’re on a defense project, now. Can’t you think of something harmless that would use them? We’ve got the money.”
         “Hm-m-m. Maybe I can think of something.”
         “How small can you make the whole gadget?”
         “Hyper-relays can be had micro-size … wiring … tubes — Space, you’ve got a few hundred circuits there.”
         “I know. How big?”
         Semic indicated with his hands.
         “Too big,” said Darell. “I’ve got to swing it from my belt”

         “But I could do something else. I could, with Semic’s help, construct what I shall describe as a Mental Static device. It is not beyond the ability of modem science to create an energy source that will duplicate an encephalograph-type pattern of electromagnetic field. Moreover, it can be made to shift at complete random, creating, as far as this particular mind-sense is concerned, a sort of ‘noise’ or ‘static’ which masks other minds with which it may be in contact.
         “Do you still follow?”
         Semic chuckled. He had helped create blindly, but he had guessed, and guessed correctly. The old man had a trick or two left—
         Anthor said, “I think I do.”
         “The device,” continued Darell, “is a fairly easy one to produce, and I had all the resources of the Foundation under my control as it came under the heading of war research. And now the mayor’s offices and the Legislative assemblies are surrounded with Mental Static. So are most of our key factories. So is this building. Eventually, any place we wish can be made absolutely safe from the Second Foundation or from any future Mule. And that’s it.”

         "And what does it matter, since Darell says we have the perfect defense?”
         Darell smiled without humor. “The perfect defense is not enough, Turbor. Even my Mental Static device is only something that keeps us in the same place. We cannot remain forever with our fists doubled, frantically staring in all directions for the unknown enemy.

         “Well, then, I don’t like it. Your Mental Static isn’t worth a thought. We can’t stay in the house forever and as soon as we leave, we’re lost, with what we now think we know. Unless you can build a little machine for every inhabitant in the Galaxy.”
         “Yes, but we’re not quite helpless, Anthor. These men of the Second Foundation have a special sense which we lack. It is their strength and also their weakness. For instance, is there any weapon of attack that will be effective against a normal, sighted man which is useless against a blind man?”
         “Sure,” said Munn, promptly. “A light in the eyes.”
         “Exactly,” said Darell. “A good, strong blinding light.”
         “Well, what of it?” asked Turbor.
         “But the analogy is clear. I have a Mind Static device. It sets up an artificial electromagnetic pattern, which to the mind of a man of the Second Foundation would be like a beam of light to us. But the Mind Static device is kaleidoscopic. It shifts quickly and continuously, faster than the receiving mind can follow. All right then, consider it a flickering light; the kind that would give you a headache, if continued long enough. Now intensify that light or that electromagnetic field until it is blinding — and it will become a pain, an unendurable pain. But only to those with the proper sense; not to the unsensed.”
         “Really?” said Anthor, with the beginnings of enthusiasm. “Have you tried this?”
         “On whom? Of course, I haven’t tried it. But it will work.”
         “Well, where do you have the controls for the Field that surrounds the house? Id like to see this thing.”
         “Here.” Darell reached into his jacket pocket. It was a small thing, scarcely bulging his pocket. He tossed the black, knob-studded cylinder to the other.
         Anthor inspected it carefully and shrugged his shoulders. “It doesn’t make me any smarter to look at it. Look Darell, what mustn’t I touch? I don’t want to turn off the house defense by accident, you know.”
         “You won’t,” said Darell, indifferently. “That control is locked in place.” He flicked at a toggle switch that didn’t move.
         “And what’s this knob?”
         “That one varies rate of shift of pattern. Here — this one varies the intensity. It’s that which I’ve been referring to.”
         “May I—” asked Anthor, with his finger on the intensity knob. The others were crowding close.
         “Why not?” shrugged DarelI. “It won’t affect us.”
         Slowly, almost wincingly, Anthor turned the knob, first in one direction, then in another. Turbor was gritting his teeth, while Munn blinked his eyes rapidly. It was as though they were keening their inadequate sensory equipment to locate this impulse which could not affect them.
         Finally, Anthor shrugged and tossed the control box back into Darell’s lap. “Well, I suppose we can take your word for it. But it’s certainly hard to imagine that anything was happening when I turned the knob.”
         “But naturally, Pelleas Anthor,” said Darell, with a tight smile. “The one I gave you was a dummy. You see I have another.” He tossed his jacket aside and seized a duplicate of the control box that Anthor had been investigating, which swung from his belt.
         “You see,” said Darell, and in one gesture turned the intensity knob to maximum.
         And with an unearthly shriek, Pelleas Anthor sank to the floor. He rolled in his agony; whitened, gripping fingers clutching and tearing futilely at his hair.

    From SECOND FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov (1953)

    Notable Psionic Fiction

    The LENSMAN series by E. E. "Doc" Smith
    A major part of the power of the Lensmen was their psi powers, amplified by wearing a customized Lens from the planet Arisia. This is another example of an SF universe where psi powers were a characteristic of the next stage of human evolution.
    Subspace Explorers by E. E. "Doc" Smith
    Another example of psi power being the touchstone of the next stage of evolution, but with the twist that just because you are more highly evolved does not mean you are automatically a nice person. Also the telepaths find it impossible to read the minds of non-Psi people, until they realize that non-Psis are basically thinking in three dimensions while Psi do it in four.
    The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
    The discovery that allows pretty much everybody to teleport ("Jaunting") totally disrupts the economy of the solar system. Since one can only jaunt to a place whose location you know, buildings are rendered jaunt proof not by thick walls, but by being located in the center of elaborate disorienting mazes. And since you also have to know where you are starting your jaunt from, prisons are located inside mazes as well. Trying to jaunt to or from a maze is a good way to do a "blue jaunt": dying in an explosion caused by the jaunter materializing inside a wall or other solid object.
    The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
    The novel takes place in a society of telepaths. But the level of ability one has determines what telepathic powers one is capable of.
    Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke


    This novel too equates psionic powers with the next stage of evolution. Humanity is right at the cusp of evolving into bodiless psionic hyperintelligent hive-mind energy creatures, just like all races do. The Overmind is a composite of all the other races who have made the transition.

    The trouble is that if a race does not do the transition properly, they will become sort of a telepathic cancer whose inevitable decay will poison the Overmind.

    The Overmind sends their servants the Overlords to Terra. They are tasked with halting all human research into parapsychology, making humanity march in place while the Overmind mentally molds the next generation so as to safely make the transition.

    Second Dawn by Arthur C. Clarke


    The Atheleni and the Mithraneans are two alien races with high intelligence, incredibly developed mathematics, telepathic powers, but no hands. They have no artifacts at all, and constant wars because with no agriculture there is not enough food.

    In the last war, the Atheleni only managed to avoid defeat from the Mithraneans by starting a telepathic "Manhattan Project" and inventing the telepathic equivalent of a nuclear weapon. The weapon telepathically burns the intellect of the target, leaving them with the mental capacity of a one-year old.

    But the agriculture problem remains.

    In a breakthrough, one Atheleni makes contact with a third race on the planet, the Phileni. They are somewhat limited in IQ, but they do have hands. With the Atheleni as the head and the Pheleni as the hands, they start mastering the physical sciences.

    The story ends by noting that they of all the races of the universe had reached the second crossroads, but had never passed the first. They had safely passed the crossroad of telepathic weapons and telepathic armageddon, but hand not yet faced the crossroad of nuclear weapons and nuclear armageddon.

    Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein
    The Long Range Foundation has torchships capable of relativistic starflight. But communication is a problem. In a breakthrough, they discover that some identical twins can communicate telepathically. Such communication is instantaneous and has interstellar range. They recruit sets of such twins to serve as interstellar radios. Of course things get complicated as relativity alters the relative ages of each pair of twins. Though if you think about it, the fact that telepathy is instantaneous kind of knocks relativity into a cocked hat anyway.
    Voodoo Planet by Andre Norton

    The planet Khatka was settled three hundred years ago by desperate refugees escaping from the Second Atomic War. They decivilized, but gradually managed to recover before being contacted by the Scout Service. However, they retain the hereditary familiy of witch-doctors, who possess magic that actually works.

    Chief witch-doctor Lumbrilo is making a power-play, to become not only chief witch-doctor but also the political ruler of the planet. He is systematically using magic to assasinate those who stand in his way.

    The current leader is Chief Ranger Asaki. To counter the threat of Lumbrilo, he contacts his old friend the free-trader Captain Jellico. Specfically to request the aid of free-trader Medic Craig Tau. It turns out that Tau has a hobby of studying what the natives call "magic" on the myriad worlds the free-traders have visited.

    (available free from Project Gutenberg)

    Psionics was popularised by John W. Campbell jr., A. E. van Vogt ("Slan"), Larry Niven, James H. Schmitz, Andre Norton, Alan E. Nourse, and many many others. Not to mention the telepathic Vulcans of Star Trek, the Jedi Knights from the Star Wars movies, and the nasty Psi Corps of Babylon 5.

    In space opera a person seldom has all the psionic abilities, they generally only have two or three. Some have limitations for dramatic reasons: your evil overlord's ability to use apportation to teleport your protagonist's still-beating heart into their hand is just a little too overwhelming.

    Telepathic receiving was popular in early space operas, when the authors didn't want their characters wasting dramatic tension by taking months learning an alien language. Hal Clement pointed out a little flaw in that idea.


    " . . . Well, why didn't anybody know?" Pagadan's voice came, muted but crackling. "That Department of Cultures investigator has been on Ulphi for over a month now, and others just as long! You get copies of their reports, don't you? You couldn't put any two of them together without seeing that another Telep-Two thinks he's invented the Pyramid Effect out here—there isn't a thing on the crummy little planet that doesn't show it! And I'll be the daughter of a C-Class human," she added bitterly, "if it isn't a type-case in full flower, with all the trimmings! Including immortalization and the Siva Psychosis.

    "Pyramid Effect," Psych-Library Information instructed Linky gently a minute later. "Restricted, Galactic Zones. Result of the use of an expanding series of psychimpulse-multipliers, organic or otherwise, by Telepaths of the Orders Two to Four, for the transference of directional patterns, compulsions, illusions, et cetera, to large numbers of subjects.

    "The significant feature of the Pyramid Effect is its elimination of excessive drain on the directing mentality, achieved by utilizing the neural or neural-type energies of the multipliers themselves in transferring the directed impulses from one stage to the next.

    "Techniques required to establish the first and second stages of multipliers are classified as Undesirable General Knowledge. Though not infrequently developed independently by Telepaths above the primary level, their employment in any form is prohibited throughout the Confederacy of Vega and variously discouraged by responsible governments elsewhere.

    "Establishment of the third stage, and subsequent stages, of impulse-multipliers involves a technique-variant rarely developed by uninstructed Telepaths below the Order of Five. It is classified, under all circumstances, as Prohibited General Knowledge and is subject to deletion under the regulations pertaining to that classification.

    (ed note: With each new person the Telep-Two enslaves, the more psychic energy they have to spend. They will run out of energy way before they manage to enslave the entire planet.

    The answer is delegation. The Telep-Two enslaves, say, ten people, ten Psionic people. Then each of those ten enslaves ten more Psionics, and so on. The Telep-Two only has to spend energy on the original ten, the rest take care of themselves.

    It is sort of a telepathic Pyramid scheme to enslave the entire planet.)

    "Psychimpulse-multiplier," the gentle voice came back. "Restricted, Galactic Zones. Any person, organic entity, energy form, or mentalized instrument employed in distributing the various types of telepathic impulses to subjects beyond the scope of the directing mentality in range or number—Refer to `Pyramid Effect'—"

    (ed note: the enslaved Psionics are psychimpulse-multipliers. The directing Telep-Two can use the pyramid of enslaved Psionics to receive data and to send commands.)

    That seemed to be that. What else was the Z.A. crying about? Oh, yes!

    "Siva Psychosis," the gentle voice resumed obligingly. "Symptom of the intermediate to concluding stages of the Autocrat Circuit in human-type mentalities—Refer to `Multiple Murder: Causes'—"

    Linky grimaced.

    "The over-all pattern on Ulphi," the general stated, "is obviously that produced by an immortalized A-Class human intellect, Sub-Class Twelve, variant Telep-Two—as developed in planetary or small-system isolation, over a period of between three and five centuries."

    "In that time," he went on, "the system of general controls has, of course, become almost completely automatic. There is, however, continuing and fairly intensive activity on the part of the directing mentality. Development of the Siva Psychosis is at a phase typical for the elapsed period—concealed and formalized killings cloaked in sacrificial symbolism. Quantitatively, they have not begun as yet to affect the population level. The open and indiscriminate slaughter preceding the sudden final decline presumably would not appear, then, for at least another century.

    "Of primary significance for the identification of the controlling mentality is this central grouping of formulae. Within the historical period which must have seen the early stages of the mentality's dominance, the science of Ulphi—then practically at Galactic par—was channeled for thirty-eight years into a research connected with the various problems of personal organic immortality. Obviously, under such conditions, only the wildest sort of bad luck could prevent discovery and co-ordination of the three basic requirements for any of the forms of individual perpetuation presently developed.

    "Well, that's it, I think," the general remarked at last. "How the old explorers used to wonder at the frequency with which such little lost side-branches of civilization appeared to have simply and suddenly ceased to exist!"

    The general hesitated. "The population on Ulphi hasn't been too badly debased as yet," he pointed out. "Various reports indicate an I.Q. average of around eleven points below A-Class—not too bad, considering the early elimination of the strains least acceptable to the controlling mentality, and the stultifying effect of life-long general compulsions on the others.

    "They're still eligible for limited membership—capable of self-government and, with help, of self-defense. It will be almost a century, of course, before they grow back to a point where they can be of any real use to us. Meanwhile, the location of the planet itself presents certain strategic advantages—"

    From AGENTS OF VEGA & OTHER STORIES by James Schmidt (2001)

    (ed note: Deston and the other members of the Psionic Institute are faced with the problem that a psionic cannot read the mind of a non-psionic. They try to figure out a method. The problem turns out to be that non-psionic people have three-dimensional minds while psionics have four dimensional minds.)

    “Could be—we’re in a jam,” Deston said, and told them what the jam was. “So you see, to get anywhere at all, we’ve got to do some really intensive spying, and the only way to do that is to learn how to read non-psionic minds, and the poop is that if anybody in total space can deliver the goods on that order, you four are most apt to be the ones.”

    The four linked up and went to work, and the Destons tuned themselves in; very slowly at first; more as observers than as active participants in the investigation. The subject this time was a middle-echelon executive, the traffic manager of one division of far-flung Warner Oil.

    The four were getting a flash of coherent thought once in a while, but that was all.

    “That’s right,” Deston said. “Now as to what this engine does. Postulating a two-dimensional creature, you could pile a million of him up and still have no thickness at all. Similarly, no three-dimensional material body can be compressed to zero thickness. The analogy holds in three and four dimensions. However, there are discontinuities, incompatibilities, and sheer logical impossibilities. Hence, ordinarily, a four-dimensional mind, which all psionic minds are, cannot engage any three-dimensional, non-psionic mind at all. All possible points of contact are of zero dimensions……

    “That’s about it. Now, another analogy. Consider transformation of coordinates—polar into Cartesian, three-dimensional into two-dimensional, and so on. What a competent operator in the Fourth actually does is manipulate non-space-non-time attributes in such a way as to construct a matrix that is both three-and four-dimensional. Analogous to light-particle and/or wave. You follow?”

    “Perfectly,” the Frenches said in unison. “Four on our side, three on the non-psi’s side, with perfect coupling.”

    “Close enough,” Deston said. “Now. Thought patterns are as individual as fingerprints or the shape of one snowflake or one instantaneous pattern in a kaleidoscope. What two telepaths do is not tune one mind to the other. Instead, each one of a very large number of filaments of thought—all under control, remember—touches its opposite number, thus setting up a pattern that has never existed before and will never exist again… .”

    “I get it!” French exclaimed. “Reading a non-psi’s mind will be a strictly one-way street. Well have to go through the matrix—which doesn’t exist in telepathy—and match whatever pattern we find on the other side—which won’t change.

    “That’s right-we hope! Now you can go.”

    They went; and this time the traffic-manager’s mind was wider open to inspection than any book could possibly be. To be comparable, every page of such a book would have to be placed in perfect position to read and all at once!


    And until now, there was another fact that made the matter of no more than long-term philosophical interest. Though we could — at great expense — build radio transmitters capable of sending signals to these creatures, the nearest supercivilization is seven thousand light-years away. Even if it bothered to reply, it would be fourteen thousand years before we could get an answer. In these circumstances, it seemed that our superiors could be neither a help to us nor a threat.

    But now all this has changed. We can send signals to the stars at a speed that cannot yet be measured, and that may well be infinite. And we know that they are using such techniques — for we have detected their impulses, though we cannot begin to interpret them.

    These impulses are not electromagnetic, of course. We do not know what they are; we do not even have a name for them. Or, rather, we have too many names….

    Yes, gentlemen, there is something, after all, in the old wives’ tales about telepathy, ESP, or whatever you care to call it. But it is no wonder that the study of such phenomena never made any progress here on Earth, where there is the continuous background roar of a billion minds to swamp all signals. Even the pitiably limited progress that was made before the Space Age seems a miracle — like discovering the laws of music in a boiler factory. It was not until we could get away from our planet’s mental tumult that there was any hope of establishing a real science of parapsychology.

    And even then we had to move to the other side of the Earth’s orbit, where the noise was not only diminished by a hundred and eighty million miles of distance, but also shielded by the unimaginable bulk of the Sun itself. Only there, on our artificial planetoid Antigeos, could we detect and measure the feeble radiations of mentality, and uncover their laws of propagation.

    In many respects, those laws are still baffling. However, we have established the basic facts. As had long been suspected by the few who believed in these phenomena, they are triggered by emotional states — not by pure will-power or deliberate, conscious thought. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many reports of paranormal events in the past were associated with moments of death or disaster. Fear is a powerful generator; on rare occasions it can manifest itself above the surrounding noise.

    Once this fact was recognized, we began to make progress. We induced artificial emotional states, first in single individuals, then in groups. We were able to measure how the signals attenuated with distance. Now, we have a reliable, quantitative theory that has been checked out as far as Saturn. We believe that our calculations can be extended even to the stars. If this is correct, we can produce a … a shout that will be heard instantly over the whole galaxy. And surely there will be someone who will respond! Now there is only one way in which a signal of the required intensity can be produced. I said that fear was a powerful generator — but it is not powerful enough. Even if we could strike all humanity with a simultaneous moment of terror, the impulse could not be detected more than two thousand light-years away. We need at least four times this range. And we can achieve it — by using the only emotion that is more powerful than fear.

    From LOVE THAT UNIVERSE by Arthur C. Clarke (1961)

    (ed note: The Terran galactic empire has grown old and decadent, and the upstart alien Mersian empire seeks to conquer. Things would be quite awkward for Terra if, for instance, the Terran world Aeneas would suddenly be swept by religious extremism and embarked on a holy war that carved the Terran empire in half.

    A Mersian secret agent, the dreaded xenotelepath Aycharaych sees a possibility, and embarks upon a decades-long evil plan. As it turns out, Aeneas is one of the many planets infested with a Chereionite telepathic animal called a slinker. The tinerans (Aenean version of Gypsies) keep slinkers as pets. It also has six thousand year old ruins from some forerunner race called "The Builders." All Aenean revere and venerate the Builders. This is important to the plan. Aycharaych captures a simple villager named Jaan and telepathically programs him to become a prophet. Jaan hears Aycharaych's telepathic voice inside his head, calling itself "Caruith". Who tells Jaan that the Builders are returning, and to start preaching the word.

    One holy war, coming up!

    Erannath is a alien Ythri, but works for the Terran empire. Ivar is the somewhat naive heir to the Aenean throne.)

         Erannath studied her. At length he said: "Very well, for I hear your deathpride." He was still during a heartbeat. "The breath of tineran (Gypsy) life is that creature they call the luck, keeping at least one in every wagon. We call it the slinker."
         "Hoy," broke from Ivar, "how would you know—?"
         "Ythrians have found the three-eyed beasts on a number of planets." Erannath did not keep the wish to kill out of his voice; and his feathers began to stand erect. "Not on our home. But on several worlds like it, which naturally we investigated more thoroughly than your race normally does—the lesser terrestroid globes. Always slinkers are associated with fragments of an earlier civilization, such as Aeneas has. We suspect they were spread by that civilization, whether deliberately, accidentally, or through their own design. Some of us theorize that they caused its downfall."
         "Wait a minute," Ivar protested. "Why have we humans never heard of them?"
         "You have, on this world," Erannath replied. "Probably elsewhere too, but quite incidentally, notes buried in your data banks, because you are more interested in larger and moister planets. And for our part, we have had no special reason to tell you. We learned what slinkers are early in our starfaring, when first we had scant contact with Terrans, afterward hostile contact. We developed means to eradicate them. They long ago ceased to be a problem in the Domain, and no doubt few Ythrians, even, have heard of them nowadays."
         Too much information, too big a universe, passed through Ivar.
         "Besides," Erannath went on, "it seems humans are more susceptible than Ythrians. Our two brain-types are rather differently organized, and the slinkers' resonate better with yours."
         "Resonate?" Captain Riho scowled.
         "The slinker nervous system is an extraordinarily well-developed telepathic transceiver," Erannath said. "Not of thoughts. We really don't know what level of reasoning ability the little abominations possess. Nor do we care, in the way that human scientists might. When we had established what they do, our overwhelming desire was merely to slay them."
         "What do they do, then?" Ivar asked around a lump of nausea.
         "They violate the innermost self. In effect, they receive emotions and feed these back; they act as amplifiers." It was terrifying to see Erannath where he crouched. His dry phrases ripped forth. "Perhaps those intelligences you call the Builders developed them as pets, pleasure sources. The Builders may have had cooler spirits than you or we do. Or perhaps they degenerated from the effects, and died.
         "I said that the resonance with us Ythrians is weak. Nonetheless we found explorers and colonists showing ugly behavior. It would start as bad dreams, go on to murderously short temper, to year-around ovulation, to—Enough. We tracked down the cause and destroyed it.
         "You humans are more vulnerable, it appears. You are lucky that slinkers prefer the deserts. Otherwise all Aeneans might be addicted.
         "Yes, addiction. They don't realize it themselves, they think they keep these pets merely because of custom, but the tinerans are a nation of addicts. Every emotion they begin to feel is fed back into them, amplified, radiated, reamplified, to the limit of what the organism can generate. Do you marvel that they act like constitutional psychopaths? That they touch no drugs in their caravans, but require drugs when away, and cannot survive being away very long?"

    (ed note: Idiot Ivar and secret agent Erannath go to the Prophet's village. Erannath is thrown into Aycharaych's dungeon where he is tortured. Ivar doesn't notice Erannath is missing. Later Ivar gets a letter from his girlfriend. He realizes he's been had. Just to check, he asked the Prophet what Caruith looks like in his visions. Birdlike humanoid. OhCrap! Just like it says in the letter. Ivar goes looking for Erannath and finds him in the dungeon.)

         "What got me wonderin' was letter today from my girl. She'd learned of Merseian secret agent at large on Aeneas, telepath of some powerful kind. His description answers to Jaan's of Caruith." (none other than the dreaded Aycharaych)
         Erannath saw, and warned: "You cannot afford indignation either. Listen. Aycharaych has talked freely to me. I think he must be lonely, shut away down here with nothing but his machinations and the occasional string he pulls on his puppet prophet. Or is his reason that, in talking, he brings associations into my consciousness, and thus reads more of what I know? This is why I have been kept alive. He wants to drain me of data."
         "What is he?" Ivar whispered.
         "A native of a planet he calls Chereion, somewhere in the Merseian Roidhunate (Empire). Its civilization is old, old—formerly wide-faring and mighty—yes, he says the Chereionites were the Builders, the Ancients. He will not tell me what made them withdraw. He confesses that now they are few, and what power they wield comes wholly from their brains." (actually Aycharaych is the last of his species)
         "They're not, uh, uh, super-Didonians, though … galaxy-unifyin' intellects … as Jaan believes?"
         "No. Nor do they wage a philosophical conflict among themselves over the ultimate destiny of creation. Those stories merely fit Aycharaych's purpose." Erannath hunched on the claws of his wings. His head thrust forward against nacre and shadow. "Listen," he said. "We have no more than a sliver of time at best. Don't interrupt, unless I grow unclear. Listen. Remember."
         The words blew harshly forth, like an autumn gale: "They preserve remnants of technology on Chereion which they have not shared with their masters the Merseians—if the Merseians are really their masters and not their tools. I wonder about that. Well, we must not stop to speculate. As one would await, the technology relates to the mind. For they are extraordinary telepaths, more gifted than the science we know has imagined is possible.
         "There is some ultimate quality of the mind which goes deeper than language. At close range, Aycharaych can read the thoughts of any being—any speech, any species, he claims—without needing to know that being's symbolism. I suspect what he does is almost instantly to analyze the pattern, identify universals of logic and conation, go on from there to reconstruct the whole mental configuration—as if his nervous system included not only sensitivity to the radiation of others, but an organic semantic computer fantastically beyond anything that Technic civilization has built.
         "No matter! Their abilities naturally led Chereionite scientists to concentrate on psychology and neurology. It's been ossified for millions of years, that science, like their whole civilization: ossified, receding, dying. … Perhaps Aycharaych alone is trying to act on reality, trying to stop the extinction of his people. I don't know. I do know that he serves the Roidhunate as an Intelligence officer with a roving commission. This involves brewing trouble for the Terran Empire wherever he can.
         "During the Snelund regime, he looked through Sector Alpha Crucis. It wasn't hard, when misgovernment had already produced widespread laxity and confusion. The conflict over Jihannath was building toward a crisis, and Merseia needed difficulties on this frontier of Terra's.
         "Aycharaych landed secretly on Aeneas and prowled. He found more than a planet growing rebellious. He found the potential of something that might break the Empire apart. For all the peoples here, in all their different ways, are profoundly religious. Give them a common faith, a missionary cause, and they can turn fanatic."
         "No," Ivar couldn't help protesting.
         "Aycharaych thinks so. He has spent a great deal of his time and energy on your world, however valuable his gift would make him elsewhere."
         "But—one planet, a few millions, against the—"
         "The cult would spread. He speaks of militant new religions in your past, religions which brought obscure tribes to world power, and shook older dominions to their roots, in a single generation.
         "I must hurry. He found the likeliest place for the first spark was here, where the Ancients brood at the center of every awareness. In Jaan the dreamer, whose life and circumstances chanced to be a veritable human archetype, he found the likeliest tinder.
         "He cannot by himself project a thought into a brain which is not born to receive it. But he has a machine which can. That is nothing fantastic; human, Ythrian, or Merseian engineers could develop the same device, had they enough incentive. We don't, because for us the utility would be marginal; electronic communications suit our kind of life better.
         "Aycharaych, though—Telepathy of several kinds belongs to evolution on his planet. Do you remember the slinkers that the tinerans keep? I inquired, and he admitted they came originally from Chereion. No doubt their effect on men suggested his plan to him.
         "He called Jaan down to where he laired in these labyrinths. He drugged him and … thought at him … in some way he knows, using that machine—until he had imprinted a set of false memories and an idiom to go with them. Then he released his victim."
         "Artificial schizophrenia. Split personality. A man who was sane, made to hear 'Voices.' " Ivar shuddered.
         Erannath was harder-souled; or had he simply lived with the fact longer, in his prison? He went on: "Aycharaych departed, having other mischief to wreak. What he had done on Aeneas might or might not bear fruit; if not, he had lost nothing except his time.
         "He returned lately, and found success indeed. Jaan was winning converts throughout the Orcan country. Rumors of the new message were spreading across a whole globe of natural apostles, always eager for anything that might nourish faith, and now starved for a word of hope.
         "Events must be guided with craft and patience, of course, or the movement would most likely come to naught, produce not a revolution followed by a crusade, but merely another sect. Aycharaych settled down to watch, to plot, ever oftener to plant in Jaan, through his thought projector, a revelation from Caruith—"

    (ed note: Ivar escapes, Aycharaych evil plot is foiled. Later Ivar talks to the kindly Imperial temporary Governor Desai.)

         Bleakness: "What about Aycharaych?"
         "He has vanished, and his mind-engine. We're hunting for him, of course." Desai grimaced. "I'm afraid we will fail. One way or another, that wily scoundrel will get off the planet and home. But at least he did not destroy us here."
         Ivar let go of his girl, as if for this time not she nor anything else could warm him. Beneath a tumbled lock of yellow hair, his gaze lay winter-blue. "Do you actually believe he could have?"
         "The millennialism he was engineering, yes, it might have, I think," Desai answered, equally low. "We can't be certain. Very likely Aycharaych knows us better than we can know ourselves. But … it has happened, over and over, through man's troubled existence: the Holy War, which cannot be stopped and which carries away kingdoms and empires, though the first soldiers of it be few and poor.
         "Their numbers grow, you see. Entire populations join them. Man has never really wanted a comfortable (religion), a reasonable or kindly one; he has wanted a faith, a cause, which promises everything but mainly which requires everything…
         …"Aeneas was in the forefront of struggle for a political end. When defeat came, that turned the dwellers and their energies back toward transcendental things. And then Aycharaych invented for them a transcendence which the most devout religionist and the most hardened scientist could alike accept.
         "I do not think the tide of Holy War could have been stopped this side of Regulus. The end of it would have been humanity and humanity's friends ripped into two realms. No, more than two, for there are contradictions in the faith, which I think must have been deliberately put there. Yes, heresies, persecutions, rebellions … states lamed, chaotic, hating each other worse than any outsider—"
         Desai drew breath before finishing: "—such as Merseia. Which would be precisely what Merseia needs, first to play us off against ourselves, afterward to overrun and subject us."

    From THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN by Poul Anderson (1974)

    Psionic Organizations

    In science fiction there are often organizations that help psionic individual reach their full potential. Such organizations can be above-board or underground, depending upon whether being a Psi is illegal or not.

    In Babylon 5, telepaths must either join the Psi Corps and submit to their discipline, or be given a weekly dose of a drug that suppresses their telepathic power (and also gives you the thorazine shuffle). This is because non-telepathic humans are rightly somewhat terrified of telepaths, and they vote. Any telepaths who do neither option are rogue telepaths on the run. These are hunted by the Psi Cops, the enforcement branch of the Psi Corps.

    The motto of the Psi Corps is "The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father", which is exactly as creepy as it sounds.

    When the Psi Corps was set up, it was under the control of a select group of non-telepathic senators. However, that didn't last long. You cannot become a senator without accumulating blackmail-grade political skeletons in your closet, and the Psi Corp knows all the details. To the man on the street the Corps appears to be safely under control of the senators, but in reality the Corps own the senators in body and soul.

    The Corps also has access to large sums of money because telepaths are the ultimate Wall Street insider traders. Not to mention being past masters of industrial espionage. Past masters of all types of espionage for that matter.

    But their main advantage is having a legal monopoly on Psi powers. By law all Psis must be members of the Psi Corps or hunted down like a dog by Psi Cops. If the Psi Corps does anything illegal, the only ones who will know are other members of the Corps. If somehow a non-Psi discovers Psi Corps malfeasance their choices are [A] asking enslaved senators who are owned in fee simple to punish their owners, [B] ask the Psi Corps to investigate itself, or [C] keep your blasted mouth shut and maybe not suffer a tragic fatal accident.

    Now the Psi Corps can continue with their simple plan of becoming the Master Race.

    In the Traveller RPG there is the Psionics Institute, a public organization dedicated to research and training in the psionic sciences.

    In Richard McEnroe's The Shattered Stars there is also a Psionics Institute, but undercover since in that universe Psionics is illegal, and Psis are to be captured and imprisoned. The Institute is sort of a psionic parasite on society, because their SOP is to do telepathic corporate espionage, insider trading, and stealing trade secrets. In the novel they coerced one of the protagonists to try and neutralize a rogue psi that the Institute is afraid of. Because this psi is a predator.

    Magic Spells

    Some science fiction authors use psionics to explain how wizards and witches use magic spells. Which is sort of like using astrology to explain how alchemy works.

    The way Isaac Bonewits figures it, you postulate that [1] psi powers exist and [2] they can only be controlled by the subconscious mind, not the conscious.

    This throws a big monkey wrench into using psi powers because the subconscious is pre-literal. This means it is useless to try to tell the subconscious what to do with words, since it doesn't understand them. The best you can do is attempt to communicate with images, which are sadly lacking in precision and often includes dangerous ambiguities.

    As if that was not bad enough, there is the matter of supplying energy to the psi powers being used. According to Bonewits, they are energized by emotions. Strong ravening foaming-at-the-mouth emotions.

    Which means the magic-user has to work themselves into an emotional frenzy while simultaneously sending crystal-clear images to the subconscious in the proper sequence. Nobody said magic was easy, but this is ridiculous.

    Enter the magic spell. It is a way of dealing with the above mentioned problems, to make using ones psi powers less an impossible task and to make them operate with more reliability.

    Parts of the spell are to help inflame the appropriate emotions, the rest are mnemonics to help tell the subconscious who is the target of the spell and what exactly the spell is going to do to them. These are multi-media: chants, gestures, symbols, scents, tastes, dancing, etc. The spell is scripted much like a play.

    The mnemonics are there because ones rational thinking mind does not work very well when it is busy frothing at the mouth. It is easier to look at a physical symbolic image instead of to trying to form a clear image in your mind's eye. But to work properly your conscious mind and subconscious mind has to have been trained to use the various symbols as sort of a common language. This is why the magic user has to spend their apprenticeship memorizing "Mars is for Combat and War", "Venus is for Love and Hanky-panky", "Mercury is for Swiftness and Mad Hats", and so on. This teaches both the conscious and subconscious the lingua franca. Unless you have learned the lingo, trying to perform a spell you found in some grimore is not going to do much.

    Ceremonial magicians have huge complicated mnemonic symbol sets based on whatever magical tradition they come from (e.g., Chaos Magic). And of course symbols from different traditions are mutually incompatible, on purpose. The technical term is "Table of correspondences". An example is Liber 777 by Aleister Crowley.

    Other magicians are more basic and folksy. They use symbols that most human beings instinctively know. If the spell includes a little doll that looks like the target which you proceed to use as a pincushion; well, your subconscious has a pretty good idea what you are trying to say. This is the basis of Sympathetic magic. Such magic uses the two magical laws described by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough: the Law of Similarity, the Law of Contagion. Both laws are understood by anybody older than about two years. The Law of Similarity is why long curving rhino horn is considered to be a cure for impotence, the Law of Contageon is why some men become very angry if you touch their special golf clubs, hunting rifles, or tool box (giving it cooties).

    Ceremonial is much more structured and ritualistic. Folksy magic is much more improvisational, with spells sometimes being made up on the spot.

    Little rituals can aid in the control of the raw use of a psi power. Which is important when lack of control can lead to madness. In the movie Dune, the mentats are human computers who use a drug called sapho juice to put their brain into high gear (akin to pouring an entire box of chocolate covered espresso beans into your mouth). Uncontrolled, this can cause insanity. To avoid this, mentats do a little ritual, chanting the mentat mantra: "It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion."

    In the movie Inception, a dream stealer can determine if they are inside another's dream by using their totem.

    Ceremonial magicians sometimes summon demons, which may be actual creatures from another dimension, or may be mental creations inside the mage's head in a sort of self-induced split personality. Whatever they are, it exposes the mage to a very dangerous Monster from the ID problem. Not only are demons hyperresponsive to the mage's idle thoughts and ironic process theory, but demons are also quick to exploit any personality flaws in the mage to breach the defenses and enslave the mage (the split personality becomes permanent and dominant). To avoid this unhappy state of affairs, mages are advised to undergo a sort of occult psychoanalysis to purge their subconcious of mental imbalance before trying to summon demons (Aleister Crowley somewhat tongue-in-cheek called this process the attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel).

    As always there are some notes on the topic in TV Tropes.

    Scientific Magic

    There has always been sort of a dichotomy between magic and science, they are common seen as "do not play well with each other" if not actually engaged in open warfare. This seems partially because magic is perilously close to religion, and partially because illogical haphazard emotional magic is the antithesis of logical precise emotion-less science. This isn't helped by the common impression that psionic or magical phenomenon always seem to disappear when you try to study them in a laboratory. TV Tropes calls this Magic Versus Science and has lots of examples.

    Since science fiction authors are all about "What If?", there are a few novels set in a world where:

    • all technology is based on magic and science is seen as quaint superstition
    • science and magic have merged to make a combination more powerful than the sum of the parts (ρ=Σ+Ψ)

    Magic Instead Of Science

    Lord D'Arcy novels by Randall Garrett
    These are set in an alternate history where magic was developed and science ignored. Society is very Victorian and ruled by the aristocracy. On the one hand items like a common flashlight are considered ultra high-tech. On the other hand since diseases like cancer can be cured by magical laying on of hands, it is not uncommon for people to live to the age of 125. Scientific research is looked upon the way we regard the Flat Earth Society: crack-pots.
    Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson
    Magic has been harnessed ever since people figured out how to degauss cold iron. The protagonist uses his commercial Polaroid "Were-flash" to give him the burst of polarized light required to initiate werewolf form. During World War II, US Air Force combat brooms battled invading Islamic flying carpets. The Petrological Warfare division uses basilisks to turn enemy soldiers into stone, but when human carbon is turned to silicon you have a radioactive isotope. Petro handlers might get a bad dose of radiation sickness and have to be treated with St. John’s Wort plucked from a graveyard in the dark of the moon. Which is why cremation is illegal, graveyards are needed to keep up the supply of the herb.
    Star Winds by Barrington J. Bayley
    In the far future it is discovered that most of modern-day science is as wildly inaccurate as Phlogiston theory. Magic and alchemy are a much closer paradigm and give better results. Spacecraft resemble sailing vessels, using "ether-cloth" to lift into orbit and travel between planets.
    Magic, Inc. by Robert Heinlein
    Set in an alternate history where magic is the basis for technology, everything else is much like a 1950's private-eye novel set in California.
    The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove
    Again, magic spells are used instead of technology. Otherwise the novel seems set in modern day Los Angeles. Magic spells have undesirable side-effects so there is a need for magical toxic waste disposal site.
    Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy
    This is a "hard" fantasy novel. It is set in a standard medieval world where magic works, but the details of the various branches of magic are set down with hard precision and adhered to. There are five branches of magic and generally a wizard only learns one, there is sort of a caste system. The protagonist manages to get a smattering of learning in each, and manages to make unusually potent spells by combining elements of different branches.

    Magic And Science Merged

    Merging the two will be a challenge if Bonewits' theory is true. If magic is psionics and psionics can only be controlled by one's pre-literate illogical emotional subconscious, science is going to hate that. There will be no metrics, no precise measurements, no perfect repetition, or any of the other things that science holds near and dear.

    So pretty much all the authors who write about this postulate that Bonewits' theory does not hold true.

    Elemental by Geoffrey A. Landis
    In the story, magic is discovered to be an outgrowth of quantum field theory. So they use it for things like antimatter containment in spacecraft.
    Jack Of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
    This takes place on a planet which is tidally locked. On the side permanently facing the Sun, science rules and the civilization is protected from solar heat by nuclear powered force fields. On the side permanently facing the night, magic rules and the medieval civilization is protected from the bitter cold by a magic powered occult barrier. The protagonist, Jack of Shadows, is the only entity who is at home in both worlds, that is, the shadow between light and dark. He is looking for the primal all powerful magic spell, The Key That Was Lost, Kolwynia. He obtains it by sneaking into the science side and programming some computers to do some prolonged calculations.
    The Magic Engineer by L. E. Modesitt Jr
    A large group of starship using people crash land on a planet where magic works. Over the centuries they learn how to use both magic and technology.
    Shaman by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

    Rhys Llewellyn is a trade negotiator for the interstellar trading corporation Tanaka. He arrives on the planet Pa-Loana, hoping to secure a lucrative trade deal from the tribal-level aliens. Unfortunately a negotiator from the rival Bristol-Benz corporation arrives at the same time.

    Since the natives will only negotiate with the equivalent of tribal shamans, both Rhys and his rival pretend that they are. The difference is that Rhys really gets into it, and becomes friends with the Pa-Loana shaman.

    Much to his surprise, Rhys discovers that the Pa-Loana magic actually works.

    The process of applying the scientific method to magic is what TV Tropes calls Sufficiently Analyzed Magic.


    (ed note: In the medieval fantasy land where magic works, the few remaining people living under the protection of the Council have their backs to the wall. The occult creatures living in the enchanted wilderness kill any who are foolhardy enough to live close by, and the League of evil sorcerers (living in the local equivalent of Mordor) will soon have the entire world under their iron control. The population shrinks. And if you ask parents how many children they have, the number they respond with does not include the children who did not live long enough to become adults.

    A good wizard named Patrius sacrifices his life to cast a spell bringing a creature from another world who could save them all. A Unix programmer from California named Wiz Zumwalt.

    There is an old joke. A father's child is in the first grade. They ask for help with their arithmetic homework. Father says "Ok, if you have two apples and you add one more apple, how many apples do you have?". Their child says "I'm so confused! At school we use oranges!"

    The point being that the child cannot generalize arithmetic to include all fruits and objects, not just oranges.

    Wiz Zumwalt attempts to explain a QuickSort algorithm to a local witch. And runs into the same failure to generalize.)

         "You just don't understand," Wiz said despairingly.
         "You're right," the red-headed witch agreed. "I don't understand why a grown man would waste his time on this foolishness. Or why you would want to sort straws at all." With that she turned away and went about her business.
         "It's not foolishness," Wiz said to her back. "It's . . ." Oh hell, maybe it is foolishness here. He slumped back in the chair. After all, what good is an algorithm without a computer to execute it on?
         But dammit, these people were so damn literal-minded! It wasn't that Moira didn't understand the algorithm—although that was a big part of it, he admitted. To Moira the method was just a way to sort straws. She didn't seem to generalize, to see the universality of the technique.
         Come to that, most of the people here didn't generalize the way he did. They didn't think mathematically and they almost never went looking for underlying common factors or processes. This is what it must have been like back in the Middle Ages, before the rise of mathematics revolutionized Western thought.

    (ed note: At first Wiz Zumwalt (called "Sparrow") is totally useless. He cannot use a sword or bow-and-arrow. His woodcraft is non-existent. He has to be watched constantly to prevent him from walking into deadly traps. Patrius gave his life to summon this worthless person?

    But one fine day Wiz figures out how to use magic like it was a computer program. He just plays with it until the evil League kidnaps his true love, so they can torture information out of her.

    Don't ever make a computer hacker angry at you.

    He has already written a magic spell interpreter, an editor, a cross-reference generator and even a syntax checker. He has made magic spell code libraries of important spell components. He knows how to use modular programming in spell creation. He knows how to write spells that spawn daughter spells, exponentially. He knows how to write spell malware that will fatally distort enemy spells. And he has a large supply of the super-high-caffeine black moss tea.

    He destroys the League.)

         "Your real problem was that you had a magical problem that couldn't be solved by magic. Every great spell was vulnerable to an even greater counterspell and as the League waxed you inevitably waned. Individually, the League's magicians were stronger than the Council's, they had to be because they didn't care about the consequences of their actions. Patrius knew that a conventional solution, a bigger magician, would only make matters worse in a generation or so when the League learned the techniques."
         "That is common knowledge in the council," Bal-Simba rumbled. "Indeed one of the reasons it was so easy to get agreement to attempt to return you is there is a strong faction which wishes to be rid of you. Go on, Sparrow."
         "Okay, take it one step further. Patrius must have. He realized what you needed was a completely new approach. He had the genius to see that despite everything you believed, everything your experience showed you, somewhere behind all your magic there had to be some kind of regular structure. He realized that if he could find that formalism you could control magic."
         "Eh?" said Bal-Simba. "Forgive a fat old wizard, but I was under the impression that we do control magic."
         "No," Wiz said emphatically and then caught himself. "Forgive me Lord, but it is true. Each magician can use the spells or demons he or she stumbles upon and masters, but none of you—Council or League—controls magic. You don't deal with magic as a whole. You have no coherent theory of magic and you usually can't generalize from what you do know to what you don't. That was the root of your problem. The League and the Wild Wood were just symptoms."
         Wiz could see Bal-Simba rolling that idea around in his mind. Obviously he didn't like it, but he was not going to reject it out of hand. "Go on," he said neutrally.
         "In my world we have a saying that Man is a creature who controls his environment. You're in trouble because there's an important part of your environment you can't control: magic. Patrius didn't go looking for a wizard to beat the League. He wanted someone who understood abstract formalisms and how to apply them to complex problems in the hope he could learn to control magic. He needed a computer programmer or a mathematician. Magical ability wasn't in the job description."
         "It appears that he got more than he bargained for," Bal-Simba said.
         Wiz shook his head. "No. He got exactly what he bargained for. I'm not a magician in the way you mean.
         "I've told you about computers, the non-living thinking machines I used to work with? Well, back when they were very new we worked with them the way you work your spells. Every new program was written by cut-and-try and every program was unique. Anyone who wanted to use a computer had to be an expert and it took years of work and study to master a machine.
         "Later we realized it didn't have to be that way. We found the computer could do a lot of the work. We could write programs that would take care of the tiresome, repetitive parts and we could design programs whose parts could be used over and over in many different programs.
         "Finally we figured out that you didn't even have to have a programmer for every computer. You could write programs that anyone could use to do common jobs like word processing or accounting.
         "So today anyone can use a computer. Even children use them regularly. You still need programmers, but we work at a higher level, on more difficult or unusual problems—or on writing the programs that those children use."
         Bal-Simba frowned. "Well and good for your world, Sparrow, but I am not sure I see what use it is to us."
         "Patrius did," Wiz told him. "He hoped he could do the same thing with magic we do with computers. And he was right.
         "In the long run the important thing wasn't that I beat the League with magic. It wasn't even that I was able to rescue Moira." Although I'll be damned if I'll take that long a view, he thought. "The important thing was programs—ah, the 'structure'—I had to build to do it." He leaned forward intensely.
         "Don't you see? With my system you don't need to be a wizard to work spells. You need programmer-wizards to create the spells, but once they are set up anyone can use them. All you have to do is understand how those spells work and anyone can make magic. Good, controllable magic."
         "Magic in the wrong hands is dangerous," Bal-Simba said dubiously.
         Wiz smiled. "Don't worry. Where I come from we have a lot of experience in keeping our systems secure and users' fingers out of the gears. If the spells are properly designed just about anyone can use them safely.
         "And it goes beyond that. I can teach someone to do what I do. It's not hard, really. It takes an organized mind and a knack for thinking logically, but jut about anyone can learn it. If your magicians have the knack I can show them the tools and teach them how to use them.
         "Don't you see?" he repeated. "It means humans don't have to walk in fear any more." He thought of a small cabin deep in the Wild Wood and the four carefully tended graves behind it. Of a burned farm near the Fringe and the mound of raw earth among the cabbages. "People don't have to be afraid."

    From WIZARD'S BANE by Rick Cook (1989)

         “My work here Is nearly ended,” said Karellen’s voice from a million radios. “At last, after a hundred years, I can tell you what it was.
         “There are many things we have had to hide from you, as we hid ourselves for half our stay on Earth. Some of you, I know, thought that concealment unnecessary. You are accustomed to our presence: you can no longer imagine how your ancestors would have reacted to us. But at least you can understand the purpose of our concealment, and know that we had a reason for what we did.
         “The supreme secret we kept from you was our purpose in coming to Earth—that purpose about which you have speculated so endlessly. We could not tell you until now, for the secret was not ours to reveal.
         “A century ago we came to your world and saved you from self-destruction. I do not believe that anyone would deny that fact—but what that self-destruction was, you never guessed.
         “Because we banned nuclear weapons and all the other deadly toys you were accumulating in your armouries, the danger of physical annihilation was removed. You thought that was the only danger. We wanted you to believe that, but it was never true. The greatest danger that confronted you was of a different character altogether—and it did not concern your race alone.
         “Many worlds have come to the crossroads of nuclear power, have avoided disaster, have gone on to build peaceful and happy civilizations—and have then been utterly destroyed by forces of which they knew nothing. In the twentieth century, you first began to tamper seriously with those forces. That was why it became necessary to act.
         “All through that century, the human race was drawing slowly nearer to the abyss—never even suspecting its existence. Across that abyss, there is only one bridge. Few races, unaided, have ever found it. Some have turned back while there was still time, avoiding both the danger and the achievement. Their worlds have become Elysian islands of effortless content, playing no further part in the story of the universe. That would never have been your fate—or your fortune. Your race was too vital for that. It would have plunged into ruin and taken others with it, for you would never have found the bridge.
         “I am afraid that almost all I have to say now must be by means of such analogies. You have no words, no conceptions, for many of the things I wish to tell you—and our own knowledge of them is also sadly imperfect.
         “To understand, you must go back into the past and recover much that your ancestors would have found familiar, but which you have forgotten—which, in fact, we deliberately helped you to forget. For all our sojourn here has been based on a vast deception, a concealment of truth which you were not ready to face.
         “In the centuries before our coming, your scientists uncovered the secrets of the physical world and led you from the energy of steam to the energy of the atom. You had put superstition behind you: Science was the only real religion of mankind...Science, it was felt, could explain everything: there were no forces which did not come within its scope, no events for which it could not ultimately account. The origin of the universe might be forever unknown, but all that had happened after obeyed the laws of physics.
         “Yet your mystics, though they were lost in their own delusions, had seen part of the truth. There are powers of the mind, and powers beyond the mind, which your science could never have brought within its framework without shattering it entirely. All down the ages there have been countless reports of strange phenomena—poltergeists, telepathy, precognition—which you had named but never explained. At first Science ignored them, even denied their existence, despite the testimony of five thousand years. But they exist and if it is to be complete any theory of the universe must account for them.
         “During the first half of the twentieth century, a few of your scientists began to investigate these matters. They did not know it,but they were tampering with the lock of Pandora’s box. The forces they might have unleashed transcended any perils that the atom could have brought. For the physicists could only have ruined the Earth: the paraphysicists could have spread havoc to the stars.
         “That could not be allowed. I cannot explain the full nature of the threat you represented. It would not have been a threat to us, and therefore we do not comprehend it. Let us say that you might have become a telepathic cancer, a malignant mentality which in its inevitable dissolution would have poisoned other and greater minds.
         “And so we came—we were sent—to Earth. We interrupted your development on every cultural level, but in particular we checked all serious work on paranormal phenomena. I am well aware of the fact that we have also inhibited, by the contrast between our civilizations, all other forms of creative achievement as well. But that was a secondary effect, and it is of no importance.

    From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

    In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."

    "Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."

    From THE DYING EARTH by Jack Vance (1950)

    (ed note: In the Babylon 5 universe, the Technomages use science to create the appearance of magic. Technmages are implanted with alien technology called "The Tech" which they use for their most powerful "spells." Apprentices use a training wheel version of the Tech called a "chrysalis"

    Techomages have to create their own customized "spell language" that is used to communicate with The Tech. Some use words as incantations, some use gestures, some use music, one even uses knitting and weaving of cloth

    Galen is a novice apprenticed to Elric the Technomage. As part of the graduation ceremony, an apprentice is to demonstrate a new spell of their own devising. Galen is having trouble thinking of something original.)

         He’d studied those great spells extensively. One difficulty every mage faced, though, was translating the work of other mages into his own spell language. Each mage had to discover and develop his own spell language, because a spell that worked for one mage would not work for another. Elric had explained that the tech was so intimately connected with one’s body and mind that conjuring became shaped by the individual. Since each person’s mind worked differently, mages achieved the best results in different ways. An apprentice trained to achieve clarity of thought, and his preferred method of thought formed his spell language. His chrysalis learned to respond to the spell language, and when he received his implants, this knowledge was passed to them through the old implant at the base of his skull.
         Galen’s spell language was that of equations. Elric had been concerned at first as Galen’s language had developed. Most spell languages were more instinctive, less rigid, less rational. But Galen wasn’t a holistic, lateral thinker who jumped from one track to another, drawing instinctive connections. His thoughts plodded straight ahead, each leading logically and inexorably to the next. Elric had expressed fear that Galen’s language would be cumbersome and inflexible. Yet as Elric had worked with Galen on the language and seen how many spells Galen had been able to translate, his reservations had seemed to fade.
         Translation was one of the most difficult tasks facing any mage. It was only after looking at many spells that Galen was able to understand how another mage’s spell language related to his, then translate those conjuries. He had managed to translate most of Wierden’s and Gali-Gali’s spells, as well as many spells of other mages. With different levels of success, he had translated spells to create illusions, to make flying platforms, to conjure defensive shields, to generate fireballs, to send messages to other mages, to control the sensors that would soon be implanted into him, to access and manipulate data internally, to access external databases, and much more.
         He had memorized them all.
         But since each spell language possessed its own inherent strengths and weaknesses, he found it impossible to translate some spells, such as those for healing. Others, such as the spells used to generate defensive shields, he believed he had translated correctly, yet when he cast them, the results he achieved were weak, inferior.
         Galen wondered, and not for the first time, if his spell language hampered his attempt to conjure something original. As his thoughts plodded straight ahead, so did his spells, equation after orderly equation. In his language, it made no sense to simply make up a spell. An equation must be sensible in order to work; all the terms must possess established identities and properties. So how could he discover an equation that somehow reflected him, revealed him? He had been uncomfortable with the idea of revealing himself, but now that hesitance faded to insignificance beside the undeniable necessity: he could not disappoint Elric.
         Galen brought up a different section of text on the screen, his translations of some of the spells of Wierden. They varied in complexity and involved many different terms, some of which were used in multiple spells, others used only once. Again it seemed to him that there could be no truly original spells, only more complicated ones. Frustrated, Galen started to reorder the spells on the screen, from simplest to most complex. As he did, he noticed that some of the spells formed a progression. A spell with two terms conjured a translucent globe. A spell with those same two terms, and one more, conjured a globe with energy inside. A spell with those same three terms, and yet another, conjured a globe with the energy given the form of light. Add another term, and it conjured a globe filled with light and heat. And on it went.
         Several of Gali-Gali’s spells furthered the complexity. If he could work his way to the last spell in the progression, could he think of one that would go beyond it?
         But wasn’t this just what others were doing, building ever more elaborate spells without really creating something new? He didn’t know if the other mages thought of it this way; since they didn’t formulate their spells as equations, their spells didn’t have multiple terms in them. Elric, he knew, simply visualized what he wanted to happen, and if it was within his power, it happened. One simple visualization for any spell.
         Galen’s eyes went back to the top of the list, to the spell containing only two terms. Why was there no spell with only one term? No such spell existed in Wierden’s work, or, as he thought about it, in any of the mages’ conjuries he’d yet translated. Most of them had many, many terms. In fact, he couldn’t even remember another equation with only two.
         Perhaps spells had to have more than one term. But why? He stared at the two terms that began the progression. If there was an initial spell in the series, a spell with only one term, which term was it?
         The first of the two terms was common, used in this progression and elsewhere. Galen had come to think of it as a sort of cleanup term, necessary for everything to balance, but having negligible impact.
         The second term, on the other hand, existed only within the spells of this progression. As far as he knew, at least. That seemed very odd. Surely it could have other uses.
         That second term, then, seemed the defining characteristic of the progression, and the obvious choice for the first equation in it. But what would the term do when used alone?
         Perhaps it would have the same effect as the second equation, conjuring a translucent sphere. If the cleanup term truly was negligible, that’s what would happen. The sphere itself, as he’d discussed it with Elric, was an odd construct, not a force field as it first had seemed. It didn’t really hold things in, or keep things out. It simply demarcated a space within which something would be done.
         If removing the cleanup term did have an effect, what might it be? Perhaps the sphere wouldn’t form at all. Perhaps it would be opaque or have some other property. Or perhaps it would be deformed in some way. In any case, it wouldn’t be very impressive.

         Carvin’s spell language was that of the body; specific, precise movements and their accompanying mental impulses comprised her spells.

    (ed note: As part of his apprentice demonstration, Galen tries doing a one-term spell. To everybody's surprise, it starts to make a planet-devouring sphere of force. The one-term spell is far more powerful than any other known spell. Galen's teacher Elric manages to shut down the spell. Later in private they talk.)

         Elric set a mug of water on the table in front of Galen, which at last brought him to life. He looked up at Elric with large, hungry eyes. “What was it?” he asked.
         “I do not know.”
         “It was dangerous.”
         “So it seemed. With a power greater than any I’ve sensed from a conjury.”
         “I didn’t lose control.”
         “That,” Elric said, “is the most troubling aspect of it.” At the beginning of their training, chrysalis-stage apprentices often lost control and generated violent bursts of energy. But that wasn’t what Elric had observed today. Galen’s spell had been focused, controlled. This hadn’t been some outburst of undisciplined violence. It had been a carefully crafted, directed, outpouring of huge power. Elric had barely been able to stop it in time.
         Galen shook his head. “I didn’t know… what it would do.”
         “I realize that. Tell me how you arrived at this spell.”
         Galen brought his screen from his bedroom and led Elric through a progression of equations that he had derived from translating the works of Wierden and Gali-Gali. As Galen spoke, Elric was glad to see him become more animated.
         “I realized there was no first equation in the progression, with only one term. That is what I conjured.”
         Elric sat beside him. “The idea of a first equation in the progression. It makes perfect sense in your spell language. Yet there is no equivalent in mine.” Galen was a genius for coming up with it. Although Elric had helped Galen formulate and develop his spell language, it was vastly different from Elric’s: much more complex, much more regimented. Elric had thought this would limit Galen’s abilities; he had never imagined it would lead to new discoveries.
         “I thought it might be a fluke of my language, that it might do nothing. But it did… do something.”
         A spell like this might explain some of the mysteries in techno-mage history. But the implications disturbed Elric. “It gathered great energy and instability.”
         Galen’s hands tightened around the screen. He was still troubled about what he had done, and how he had come to do it. “The second term must stabilize the first. Perhaps it creates an opposing force of some kind.”
         “The result of the spell could not have been anticipated,” Elric said.
         Galen turned to him, brilliant blue eyes needy, unblinking. “How is it that my spell language led to this?
         “The same way that the study of the atom led to the atomic bomb, or the study of light to the laser. The potential was there. You discovered it.”

    (ed note: As it turns out, Galan has discovered one of the five primal root spells encoded into the Tech by the creators of the Tech. The point is that no other technomage in history had discovered these, due to the nature of their spell languages. Galan's spell language had revealed an interesting hole.)

    From CASTING SHADOWS by Jeanne Cavelos (2001)

    (ed note: Rhys Llewellyn is a trade negotiator for the interstellar trading corporation Tanaka. He arrives on the planet Pa-Loana, hoping to secure a lucrative trade deal from the tribal-level aliens. Unfortunately a negotiator from the rival Bristol-Benz corporation arrives at the same time. Since the natives will only negotiate with the equivalent of tribal shamans, both Rhys and his rival pretend that they are.

    The difference is that Rhys really gets into it, and since he is also a Professor of Anthropology, he has actually studied shamanism in various cultures. He becomes friends with the Pa-Loana shaman Pa-Lili (who mispronounces his name "Reeslooelen").)

         She (Shaman Pa-Lili) patted his hand. "You wear my gift spirit bag," she noted.
         "Oh, yes. Thank you, Many Hued Pa-Lili. Your gifts were most generous. My medicine pouch is full."
         "What spell do you weave—or is it a secret one?"
         Rhys mind went blank except for the entirely irrelevant thought that no one had ever asked him that before and was this what it was like to attend a Sorcerer's Convention.
         "I would like to weave a spell of good will and complete honesty," he said. That sounded innocuous enough and seemed to please Pa-Lili.
         "And what, then, are the contents of your bag?"
         "I, uh.... It's empty." He knew that was wrong and gritted his teeth, waiting for Pa-Lili to register her offense at his ineptitude.
         She merely shook her head and clucked at him from somewhere deep in her throat, her long face saying, Poor baby. "No spell may be drawn from an empty bag," she told him with the air of one repeating ageless advice. "You must place the spell weaver within."
         Rhys blinked, sensing his apprentice's eyes hot on the side of his perspiring face.
         "A spell-weaver?" he asked limply.
         Pa-Lili clucked again. "What do they teach you on your world, Reeslooelen?" She began a rhythmic recitation: "Within the bag must live/the fetish that will power give. Within the bag must dwell/the talisman that weaves the spell." She raised a long finger. "If a thing is to be tagged, a piece of it goes in the bag. If a person is to be touched, a bit of their life will serve as such."
         She finished the musical little chant and nodded once, then turned her eyes to Rhys. "They do not teach you this?"
         "Not exactly, but I think I understand."
         "I don't," said Yoshi unexpectedly. She colored as both Rhys and Pa-Lili turned to look at her. She pressed her hands together before her chest and bowed her head deferentially. "Pardon me, Most Wise Ones, but what does it mean—'a bit of their life?' How can you put a bit of someone's life in a bag?"
         Pa-Lili deferred to Rhys. "Will you explain to your apprentice, Reeslooelen?"
         Rhys nodded. "Certainly." He turned to Yoshi and crossed his fingers under the billow of his cape, hoping that Pa-Kai Shamanism followed the same rules as the ancient Earth cultures he'd studied—his own included. "What the Sagacious Pa-Lili means is that something pertaining to the person for whom the spell is intended must be placed in the bag to—ah—to bind the spell and to ... point it in the right direction."
         Out of the corner of his eye, Rhys could see Pa-Lili twitching the end of her camelid nose in agreement. He heaved a mental sigh of relief.
         "Well spoken," said the Pa-Kai Shaman. "The bag contains the pointer to the spell, for the spirits/angels must know where the spell is to go—to what or whom it must be bound. So, you give them a twist of hair, a drop of blood, a slice of skin. If many people are involved—many bits of life go into the bag."
         Yoshi looked queasy. "Blood and skin?"
         Pa-Lili gave an artless Pa-Kai shrug. "Eh, those things are needed only for the most potent of healing or educational spells."
         "Educational spells?" Rick echoed.
         Pa-Lili looked at him sternly down the length of her nose. "You don't know about educational spells?"
         "They are very young apprentices," Rhys defended them. "Also, on our world Shamanistic apprentices tend to—um—specialize."
         "A serious mistake, Reeslooelen," remonstrated Pa-Lili. "If everyone specializes, there will soon be no masters of the total discipline. A Shaman is by nature a General Practitioner—a Knower of All Knowledge. How else are we to intelligently advise our Chieftains?"
         "So true," said Rhys with a Sigh face barely hiding a smile. "I have often felt that on our worlds the knowledge of each successive generation of Shaman is narrower than the one before. These children would benefit much by your knowledge, O Flamboyant Pa-Lili."
         Pa-Lili's crest danced. She raised her elongated head and gazed fondly at the "children" through her sweet eyes. "An educational spell is used when the student is too dense to learn the normal way. It is a great restorer of law and order for those who cannot control their behavior."
         "You mean, um...." Yoshi began, then stopped in bemusement. She turned to Rhys. "How do they say 'criminals?'" she asked in Standard.
         "Actually, they don't seem to have a word for them." Rhys made the "How surprising!" face at Pa-Lili. "Do you mean that when people, er, misbehave or do wrong things you put a spell on them to ... instruct them?"
         "To instruct and enlighten, yes. These are our educational spells."
         "Do they work?" asked Rick incredulously—for which Rhys would have cheerfully kicked him, if he could have reached that far.
         "Of course, they work!" hooted Pa-Lili. "What good is a spell that doesn't work?" She turned to Rhys and murmured, "This apprentice needs much remedial work. You might consider using a bit of an educational spell on him."
         Rhys chuckled. "You may be right, O Wise Pa-Lili."

    (ed note: Later, Rhys actually tries putting a spell into his bag...)

    From SHAMAN by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (1990)

    (ed note: The planet Khatka was settled three hundred years ago by desperate refugees escaping from the Second Atomic War. They decivilized, but gradually managed to recover before being contacted by the Scout Service. However, they retain the hereditary familiy of witch-doctors, who possess magic that actually works.

    Chief witch-doctor Lumbrilo is making a power-play, to become not only chief witch-doctor but also the political ruler of the planet. He is systematically using magic to assasinate those who stand in his way.

    The current leader is Chief Ranger Asaki. To counter the threat of Lumbrilo, he contacts his old friend the free-trader Captain Jellico. Specfically to request the aid of free-trader Medic Craig Tau. It turns out that Tau has a hobby of studying what the natives call "magic" on the myriad worlds the traders have visited.)

         "I hear they have poachers, too," Dane remarked.
         "Yes, that naturally follows. You know what a glam skin brings on the market. Wherever you have a rigidly controlled export you're going to have poachers and smugglers. But the Patrol doesn't go to Khatka. The natives handle their own criminals. Personally, I'd cheerfully take a ninety-nine-year sentence in the Lunar mines in place of what the Khatkans dish out to a poacher they net!"
         "So that rumor has spread satisfactorily!"
         Coffee slopped over the brim of Tau's mug and Dane dropped the packet of steak concentrate he was about to feed into the cooker. Chief Ranger Asaki loomed in the doorway of the mess as suddenly as if he had been teleported to that point.
         The medic arose to his feet and smiled politely at the visitor.
         "Do I detect in that observation, sir, the suggestion that the tales I have heard were deliberately set to blast where they would do the most good as deterrents?"
         A fleeting grin broke the impassive somberness of the black face.
         "I was informed you are a man skilled in 'magic,' Medic. You certainly display the traditional sorcerer's quickness of wit. But this rumor is also truth." The quirk of good humor had gone again, and there was an edge in the Chief Ranger's voice which cut. "Poachers on Khatka would welcome the Patrol in place of the attention they now receive."

         He hesitated and then spoke to Tau. "Medic, Captain Jellico has informed me that you have made a study of magic on many worlds."
         "That is so, sir."
         "Do you then believe that it is real force, or that it is only a superstition for child-people who set up demons to howl petitions to when some darkness falls upon them?"
         "Some of the magic I have seen is trickery, some of it founded upon an inner knowledge of men and their ways which a shrewd witch doctor can use to his advantage. There always remains"—Tau put down his mug, "—there always remains a small residue of happenings and results for which we have not yet found any logical explanations—"
         "And I believe," Asaki interrupted, "it is also true that a race can be conditioned from birth to be sensitive to forms of magic so that men of that blood are particularly susceptible." That was more of a statement than a question, but Tau answered it.
         "That is very true. A Lamorian, for example, can be 'sung' to death. I have witnessed such a case. But upon a Terran or another off-world man the same suggestion would have no effect."
         "Those who settled Khatka brought such magic with them." The Chief Ranger's fingers still moved about Sindbad's jaw and throat soothingly, but his tone was chill, the coldest thing in the cramped space of the mess cabin.
         "Yes, a highly developed form of it," Tau agreed.
         "More highly developed perhaps than even you can believe, Medic!" That came in a hiss of cold rage. "I think that its present manifestation—death by a beast that is not a beast—could be worth your detailed study."
         "Why?" Tau came bluntly to the point.
         "Because it is a killing magic and it is being carefully used to rid my world of key men, men we need badly. If there is a weak point in this cloudy attack shaping against us, we must learn it, and soon!"

    (ed note: the witch doctor conjures up a ferocious beast that only exists inside the victim's mind. The beast chases the victim until the victim dies of fright or exhaustion)

         "Tomorrow my men make hunting magic." Asaki's voice was expressionless.
         "Your chief witch doctor being?" questioned Tau.
         "Lumbrilo." The Chief Ranger did not appear disposed to add to that but Tau pursued the subject.
         "His office is hereditary?"
         "Yes. Does that make any difference?" For the first time there was a current of repressed eagerness in the other's tone.
         "Perhaps a vast amount of difference," Tau replied. "A hereditary office may carry with it two forms of conditioning, one to influence its holder, one to affect the public-at-large. Your Lumbrilo may have come to believe deeply in his own powers; he would be a very remarkable man if he did not. It is almost certain that your people unquestionably accept him as a worker of wonders?"
         "They do so accept." Once more Asaki's voice was drained of life.

         Da—da—da—da… Voices took up the thud-thud of the drums, the heads of the squatting men moved in a slow swing from side to side. Tau's hand closed about Dane's wrist and the younger man looked around, startled, to see that the medic's eyes were alight, that he was watching the assembly with the alertness of (ship's cat) Sindbad approaching prey.
         "Calculate the stowage space in Number One hold!"
         That amazing order, delivered in a whisper, shocked Dane into obeying it. Number One hold ... there were three divisions now and the stowage was—He became aware that for a small space of time he had escaped the net being woven by the beat of the drum, the drone of voices, the nodding of heads. He moistened his lips. So that was how it worked! He had heard Tau speak often enough about self-hypnotism under such conditions, but this was the first time the meaning of it had been clear.
         Two men were shuffling out of nowhere, wearing nothing on their dark bodies but calf-length kilts of tails, black tails with fluffy white tips, which swayed uniformly in time to their pacing feet. Their heads and shoulders were masked by beautifully cured and semi-mounted animal heads displaying half-open jaws with double pairs of curved fangs. The black-and-white striped fur, the sharply pointed ears, were neither canine nor feline, but a weird combination of the two.
         Dane gabbled two trading formulas under his breath and tried to think of the relation of Samantine rock coinage to galactic credits. Only this time his defenses did not work. From between the two shuffling dancers padded something on four feet. The canine-feline creature was more than just a head; it was a loose-limbed, graceful body fully eight feet in length, and the red eyes in the prick-eared head were those of a confident killer. It walked without restraint, lazily, with arrogance, its white-tufted tail swinging. And when it reached the mid-point of the terrace, it flung up its head as if to challenge. But words issued from between those curved fangs, words which Dane might not understand but which undoubtedly held meaning for the men nodding in time to the hypnotic cadence of that da—da—da....
         "Beautiful!" Tau spoke in honest admiration, his own eyes almost as feral as those of the talking beast as he leaned forward, his fists on his knees.
         Now the animal was dancing also, its paws following the pace set by the masked attendants. It must be a man in an animal skin. But Dane could hardly believe that. The illusion was too perfect. His own hands went to the knife sheath at his belt. Out of deference to local custom they had left their stun rods in the palace, but a belt knife was an accepted article of apparel. Dane slid the blade out surreptitiously, setting its point against the palm of his hand and jabbing painfully. This was another of Tau's answers for breaking a spell. But the white and black creature continued to dance; there was no blurring of its body lines into those of a human being.
         It sang on in a high-pitched voice, and Dane noted that those of the audience nearest the stools where Asaki and the captain were seated now watched the Chief Ranger and the space officer. He felt Tau tense beside him.
         "Trouble coming...." The warning from Tau was the merest thread of sound. Dane forced himself to look away from the swaying cat-dog, to watch instead the singers who were now furtively eying their lord and his guest. The Terran knew that there were feudal bonds between the Ranger and his men. But suppose this was a showdown between Lumbrilo and Asaki—whose side would these men take?
         He watched Captain Jellico's hand slide across his knee, his fingers drop in touching distance of knife hilt. And the hand of the Chief Ranger, hanging lax at his side, suddenly balled into a fist.
         "So!" Tau expelled the word as a hiss. He moved with sure-footed speed. Now he passed between the stools to confront the dancing cat-dog. Yet he did not look at that weird creature and its attendants. Instead his arms were flung high as if to ward off—or perhaps welcome—something on the mountain side as he shouted:
         "Hodi, eldama! Hodi!"
         As one, those on the terrace turned, looked up toward the slope. Dane was on his feet, holding his knife as he might a sword. Though of what use its puny length would be against that huge bulk moving in slow majesty toward them, he did not try to think.
         Gray-dark trunk curled upward between great ivory tusks, ears went wide as ponderous feet crunched volcanic soil. Tau moved forward, his hands still upraised, clearly in greeting. That trunk touched skyward as if in salute to the man who could be crushed under one foot.
         "Hodi, eldama!" For the second time Tau hailed the monster elephant and the trunk raised in silent greeting from one lord of an earth to another he recognized as an equal. Perhaps it had been a thousand years since man and elephant had stood so, and then there had been only war and death between them. Now there was peace and a current of power flowing from one to the other. Dane sensed this, saw the men on the terrace likewise drawing back from the unseen tie between the medic and the bull he had so clearly summoned.
         Then Tau's upheld hands came together in a sharp clap and men held their breath in wonder. Where the great bull had stood there was nothing—except rocks in the sun.
         As Tau swung around to face the cat-dog, that creature had no substance either. For he fronted no animal but a man, a small, lean man whose lips wrinkled back from his teeth in a snarl. His attendant priests fell back, leaving the spaceman and the witch doctor alone.
         "Lumbrilo's magic is great," Tau said evenly. "I hail Lumbrilo of Khatka." His hand made the open-palmed salute of peace.
         The snarl faded as the man brought his face under control. He stood naked, but he was clothed in inherit dignity. And there was power with that dignity, power and a pride before which even the more physically impressive Chief Ranger might have to give place.
         "You have magic also, outlander," he replied. "Where walks this long-toothed shadow of yours now?"
         "Where once the men of Khatka walked, Lumbrilo. For it was men of your blood who long, long past hunted this shadow of mine and made its body their prey."
         "So that it now might have a blood debt to settle with us, outlander?"
         "That you said, not I, man of power. You have shown us one beast, I have shown another. Who can say which of them is stronger when it issues forth from the shadows?"
         Lumbrilo pattered forward, his bare feet making little sound on the stones of the terrace. Now he was only an arm's-length away from the medic.
         "You have challenged me, off-world man." Was that a question or a statement? Dane wondered.
         "Why should I challenge you, Lumbrilo? To each race its own magic. I come not to offer battle." His eyes held steady with the Khatkan's.
         "You have challenged me." Lumbrilo turned away and then looked back over his shoulder. "The strength you depend upon may become a broken staff, off-worlder. Remember my words in the time when shadows become substance, and substance the thinnest of shadows!"

         "You are truly a man of power!"
         Tau shook his head in answer to that outburst from Asaki.
         "Not so, sir. Your Lumbrilo is a man of power. I drew upon his power and you saw the results."
         "Deny it not! What we saw never walked this world."
         Tau slung the strap of a trail bag over his shoulder. "Sir, once men of your blood, men who bred your race, hunted the elephant. They took his tusks for their treasure, feasted upon his flesh—yes, and died beneath the trampling of his feet when they were unlucky or unwary. So there is that within you which can even now be awakened to remember eldama in his might when he was king of the herd and need fear nothing save the spears and cunning of small, weak men. Lumbrilo had already awakened your minds to see what he willed you to see."
         "How does he do this?" asked the other simply. "Is it magic that we see not Lumbrilo but a lion before us?"
         "He weaves his spell with the drums, with the chant, by the suggestion his mind imposes upon yours. And, having woven his spell, he cannot limit it to just the picture he suggests if ancient racial memories raise another. I merely used the tools of Lumbrilo to show you yet another picture your people once knew well."

    (VOODOO PLANET is available free from Project Gutenberg)

    From VOODOO PLANET by Andre Norton (1959)

    (ed note: On the planet Klor, the arrogant aliens of the Styor galactic empire have enslaved the primitive Ikkinni natives. The Terran traders want to free the Ikkinni, but have to grit their teeth and do nothing. Our Hero Kade travels into the outback with the half-breed Styor named Lik who controls a group of Ikkinni wearing electronic slave collars. Kade gets an idea for a bit of psychological warfare.)

         Close to sundown the hunting party reached a plateau where a stunted vegetation held tenaciously against the pull of the mountain winds to afford a pocket of shelter as a spring. Kade, kneeling beside the small pool that spring fed, was startled when he raised his eyes to the rock surface facing him. Carved there in deeply incised strokes into which paint had been long ago splashed, was the life-size representation of a kwitu, its broad nose-horned head bent until the pits which marked the nostrils were just above the surface of the lapping water. The unknown artist, and he had been truly an artist of great ability, had so poised his subject that the kwitu was visibly drinking from the lost mountain pool.
         Kade sat back on his heels, held up his wrist so that he could catch the image, as it was now suitably lighted by the setting sun, on the lens of his picture recorder. Surely this was not Styor work; the aging and erosion of the stone on which it had been carved argued a long period of time, maybe centuries, since the figure had been completed. Yet who climbed to this inaccessible place to spend hours, days, perhaps months scraping into a natural wall of stone an entirely naturalistic representation of a plains animal drinking?
         "Who made that?" His usual dislike for Lik's company did not hold now. The Terran asked his question eagerly as the Overman came down to pour water over his head and shoulders.
         The other regarded the drinking kwitu indifferently. "Who knows? Old, of no value."
         "But the Ikkinni—"
         Lik scowled. "Maybe the animals make hunt magic. This is of no value. Phaw." He pursed his lips, spat. The drop of moisture carried across, to spatter on the rump of the kwitu. Then he grinned at Kade. "No value," he repeated mockingly.
         Kade shrugged. No use trying to make the Overman understand. Filling his canteen the Terran tramped back to their camp. He watched the natives, apparently not one of them noted the carving. In fact that blindness was a little too marked. Once again his fighter's sixth sense of warning stirred. Suppose that drinking beast had some symbolic religious meaning? Kade's memory provided bits of lore, that of his own race and others, Terra born and bred. Far back in the mists of forgotten time were the men of his world who had wandered as free hunters, tribesmen who had drawn on the walls of caves, painted on hides, modeled in elastic clay, the shapes of the four-footed meat they wished to slay. And then they had made powerful magic, sending the spears, the arrows, the clubs later to be used in the actual hunting, crashing against the pictures they had fashioned, believing their gods would give them in truth what they so hunted in ritual.
         He would not have credited the Ikkinni with the artistic ability to produce the carving he had just seen. But what did the off-worlders know of the free Ikkinni anyway? Their observations were based on the actions of cowered and spirit-broken slaves; on the highly prejudiced comments of masters who deemed those slaves no better than animals. Suppose that practices of that ancient hunting magic would linger on in a remote spot such as this, where perhaps no alien had ever walked? Lik had mocked such a belief in as filthy a fashion as he knew. But sometimes it was not a good thing to challenge the power inherent in things once venerated by another people. Kade had heard tales—
         The Terran smiled quietly. An idea, an amusing idea was born from that point of imagination. He would have to know more of those Overman personally. Lik had mocked an old god thing. Kade began to fit one idea to another.
         It was Lik himself who gave the Terran the first opening. They had eaten and were sitting by the fire, the Ikkinni banished to a suitable distance. The Overman belched, dug a finger into his mouth to rout out a shred of food eluding his tongue. Having so asserted himself, he stared at Kade.
         "What matter old things to you, off-world man?" he demanded arrogantly.
         "I am a trader, to a trader all things which are made with hands are of interest. There are those on other worlds who pay for such knowledge. Also …" he broke his answer with a calculated space of hesitation. "Such things are worth knowing for themselves."
         "How so?"
         "Because of the Power," Kade spoke with a seriousness gauged to impress the other.
         "The Power?"
         "When a man makes a thing with his hands," Kade held his own into the light of the fire, flexing his fingers slightly so that the flames were reflected from the rings which encircled the fore digit of either hand, "then something of himself enters into it. But he must shape it with his own flesh and not by the aid of a machine." A flicker of glance told him that he had Lik's full attention. The Overman was of Tadder and Tadder was one of the completely colonized worlds long held by the Styor. However, a remnant of native beliefs could still linger in a half-breed and Kade knew Tadder only too well.
         "And because this thing has been made with his hands, and the idea of it first shaped in his mind, it is a part of him. If the fashioner is a man of Power and has made this work for a reason of Power, then it must follow that a portion of the Power he has tried to put into his work exists, at least for his purpose."
         "This you say of those scratches on a rock?" demanded Lik incredulously, aiming a thumb at the shadows which now enveloped the spring and the carved wall behind it.
         "So it might be said, if the fashioner of that carving intended it to be used as I believe he might have done." Because there was a measure of belief in Kade's own mind, his sincerity impressed the alien and the other's scoffing grin faded. "A man is a hunter and he wishes meat to fall before his spear. Therefore he makes an image of that meat, as well as he can envisage it, setting his choice of prey beside a pool where there is good water. And into this picture he puts all the Power of his mind, his heart, and his hands, centering upon his work his will that that prey come to where he had made such a carving, to fall beneath his weapon. So perhaps that happens. Wiser men than we have seen it chance so."
         Lik played with his belt. His grin was quite gone. Perhaps he had a thinking mind as well as a driver's callous heartlessness. A bully was not necessarily all fool. But inducing uneasiness was a delicate and precise bit of action. Kade had no intention of spoiling this play by too much force at the start.
         "It remains," he yawned, rubbed two fingers across his chin, "that there are those who have a liking for the records of such finds. And I am a trader." He returned the matter to the firm base of a commercial transaction, sure Lik would continue to think of the carving, consider its possibilities, in more than one field.
         Kade succeeded so well that the next morning when he went to the pool to rinse and fill his canteen he discovered Lik standing there, studying the carving. In the brighter light of day the kwitu was less impressive, more weatherworn, but the artistry of the conception was still boldly plain.

    (ed note: Lik tries to have Kade killed by "accident", but the trap backfires. Instead, Lik is ironically killed by a wild kwitu, the same animal as the carving which Lik spat upon.

    When Kade returns home with the surviving Ikkinni slaves, the story spreads. The half-breed Styor Overman Buk visits Kade, clearly unnerved by the story.)

         To Kade's surprise, the Overman, hesitating on the threshold, made no attempt to look about the room. If he had come hunting a missing slave he did not disclose that fact. Instead his attitude was uneasy and Kade's confidence grew.
         "The Overman wishes?" the Terran demanded with chill crispness.
         "Information, starwalker," Buk blurted out with little of his usual assumption of equality with the Traders. He slid one booted foot into the room and Kade guessed that he did not want to state his business in the open. The Terran stood aside and Buk oozed in, shut the door panel and set his plump shoulders against it as if to stave off some threatened invasion.
         "There is a story," he began, looking none too happy. "Now there are those who say that Lik saw a certain thing by the water and mocked that thing openly, then he was slain by that which he mocked."
         Kade leaned back against the end of the bunk. "There was an old, old carving on a rock by the pool," he spoke gravely, "which Lik spat upon and mocked, yes. Then with the next dawn the kwitu which was like unto that pictured by the pool, came and rent him. This is no story, for with my two eyes I saw it."
         "And the thing by the pool. Who made it so?" Buk persisted.
         "Who live in the mountains, Overman?" (the Ikkinni natives who have not yet been enslaved)
         Buk's tongue, thick and a brownish red, moistened his blubbery lips. His fat rolls of fingers played a tattoo on either side of the control box at the fore of his ornate belt. His uneasiness was so poorly concealed that Kade's half plan, shelved at Lik's death, came to life again. Now he decided upon a few embellishments. If Buk was superstitious the Terran could well add to his growing fears.
         "I have been asking myself," Kade said, as if he were musing aloud and not addressing Buk, "why it was that the kwitu did not turn horn and hoof on me, for I was easy meat when the sonic failed us. However the hunt was not for me, but for Lik, and he was not the nearest nor the first that the bull sighted. It is true I had not mocked that which was carved beside the pool, rather did I speak well of it, since such old things are revered among my people."
         "But to believe so is the foolishness of lesser creatures," Buk's tongue made its nervous lip journey a second time. "Such thinking is not for masters."
         "Perhaps so," Kade made polite but plainly false agreement to that sentiment. "Yet among the stars many things come to pass which no man can explain, or has not found a proper explanation to fit the circumstances. All I know is that I breathe and walk, and Lik does not, where Lik mocked and I did not. Perhaps this adds to something of meaning, perhaps not. But while I am on Klor I shall be careful not to mock what I do not understand."

    From THE SIOUX SPACEMAN by Andre Norton (1960)

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