JANE: Last week, when you mentioned the “downside” of psionic powers, I immediately thought of the use of a telepathic link between dragons and humans in Anne McCaffery’s Pern novels. On one level, it’s both dramatic and mysterious. However, the sexual component verges on the creepy, since the dragons’ sex drive dominates any choice on the part of the human partners.
This didn’t really come home to me in the first couple of novels, but when in the Menolly books her fire-lizards go into heat and she ends up having sex with the man who is bonded to the queen fire-lizard… Well, for her sake, it was a good thing she already liked this guy a lot. Even so, the situation gets a bit “rapey” for me.
ALAN: I gave up on the Pern stories before I got to the ones you mention here. Perhaps it’s just as well…
Clearly having psionic powers is a bit of a mixed blessing and can sometimes be actively dangerous. Zenna Henderson made very good use of this idea in her stories of “The People” who are humanoid beings from another planet. They were forced to leave their home world when it was destroyed in a natural disaster, and many of them ended up living on Earth, mainly in the American Southwest.
They have many psionic abilities (“Gifts”) including telepathy, telekinesis, prophecy, and healing. Nevertheless, they do not find life easy – the stories concentrate very much on the fact that The People are very different from the people among whom they live. The phrase “Different is dead” is used.
JANE: That’s super creepy…
ALAN: Of course, nothing is so serious that you can’t laugh at it. Henry Kuttner’s “Hogben” stories have been mentioned several times in the comments on our earlier tangents. We discussed them briefly in 2013.
But there are some stories that I absolutely love which you may not be familiar with because they were only published in England in two collections – Temps and EuroTemps
JANE: I did miss those. Could you tell me more?
ALAN: They were part of a project by a British writer’s collective known as Midnight Rose. The core members were Neil Gaiman, Mary Gentle, Roz Kaveney, and Alex Stewart, but others came and went as well.
The Temps books assume that the United Kingdom and the European Union require all people who have psionic powers to register themselves with the government and place themselves permanently on call to solve crises as and when they occur. In return for their service they are paid a derisorily small stipend.
This being Europe, of course, the utterly inept governmental bureaucracy flounders from crisis to crisis, as do the psionically talented themselves, many of whom have powers that, at first glance, might seem to be less than useful…
JANE: All right, you have me hooked. Tell me more!
ALAN: To give you the flavour of it, one story concerns a man whose talent can only be used in pubs. All he is able to do is telekinetically transport beer from other people’s glasses into his own. It makes for a cheap evening’s drinking, but that’s about as far as it goes. However, his bosses feel that he is the ideal person to visit a research establishment and investigate rumours of an Entorpy Ray… His boss’s secretary can’t spell Entropy and has accidentally added the misspelling “Entorpy” to her spelling checker’s dictionary. Now she is convinced that “Entorpy” is the proper way to spell the word because “…the computer says it is!” Nobody can convince her otherwise.
Strangely, the hero’s telekinetic ability does indeed prove useful in tracking down the Entorpy Ray. In a manner of speaking.
JANE: The group and even the theme sounds somewhat like a terribly British version of George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards anthologies, although a lot less grim.
ALAN: That’s a good way of putting it – I think that’s exactly what these books are. You can find secondhand copies of the collections quite easily on sites such as Abe Books. They are well worth tracking down. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
JANE: Although overall the Wild Cards stories aren’t very funny, the stories that Roger Zelazny contributed do have their lighter moments. Roger often introduced humorous asides into even his darkest pieces and his Wild Card stories about Croyd Crenson, known as The Sleeper, demonstrate this aspect of his writing very well.
Croyd doesn’t sleep very often, but when he does he sleeps for weeks or sometimes months at a time. When he wakes up he has undergone a complete physical transformation and has a brand new set of superpowers which he has to identify through a process of elimination.
In “Ashes to Ashes”, he wakes up and tries to levitate, to become invisible, to melt a waste-paper basket with the power of thought and to make sparks arc between his fingertips. Disappointingly, none of these work. It finally turns out that this time round Croyd has the power to make people do anything he tells them to do, without question. This sometimes gets him into trouble when his orders are taken too literally:
“Just what the hell is going on here?”
Croyd turned and beheld a uniformed officer who had just crossed to their island.
“Go fuck yourself!” he snarled.
Anyone who wants to know what happens next really ought to read the story…
ALAN: It’s been years since I read the Wild Card books and most of the stories have faded from my memory. But Roger’s stories about Croyd Crenson have stuck with me.
According to a Wiki maintained by fans of the books, Roger only wrote four Crenson stories, but the Wiki mentions that he had plans for at least two more.
JANE: “Plans” probably is stretching it. It would be more accurate to say he had ideas for at least a couple others, but time and inclination didn’t make it possible for him to coordinate with the Wild Cards consortium. Those anthologies – and especially the “mosaic novels” – are more tightly choreographed than most ballets.
As our readers’ comments make clear, although we’ve been chatting about “post humanity” for weeks now, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless, I have a desire to move on to another SF trope… But unless you’re clairvoyant, you’re going to have to wait until next week to find out which one!