Paging Counselor Troi: locating telepathic protagonists in fiction
November 9, 2014 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in how telepathy has been portrayed in fiction (written form) and was wondering if anyone could point me to some examples where the protagonist struggles with the trait and has to learn how to master/control it in order to stay sane. Note: I've read The Shining and its recent sequel. Thanks in advance!
posted by wallawallasweet to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There's a book called Nexus which talks about a world in which there are drugs that enable people to "touch minds" which includes the ability to speak telepathically. There's a big debate about whether this technology is terrible because it will allow people to be enslaved by it or great because it will allow people to be empathetic with one another and thus make wars impossible. The main protagonist has this ability and (through an arrest and a dealmaking situation) he's saddled with a law enforcement agent who has the abilty to sort of read his mind and communicate in this back channel way with him. They spend a lot of time trying to negotiate how much to let other people in and how much to keep them out. It's a good book.
posted by jessamyn at 9:37 AM on November 9, 2014

The Sookie Stackhouse novels should fit. I'm not sure how much a role her telepathy plays over the course of the series, read the first two and they were too cheesy for me. It is a central part of her character and how she relates to the world though.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:42 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Jack of Eagles by James Blish
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Chrysalids. Also, though a very different type of telepathy, The Giver.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Joan Vinge has several books about a street punk telepath character named Cat.
Recommended: Psion and Catspaw.
posted by Queen of Robots at 9:48 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not a protagonist but these guys were described in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
The Belcebrons of Kakrafoon Kappa had an unhappy time. Once a serene and quiet civilization, a Galactic Tribunal sentenced them to telepathy because the rest of the galaxy found peaceful contemplation contemptuous. Ford Prefect compared them to Humans because the only way Belcebrons could stop transmitting their every thought was to mask their brain activity (or its readability) by talking endlessly about utter trivia.
posted by XMLicious at 9:53 AM on November 9, 2014

The Justice trilogy by Virginia Hamilton!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:56 AM on November 9, 2014

More Than Human contains elements of that.
posted by pipeski at 9:57 AM on November 9, 2014

Jane in C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:34 AM on November 9, 2014

Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg. The protagonist is coming to terms with losing his telepathy.
posted by monotreme at 10:59 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Midnightersby Scott Westerfeld, one of the characters who I don't remember the name of is telepathic and struggles with it.
posted by KernalM at 11:02 AM on November 9, 2014

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie has a really interesting take on that. I'm not sure if it'd be as good a read without reading Ancillary Justice first, though. (Fortunately, both are splendid.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:19 AM on November 9, 2014

The Girl with the Silver Eyes!
posted by Violet Hour at 11:38 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mind of My Mind, Octavia E. Butler.

World of Ptavvs, Larry Niven.
posted by stebulus at 12:09 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

The canonical example of the type of treatment of telepathy in SF you're looking for is Robert Silverberg's Dying Inside. That is all.
posted by Justinian at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

(As monotreme pointed out, curses. Good job, monotreme.)
posted by Justinian at 12:12 PM on November 9, 2014

Slan by A. E. von Vogt.
posted by nicwolff at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2014

Joe Hill's "Horns" - the book, anyway, I haven't seen the film yet and they might have ruined it. Stephen King's son, too!
posted by symphonicknot at 2:59 PM on November 9, 2014

Octavia Butler's Patternist series concludes with the creation of a telepathic human society, with a non telepathic (essentially slave) underclass. The origins of that society - the first telepaths coming to grips with their abilities - are the subject of the second book in the series, Mind of my Mind.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:09 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels. Your keyword for searching is "threshold sickness," though it pretty much shows up in every book at some point.
posted by BrashTech at 5:12 PM on November 9, 2014

Seanan McGuire's Incryptid series includes characters with some serious telepathic mojo, and how to control it and what to do with it is definitely an emergent and important theme in the series.
posted by joycehealy at 5:25 PM on November 9, 2014

Telepathy ("mindspeech" or "bespeaking") comes up in Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish series. Rocannon's World is about the first Terran to learn telepathy. It plays a much less significant role in The Left Hand of Darkness, but there's a section in which a Terran tries to teach mindspeech to a native of another planet who has difficulty dealing with it.
posted by teraflop at 10:01 PM on November 9, 2014

Lois McMaster Bujold has it in Ethan of Athos.

Mercedes Lackey has it in spades through the Valdemar series.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:27 PM on November 9, 2014

Thanks everyone for all these would mark as 'best answer' suggestions! Looks like I have a lot of reading on my plate. I will go first with the most oft suggested Dying Inside and then move further to Nexus, the Catspaw books.
posted by wallawallasweet at 11:00 PM on November 9, 2014

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