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Psion    by Joan D. Vinge order for
by Joan D. Vinge
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 1996 (1982)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Psion is first in a series that continues with Catspaw and Dreamfall. It introduces young Oldcity slum-dweller Cat in 2417 AD. Fleeing from Contract Labor recruiters, he's arrested by Corporate Security (Corpses) and offered the opportunity to enlist in psionics research (run by Dr. Siebeling) as an alternative to ten years hard labor on a distant 'sewer world'. Cat is half-Hydran, Hydrans being peaceful aliens with psionic abilities, who have interbred with some humans. But all psions are feared by most of humanity.

A strong wide-spectrum telepath, Cat's blocked his own abilities, ever since a telepathic shock burned out his circuits in early childhood. Despite a huge chip on his shoulder (especially around Siebeling), Cat begins to feel comfortable with the other research subjects, especially the highly empathetic Jule and telepath Cortelyou. He soon learns that there's more to the group than psionics. The intent is to attract the interest of rogue psion Quicksilver, who plans dirty business in the Crab Colonies, where the telhassium supply is located - telhassium is the key to all starship travel and interplanetary commerce.

Shortly after Quicksilver makes contact as Rubiy, trying to recruit Cat and Jule, Siebeling (struggling with his own demons) dismisses Cat back to Contract Labor, who ship him out to the colonies. He ends up in the brutal telhassium mines on Cinder, where life expectancy is short. Cat's contacted by Spooks, who turn out to be Hydrans. They meld with him and eventually unblock his talents. The Spooks release Cat to Rubiy's people, who've been joined by some of his old friends working undercover. Rubiy deliberately engineered Cat's stint in the mines and plans to send him in once more, to gain access to them himself.

Of course, it's never simple, and Cat suffers a great deal of pain - both physical and from conflicted loyalties - before it's all over, and he finally has the chance for a better life, if not exactly the one he wanted. As Jule tells him, 'We never get everything we want, Cat ... but sometimes we get what we need.' If you haven't read this series yet, you've a treat in store.

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