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The Witling    by Vernor Vinge order for
by Vernor Vinge
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (1976)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

An older, spindly archaeologist, Bjault, and a squat, ugly, antisocial space pilot, Yoninne Leg-Wot, are observing natives on the feudal planet Giri, and have already become fairly proficient in the native language. But then the locals notice them, destroy the spaceship (and its crew of forty) that was coming to pick them up, and take them prisoner. It turns out that, though the Azhiri are not technically advanced by human standards, their telekinetic powers give them a real edge.

The prince-imperial happened to be visiting the area the next day. Though he's heir to the Summerkingdom, poor Pelio is a witling, that is someone without any mind powers. Most such folk are slaves on this world, but Pelio's high birth - and his father's softheartedness - protects him. The prince has received information on the offworlders' capture and, after meeting them, discovering that they also are witlings, and being entranced by Yoninne's exotic beauty (a matter of perspective as his own race are squablike by human standards), decides to take them back with him to the Summerpalace.

Desperate to contact the colony on Novamerika before they die from poisoning by the heavy metals in local produce, Bjault and Yoninne exploit Pelio's interest in the pilot, attempting first to recover the items taken from them on their capture, and when those are stolen, to manipulate the prince into journeying with them to the island that was their people's base onworld. This leads to an exciting adventure, lake-hopping and ballooning across the world, powered by telekinesis, and chased by a faction that wants the offworlder's technology, while the two loners - witling and misfit - enjoy their developing relationship, and Pelio steadily grows in confidence.

It becomes a race against time - to reach the base without being captured again, before Bjault and Yoninne die, and take knowledge of the Azhiri Talent offworld, where it will facilitate faster-than-light travel. In The Witling, Vinge takes an unusual premise, that of a race that has evolved its civilization via telekinesis, and develops it into an intriguing adventure, in the classic SF tradition.

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