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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » telepathy in SF cliche?

   
Author Topic: telepathy in SF cliche?
Lyrajean
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I've been working on a WIP that just won't leave me alone. I've been stewing on the basic idea since college. The first version reached 600 pages and was perhaps thankfully eaten when one of my old computers bit the dust back in 2000. Well, the idea and the characters won't leave me alone... I'm working on version 2.

Anyways one of the crux ideas of the story is that it revolves around a doctor who happens to be a telepath and one of his colleagues who's an ordinary mortal like us.

At the time when I was working on the first version, I got a lot of 'tsk,tsk-ing' from a friend of mine who was an assistant editor at a major publishing house, who said the whole notion of telepathy was a big cliche left over from the 1970s and it was unlikely to get published because people would have a hard time getting their heads beyond that even if the idea was sound.

Anyways wondering if my idea has any hope of publication...

Its just one of those stories that won't leave me alone. and in the vein of write what you like, not what you think has some chance of being a best seller someday...

Can you list the cliches you think of when you think of telepathy in SF? And/or point me in the direction of some good books in the vein so I'll know what to steer clear of...


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steffenwolf
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I don't consider telepathy a cliche in SF, though perhaps it's because I haven't read many SF from the 70s. The labeling of everything as "cliche" down to phrases and ideas tends to bug me, killing otherwise good ideas.

My opinion is that if you can give it a new twist, either the telepathy itself or the people or the plot, something that no one else could think of, that could only come out of the strange depths of your own mind, it won't matter if the telepathy itself is a cliche.

The "Twilight" series for instance. There are so many vampire stories out there, that you'd think it would be "cliche" and overdone. But Meyer put new twists on it and made it her own. Now she's created a new cliche of course, as all the copycats follow in her wake.


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extrinsic
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Three major franchises explored various approaches to telepathy: Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile and Galactic Milieu, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. Darkover and Dragonriders both began in fantasy modes and moved toward science fiction as their franchises evolved. Pliocene Exile and Galactic Milieu started in science fiction and moved toward fantasty.

I assume what your critical friend might be referencing as trite or cliché about telepathy might be a matter of personal sentiments. Certainly, follow-ons to Dragonriders and Darkover attempted to reach their potential and fell short of the mark of distinction and originality, but in general what's cliché yesterday is tomorrow's idiom and vice versa.

I believe the telepathy motif fell out of favor because the reading public lost faith in its possibilities, largely as a consequence of scientific research proving the practioners of it were charlatans, demonstrating it's impossible, and the consequent coverage in the media. Surmounting reader loss of faith is the crux. Like, under what circumstances might telepathy become possible, plausible, logical? Extreme hardship driving a change in mental state, technology, and fantastical new discoveries.

I explored one such situation in a story. On the premise that the subconscious mind is capable of processing great amounts of information and leaks a bit of the results to the conscious mind, an ability to communicate more effectively between the two states of mind might result in telepathy-like talents. Reading body language, hypersensitive sensory awareness, autosuggestion, consciousness of predictable human behavior, etc.


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smncameron
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How is the notion of telepathy any more cliche then the notion of magic?

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annepin
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Telepathy appears a lot. What you do with it will determine whether it feels worn out and tired or not.
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rich
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Yeah, like they say, it's not the size of the cliche that matters, it's how you use it.
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Robert Nowall
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Telepathy has been done to death, but I'd put the date of death sometime in the 1950s / 1960s, when every issue of Astounding / Analog had one story with characters who had so-called psi powers...still, everything old is eventually new again and you could put your own contemporary spin on the idea...
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Meredith
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Just my 2 cents. I think it also matters is telepathy is the only thing going on. In fantasy, for example, if it's just one aspect of the magic, I think that's different than if it has to carry the story on its own.
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KayTi
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I'd bet it was considered passe in the 70s because in that age of aquarius there were a lot of gurus and communes attempting to reach states of enlightenment through meditation that were thought to be quasi-telepathic states. It probably just seemed trite at the time, but I honestly don't think that's the case any longer.

I read stories with telepathy as a special power of a main character and it doesn't bother me at all.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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One thing OSC has recommended before is that you put limits on your telepathy and stick to those limits.

Some possible limits:

1--telepaths can control how they send, but they can't control how they receive--can't block incoming (meaning telepaths can send to other people by choice, but they can't shut other telepaths out)

2--telepaths can control how they receive--can block incoming, but they can't control how they send--can't block outgoing (meaning telepaths can "hear" others--telepaths or otherwise--by choice, but they can't control which telepaths "hear" them)

3--telepaths can only send and/or receive with certain others, and there can be rules about how those others are found or created that you can play with

I think the biggest problem with telepaths as cliche is the idea of someone sending and/or receiving uncontrollably and having to learn how to deal with that ability.

If you have people who already know what they can and can't do, and you explore the things that can happen within those constraints, you won't be as likely to be cliche.


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Lyrajean
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Thanks Kathleen, That's a good idea.

I've been working on the idea for some time, so I have good system of rules based around proximity, and whether the telepath in question has become acclimated to the person their communicting with (if they're a non-mind reader).


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maria102182
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This makes me thing of x-men, which I certanitly don't think of as cliche. I mean here's the professor, who is so powerful that if he chose he could kill a group of people with just his mind, but he still has to have a wheelchair. I agree that using telepathy the same way as everyone else is cliche, but how do use it? Is your telepathy tinged with empathy? Can your character feel emotions as well as thought? Can he contol anybody? Maybe instead of dealing with the power itself, he has to deal with how it affects his view of humanity. You said he's a doctor right? Maybe what he hears most clearly is people's thoughts in their last moments, the cancer patient who just wants the pain to end, the accident victim who's last thoughts areof his family, the killer gloating over his victim as they're brought into the hospital, things like that.
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maria102182
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If it's just enough different than what you've read elsewere, then people will love it, old idea or not.
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bemused
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In addition to humans with psi powers, another sort of scifi telepathy that there seems to be a lot of is the "advanced aliens that do not communicate with audible speech" type.

This is not exactly cliche, but sometimes overused. Which is what many people mean when they say cliche these days. And I think that this is yet another example reinforcing the point that it doesn't matter if other have done it before, it matters what you do with it and how you make it original. Even the buggers had some telepathy going on.


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Lyrajean
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[quote/:]You said he's a doctor right? Maybe what he hears most clearly is people's thoughts in their last moments, the cancer patient who just wants the pain to end, the accident victim who's last thoughts areof his family, the killer gloating over his victim as they're brought into the hospital, things like that. [:/quote]

You hit it right on the head, it's the combination of being a medical doctor and a telepath that fascinates me...

Of course, I had to think of a reason someone so sensitive would end up in the medical profession to begin with.

I basically decided that he did it to explore the mystery of himself and what he is. Coupled with the practice of people like him routinely masking psi talents by technology when not actively using it, so he would initially have had no trouble sensing others' pain etc...

I start the story by having him run away (as a fugitive) to a real frontier colony planet where he has to focus on being a real (not a research doctor) who sees patients and frontier medicine first hand. And then of course the technology that keeps him shielded breaks and then he just has to learn to cope. And it just so happens that the shielding technology prevented him from developing his powers to their full potencial, so he's dealng with that too... And then the people who've been looking for him come and all hell breaks loose..

It is more like empathy at the beginning. He has to touch someone or become aclimated to them to sense much beyond emotion, and really picking someone's mind for information requires extensive physical contact as well as drugs to make them pliable. I didn't want to deal with mind control at least in the beginning (its too much like a get-out-of-jail-free card), so its not in this story. I have a sequel that's already mostly written where he can sometimes control people, but its not a sure-fire thing by a long shot. And he's no longer physically running from anybody at that point, so its more about his ability distorting other people's trust in him.

I don't know if you could say I have rules for telepathy, just a logical progression of development...


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rich
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Actually, it'd be kinda cool if he could "talk" to the cancer itself. Communicating with diseases or cells run amuck. Not sure what they'd talk about ("haven't I seen you here before?"..."so what do you do?"), or if they'd even have anything in common, but someone somewhere can probably run with this. And if not, well...just another bad idea to go along with Alex Chiu's Life Rings, and Hitler's Mom not using birth control.
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TaleSpinner
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Lyrajean, the telepahy story I best recall is "A Scourge of Screamers" by Daniel F. Galouye. (Don't follow this link if you don't want to see spoilers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Scourge_of_Screamers

It deals with how a telepath comes to terms with controlling telepathy, and the loss of trust of others in telepaths -- issues that seem to be in your story as well. I imagine that if your story does not address them sufficiently differently, it may appear cliche; and that would be sad, because I for one enjoy stories about telepathy.

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited February 08, 2009).]


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Lyrajean
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Thanks Talespinner, just what i was looking for, but your link isn't working... And i did a wiki search and came up empty handed.
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JudyMac
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It may be considered as passe in SF, but telepathy and othe ESP powers are alive and well in crime/mystery fiction. Check out Kay Hooper and her books on the SCU (Special Crime Unit / Bishop).

Really it is best to set some limits on how it is used or controlled. So a shielded telepath does not receive, but also can't send. Using telepathy drains energy etc.

Try to talk to someone who is/claims to be psychic and see how they describe the usage of their talents. The internet is such a good research tool, and people are very generous at answering polite questions.


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TaleSpinner
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Sorry about the busted link, fixed now.
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Christian
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LyraJean,
I love the idea you put forth. Starting out with empathy (by touch) at first and having it develop into telepathy is a novel idea. I've never heard of anything like it. If what you wrote were the blub on the back of a book, I would definitely open it up to see if it had any reviews and I'd give the first page a read.
I say move forward with this. Like someelse has said, it's not the size of the cliche' but how you use it
But all that seems moot, because your approach seems original enough for me.

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dreadlord
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personally, when I think of a telepath, a few things pop into my mind.
1. Heroes
2. Golden Sun
3. Eragon
4. proffessor X
maybe those could give you some ideas. is this guy really alone with his gift, like maybe the last of an extinct race of superhumans, or is there someone else with this (or other) abilities? try to develop your little universe.

coincidentally, very nice plotline with the empathy-telepathy thing. if you dont mind, I may write that in as a minor character in one of my graphic novels. have him end up comiting suicide to stop from reading peoples thoughts.

what happens if he "hears" too many things at once? does his brain short out? ...possibilities...


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rich
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In SCANNERS they used drugs. If you haven't seen SCANNERS, you may want to check it out. One of the first flicks to show what a telepath might be going through before learning to control the "thoughts".

But if you don't like exploding heads, don't watch that part.


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