Telekinesis

Tagged: Theme

An important item of sf Terminology, from the Greek words for "movement at a distance". Thus telekinesis is the ability to move objects by the power of the mind, which after Telepathy is the most commonly used Psi Power in sf. The word was not coined by an sf author: the Oxford English Dictionary gives an 1890 citation from Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. It appeared in sf as early as 1949 – Charles L Harness uses "telekineticist" in "Flight into Yesterday" (May 1949 Startling) – and became popular, especially in Astounding, in the early 1950s. The synonym "psychokinesis" (often shortened to PK) was coined by J B Rhine (1895-1980) in the 1930s; Charles Fort used the term Teleportation to describe the same phenomenon.

Considered historically, telekinesis is an extrapolation of the traditional feat of levitation – flying or floating by applying mental or spiritual power to one's own body, as supposedly practised by the seventeenth-century Saint Joseph of Cupertino and various nineteenth-century spirit mediums. Perhaps owing to these antecedents, the phenomenon of levitation is usually given rather ironic treatment in such twentieth-century literary works as Neil Bell's "The Facts About Benjamin Crede" (in Mixed Pickles: Short Stories, coll 1935), Michael Harrison's Higher Things (1945), Isaac Asimov's "Belief" (October 1953 Astounding) and John Shirley's Three-Ring Psychus (1980). Considered logically, levitation is a natural offshoot of telekinesis and thus crops up in numerous stories which deal with a broader range of telekinetic and (often) ESP powers, including Lloyd Biggle Jr's The Angry Espers (August 1959 Amazing as "A Taste of Fire"; rev with cuts restored 1961 dos), James H Schmitz's The Witches of Karres (December 1949 Astounding; exp 1966), Jack Vance's "Telek" (January 1952 Astounding), Tom Reamy's Blind Voices (1978), Timothy Zahn's A Coming of Age (1985), and Brian Herbert's and Kevin J Anderson's Hellhole (2010). The multiply incarnated Superman of Gordon R Dickson's Childe Cycle discovers within himself (but rejects) the power to walk on air in The Genetic General (May-July 1959 Astounding as "Dorsai!"; cut 1960 dos; text restored vt Dorsai! 1976); still more remarkably, an earlier version of the character levitates while still frozen in Cryonic suspension in Necromancer (1962; vt No Room for Man 1963). Able to control or "bind" electromagnetic and other energies, the protagonist of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light (1967) flies by "Binding gravitation to his will".

The traditional association of poltergeist activity (see Supernatural Creatures) with the presence of children or adolescents may underlie Roald Dahl's Matilda (1988), whose bullied titular child finds herself able to use telekinesis to settle accounts with her adult oppressor; the poltergeist link is explicit for the prickly telekinetic teenager of Gwyneth Jones's The Hidden Ones (1988). Though these are sympathetic examples, the psi-gifted child is often shown as monstrous, as in Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" (in Star Science Fiction Stories 2, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl); see also Children in SF.

An interesting Fantasy example is Fritz Leiber's and Harry Fischer's "The Lords of Quarmall" (January-February 1964 Fantastic), featuring a two-person Board Game in which each player has twelve draughts-like counters to be slid about the board only by telekinesis; the winner is the first to move seven or more of these pieces into the opponent's half of the board.

Jack Vance's above-cited "Telek" is interesting in that the power of telekinesis, though guarded by a self-perpetuating elite, is teachable by example and can be "stolen" by egalitarian reformers. This and other powers are conferred by study of the Martian language in Robert A Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961; text restored 1991), and of Husserlian phenomenology (which may or may not be a tougher proposition) in Colin Wilson's The Mind Parasites (1967). More typically, as with other Psi Powers, the ability is restricted to individual Mutants, or to a Pariah Elite as in Zenna Henderson's People collections Pilgrimage (coll of linked stories 1961) and The People: No Different Flesh (coll of linked stories 1966). [DRL/PN/BS]

Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.