Psion, by Joan D. Vinge

snazel's review against another edition

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My first introduction to a grim-dark future for the YA market. Haunting.

egelantier's review against another edition

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cat, a half-breed kid trying to survive in the slums of big galactic city, tries to escape the forced labor press-gang, finds out he has a latent telepathic talent and ends up in a middle of a deadly game between greedy, corrupt human government and a psychopathic rebellious telepath. it doesn't end well for him or, frankly, everybody, but cat sure tries his best.

i don't think me and vinge are a good match - i remember vaguely liking her snow queen homage a while back, but the way this book went? no. it's pretty straightforward soft sci-fi centered on an outcast hero, xenophobia and trying to find some applicable ethics in a setting where pretty much everybody is a hopeless asshole, and, well. there was nobody in there, except maybe cat, for me to like, and neither the writing nor the setting were especially good for me to settle for the book as a grimy but fascinating thought experiment.

cat is tenacious, lonely and hurting, but there's nobody there for him to reach out for. the "good" side ranges from vaguely kind but absolutely inactive (see: jule taming, resident empath, and if she'd be any more inert she'd stop breathing) to actively assholish yet repeatedly exonerated by narartive (see: dr. siebeling, who repeatedly sabotages and betrays cat, and honestly, all i can do there is to quote rocket the raccoon: boo hoo, my wife and child are dead! everybody dies, and tell him to grow a fucking conscience). cat picks one bad side against the other, citing tenuous human connections and whatnot, but all that i, as a reader, took out of this book is that i'd like to erase this entire setting with a fire and start it over.

crowyhead's review

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Cat, a street kid, is arrested and given a choice: he can submit to training to develop his latent psychic abilities, or he can be shipped offworld as an indentured laborer. Although he doesn't really believe he could be anything special, Cat chooses to take part in the training, and is swiftly drawn into a world of interplanetary intrigue. Vinge once again shows she can write sweeping science fiction and give it a human element. The "abused teen with psychic abilities" was done many times in the 80s (when this was published) but few did it as well as Vinge.

marlan's review against another edition

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"She'd gone ahead of me to help me, but it hadn't been personal. It was only a kind of reflex action, like pulling away from a flame; something you did to stop your own pain. I felt strange when I realized that; invisible. I didn't know what to think. So I didn't think about it for long."

Those are the thoughts of Cat: street-punk, orphan, and a telepath who has mentally blocked his earliest memories and his abilities.

I picked up "Catspaw" first--#2 in this trilogy. Halfway through that book, I got "Psion" and sped through it in a few days. I was so hooked, I had to come up with tricks to put the book down, so I could get some work done: promising myself I could read another chapter if I got a certain task done, telling myself the next scene would be lame.

Of course, none of the scenes were lame. Joan D. Vinge created an incredible combination of well-rounded characters, reflections on human nature, swift pacing, and complex world-building, all in 300 pages. I particularly liked that Cat is a believable criminal--hardened enough for living on the streets, but still young enough to be affected by the caring--or uncaring--of others. I see a lot of documents on juvenile delinquents, and Vinge's characterization felt very close to the truth.

Vinge also isn't afraid to show Cat as a loser--he makes terrible decisions, and pays for them more than others might, because of who he is. His struggle against the hard world he lives in, and his difficulty in finding his way, made his story utterly compelling. The only reason I'm not re-reading "Psion" immediately is because I'm dying to see how "Catspaw" ends.

Note: the "Special 25th Anniversary Edition" also includes the short story/novella "Psiren," a nice character bridge that takes place between "Psion" and "Catspaw."

venbear3's review against another edition

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adventurous dark sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


fishsauce's review against another edition

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2.5 - Started strong, but the writing fell apart around the halfway point and never recovered.

brokebybooks's review against another edition

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Recommendation: solid sci-fi novel about a street urchin turned caged lab rat turned hero. Fantastic settings, character progression, and ending with one small maybe plot hole.

Rating: 3 ½ stars for being above average but still missing something, though I can’t figure out what and did read the series out of order – so this maybe amiss if you read it chronologically.

Loved Cat’s character and progression, I really connected with him
Focused with a straightforward plot that never loses steam
Loved how Cat and Jule’s relationship works out
Loved the ending, realistic yet hopeful and enticing


Knew the gist of what would happen because I read the sequel first (but still enjoyed it)
Plot hole? – lose end that’s never followed through on though it might be Science Marches On excused

I read Catspaw (Cat #2) first on a recommendation from a friend. I loved it so much, I went back to read Psion before continuing to Dreamfall (#3).

Psion tells the tale of Cat, a street rat orphan and the small group of people he meets after being abducted into a government program. He’s ignorant, abused, and invisible trying to make it out while “screwing up” because of his upbringing. I really connected with his struggle with words, “always doing the wrong thing” according to others, the re-surfacing of childhood trauma, and the self-loathing

Oh god, the self-loathing. I know that path all too well. In a lot of ways, Cat’s re-homing and civilizing process mirrored my own experiences escaping abuse and later becoming a feminist.
Besides my personal clicking with Cat, it’s a rather average tale about a street rat becoming a hero. I think it’s well done and I can’t really name any detrimental flaws, it’s just not a big standout. It’s a straight and narrow plot with a dark hero and an interesting set-up.

I love the realistic ending, which really takes into account the reality of such an upbringing and what a happy ending for them would mean. I loved Cat’s character progression and reading it made me appreciate how far he’s come and then goes in Catspaw.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much else to say. It’s good and I enjoyed it but it simply feels average. There’s nothing I can say that’s wrong or wasn’t enjoyable to warrant 3 stars rather than 5. In the end, it just feels average though I’ll be damned if I can put my finger on it. I don’t think it’s because I read out of order because I was interested and engaged throughout since I didn’t know how events happened. But then again, I can’t rule it out.

Psion is worth reading and recommending but Catspaw is a must read.

Minor Spoiler Alert for Discussing the Possible Plot Ploblem

There is one thread left hanging: Cat’s parents. A simple test would be all it takes but that’s overlooked. Perhaps it’s Science Marching On since HLA was developed in the mid 1970s, and the first genetic test was still years away when this was written. But then again, you could argue it’s something that should’ve been included anyways. Or it’s something the characters didn’t really want the answer to and were okay with dropping the issue, that it wouldn’t change them or their situation so it was best to continue on. That’s certainly how I felt from it. Or maybe Vinge did really just forget or something. *shrug* I don’t think it impacts the story but your mileage may vary.

tome15's review against another edition

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Dull and trite. That is the best I can say.

untravel's review against another edition

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There was a time I really would have enjoyed a book like this. That time is past. One might say I 'outgrew' this kind of thing, but that would not be accurate, at least not in my case. It feels more like I have lost something, an imaginative capacity that allowed me to access what made these novels good, to me, then.

helmagnusdottir's review

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adventurous mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes