"Mindhopper" by James B. Johnson (1988)
"Manny blasted me with my first experience of a surge of psychic fear. I couldn't mistake that, either."
James B. Johnson wrote the majority of his books from 1981 to 1991. From what I gather from both Wikipedia and the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, he was never well known in the world of science fiction. His approach to the genre - at least as it's encapsulated on those sites - also doesn't strike me as particularly inventive or stylistically accomplished. If Mindhopper is taken as representative of his fiction as a whole, the works of Theodore Sturgeon were a big influence on him.
In Mindhopper a young boy develops the ability to converse with certain people telepathically, and various individuals seek to use this ability to create a faster-than-light propulsion system. The book's plot revolves around an older man's struggle to keep the young boy safe. It's fairly violent, but at the same time very coy when it comes to sexual matters.
In stylistic terms this novel is somewhat amateurish, but then again it represented an early work by an author new to the genre, and perhaps he got better later on. Mindhopper is written in the first person, and this storytelling device makes for some confusion in one of the book's closing chapters, where the protagonist is describing events he wasn't able to witness. A lot of the profanity in this book struck me as somewhat juvenile, and at times the author either explains too much or too little, depending on how "scientific" the passage is. His choice of words in certain contexts is also baffling, with many paragraphs marred by unnecessary sentences or extraneous clauses.
One could also ask the question: is this really science fiction? As works of fiction go, there's very little science to be found in the pages of Mindhopper. Sure, there are discussions of cars and there are discussions of car racing. But the author's understanding of how the brain works is/was obviously rudimentary, even accounting for the time in which he wrote the book. And as for descriptions/explanations of how telepathy ties into faster-than-light travel, he doesn't even bother.
Yet its amateurishness aside, I'd have to say that Mindhopper is a fairly consistent book. It's not good by any stretch of the imagination, and it owes a lot to Sturgeon's More Than Human, but I've read much worse "science" fiction, and this novel isn't long enough to wear out its welcome.
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