Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The fantasy term for a range of innate, specialized abilities usually known as paranormal or psi powers. Both sf writers and real-world believers prefer technical Graeco-Latin names for talents: sf speaks of "telepathy" where a fantasy author might opt for "mindspeech". The most commonly deployed talents relate to extended Perception, alias ESP. Examples include: clairaudience, the hearing of distant or inaudible sounds; clairvoyance or "clear seeing", usually of far-off or hidden scenes (see also Scrying) – this term is sometimes used to cover all these perceptual talents; empathy, sensitivity to others' feelings and emotions – the eponymous seers of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Heart Readers (1993) detect the purity or otherwise of Souls; Precognition, glimpsing the future; orientation or "bump of direction", a convenient Plot Device – Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon (1977) extends the notion with a character who, on request, can point the way to anything; psychometry, the perception of inanimate objects' histories – used in Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone (1969) to read the story of Mu (see Lemuria) from a surviving artifact; and telepathy, the ability to read thoughts and/or project thoughts and influences into others' minds. This latter may merely facilitate communications in the form of "mindspeech" or, in Diane Duane's The Door Into Fire (1979), "bespeaking"; or it may extend to total mental control on the order of Possession, as in A E van Vogt's The Book of Ptath (1947). A further perceptual talent often deployed without comment in Genre Fantasy is the "sixth-sense" ability of numerous characters to detect danger, Evil, Wrongness or a generally "doom-laden" atmosphere.

The more physical talents include: bilocation, being in two places at the same time – an apparent ability of the evil Wither in C S Lewis's That Hideous Strength (1945); Healing by laying-on of hands; levitation, lifting oneself via telekinesis – which may extend to flight, as in Michael Harrison's Higher Things (1945); pyrokinesis or firestarting, the ability to set things on fire – as possessed by Agni in Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light (1967) (see also Firestarter [1984]); telekinesis or psychokinesis, lifting or moving objects by mind alone – in Fritz Leiber's "The Lords of Quarmall" (1964), the movement of pieces in a board-Game reflects a telekinetic battle of wills; and teleportation, transporting objects instantly from place to place – transport often being of the talented person's own body, as in Phyllis Eisenstein's Born to Exile (1978), which features a whole clan of self-teleporters. (Talent is often hereditary in this way, as in Katherine Kurtz's Deryni and Roger Zelazny's Amber sequences.) Apportation is a subspecies of teleportation, usually associated with Spiritualism, whereby mediums and others can summon small objects to themselves – as do the Ship's Mirror-sails in Gene Wolfe's The Urth of the New Sun (1987).

Poltergeist phenomena are often interpreted as arising from uncontrolled talents emerging in adolescents undergoing Menarche. When the source of power is clearly external to the wielder (see Magic; Miracles; Spells), or the power is deployed by inherently magical beings like Demons, Elves or Gods, the term "talent" is normally avoided. [DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.