So I just finished reading a Peter Dickinson novel that had psychics in it. And it reminded me once again: where did all the science fiction novels with psychics go? I’m not sure I miss them. There are still some places you can find things like telekinetics–mostly superpower-tinged stories like Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith’s Stranger. But Karen Lord’s straight-up interplanetary novel with characters with telepathy felt like the sort of thing I would have read at age 14 and just don’t see any more.
Where did they go? Because ESP/telepathy/mental powers show up very early in SF, and they show up very regularly until somewhere around the time I was in high school. When they just…don’t really any more. Was it that people finally felt comfortable that these things had been debunked, and people who want to write about them write fantasy? Was it that there was a cohort of people writing those stories in the ’80s (Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton) who then either stopped writing, died, or moved on to other things, leaving “psychic power novels” as feeling like “their” thing rather than a broader genre thing? Was it the overwhelmingly female nature of that group, giving the concept “girl cooties?” (Catherine Asaro was writing about telepaths well into my college days, and she has demonstrated her bravery in the face of girl cooties on a number of fronts, so maybe.) Did it just start to feel old-fashioned, or did it really get played out? Was it the rise of willingness to do superhero/comic book themes in prose that pushed these topics into that category? (Seems like it happened in the opposite order, though.) Do you have an explanation I haven’t thought of?