08 Feb. 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

The Man With the Telepath Hat - Part 2

As I was saying, the telepath hat was a derby, or a bowler, which I think is a synonym although Bowler is likely a British version.  The guy who was wearing the telepath hat suddenly appeared in this spaceship to tell the people on the ship that they're doing it all wrong.  It seems that the people on the ship had real psionic talents.  They could move the ship with mental power, they could communicate telepathically, etc.  And, of course, they were on the ship to escape from persecution on earth.  Why persecution?  Well, you see they had real psionic talents...

This sort of thing goes on all the time in science fiction.  Slan, Methuselah's Children, and a host of others.  Some group of people is different.  For some strange reason the world they live in isn't politically correct, and thus society doesn't "embrace" this difference, which is clearly seen as an improvement by the reader but as a threat by the people in the story's world.  So, while the townsfolk with torches and pitchforks are hunting them down, they build/buy/borrow/hijack a starship and go look for a planet of their own.  Meanwhile, those back on earth miss them, realize that this weird stuff is actually possible, and figure out a way to give it to the whole population.  Golden age ensues.

But this is not lit crit.  This is about the man with the telepath hat.  He appears on the space ship, is greeted by the mutants, tips his derby (or bowler) and shows them the mechanism inside that allows him to teleport through space, communicate by thought, breathe vacuum, and carry a yottabyte Google in the narrow brim (or rounded crown) of his derby. 

Well, maybe it is lit crit after all.  I read this story long, long ago in one of those "golden age" collections they used to offer to get people to join the Science Fiction Book Club.  I probably still have it, but if you know my feelings about "research," you can imagine how likely I am to try to find it amongst all those books.  Hence my memory, perhaps exaggerated, will have to do.  The man in the hat explains that all is forgiven, please come home, you don't need to power your ship by thought with all those bulging veins they show in the movies.  (Of course, the Witches of Karres is a different story.  There, the witches Goth, Maleen and The Leewit use the Sheewash drive to help their buddy escape from the government.  Big trouble, except they end up saving the universe, so it's OK in the end.)  But the telepath hat story had a more mundane ending, as many of this sub-genre do.

I thought about the telepath hat recently in conjunction with my recent heightened interaction with all things cell-phone.  The telepath hat story was written fifty or more years ago, when cell phones weighed thousands of pounds and had to be pulled around on a dray by mastodons.  Needless to say, the phones didn't enjoy the arguable utility they have today.  But when I mentally compared today's cell phones with science-fictional telepathy, I began to wonder which was more valuable.  Telepathy, in almost all stories, is range-limited.  You can read the minds of people nearby, but at a distance it's a jumble.  Not everyone has telepathy, and some people have "mind blocks."  Telepathy is unreliablesometimes it works, sometimes not.  And everyone is different.

Consider the cell phone:  Distance means nothing.  International calling "plans" are cheap, verging on free.  Almost everyone can have a cell phone and users already number over a billion!  Everyone can have a "mind block"just turn it off.  Or, look at the caller ID to make it selective.  And if it isn't working, you probably just need to recharge the battery.  Everyone is the same:  rich or poor, minority or otherwise, your cell phone will still sound like crap.  What's missing?  I haven't seen any hat phones yet, but that's only because the people are still thinking about shoe phones and missing the obvious.  (There is one great advantage of telepathy:  We wouldn't be obsessed with Texas hold 'em.)

Twentyish years ago, cell phones no longer needed mastodons, but they were still expensive and big.  I remember seeing one at a communications show, and finding the price was about $4,000.  I commented to the guy at the stand that it looked useful but that I would wait 'til the price came into reach.  He pointed out that it used "expensive microwave components" and would "never" be cheaper!  I chortled and told him I could wait.  But it never occurred, even to me, that "into reach" meant "essentially free."

We have:  Mock-telepathy, music players, calculators, cameras.
We're missing:  Teleportation and the ability to breathe vacuum.

Admittedly many people don't feel the need to breathe vacuum, so perhaps the gap between reality and science fiction isn't as great as it seems.  And the fact that cell phones are hand- rather than hat-held seems more a change in fashion than capability.  Another science fiction trope is that of "eidetic memory."  I wonder if that isn't next?  There's no technological impediment to recording one's entire life in sound and picture.  All you would need are memory cards and CMOS video chips on the rim of your derby.

NP:  "Talk to You" - Leslie Chase

Richard Factor

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