Branded as half alien by his emerald green eyes, homeless, illiterate Cat discovers his psionic talent and is plunged into a conflict that will test his mental powers, his strength of will, and his loyalties. On one side is the Center for Psionic Research, where the empath Jule offers Cat the only love he's known in his life and the Feds want to use him as just another tool; on the other is the rogue psion Quicksilver, ruthless and powerful, who offers Cat power beyond his dreams; and on yet another stand the Hydrans, psionic aliens, kin to Cat, who seek him as their promised savior and show him the keys to unlocking his amazing telepathic abilities. Cat's world is vividly and richly detailed, from the hard, jagged streets of Oldcity, to the glittering, acid beauty of the penal planet Cinder, to the complex layers of the characters' own minds. It is an amazing, absolutely believable future, an unforgettable world.
I first read "Psion" three or four years ! ago and fell in love with it, reading it until it literally fell apart (fortunately, I have since then acquired a new copy). I don't think I have ever read a better book on telepathy and telepaths. Joan D. Vinge explores not only the scientific aspects of psionics, but the characters who bear this gift/curse: what it feels like to be forever an outcast, punished for what should be revered, cursed for what should be a blessing. Humanity is both ugly and beautiful, and neither: characters such as Jule, beautiful outcast of a ruling family, Siebeling, the doctor with a wound in his heart that he will not let heal, and Quicksilver, whose psi is limitless and whose soul is empty, provide strong foils for Cat as he grows and changes over the course of the book, gaining, losing, and living. So much of the action takes place within the characters' minds that it seems like a brief telepathic experience--senses, memories, emotions are all given to you by Vinge's expert writing. Cat him! self is a fascinating character: tough, vulnerable, needy, ! cynical, so used to standing alone that he doesn't quite know how to react to someone caring for him, or him caring for them. Half-breed Hydran, he is accepted fully by neither humans nor aliens, reaching out without knowing where he is reaching to.
"Psion" is well worth the read, and more. It is not just about telepathic politics, or the workings of a future society. What it really deals with are the inner workings of people, minds and hearts--an endlessly fascinating topic. The two sequels, "Catspaw" and "Dreamfall", as well as the short story "Psiren" (takes place between "Psion" and "Catspaw", located in the anthology "Phoenix in the Ashes") should also be read, parts of Cat's continuing saga. All are action-filled, philosophical, and unbelievably good.
To say more would give away the fun. Read.