By Spider Robinson
Baen Books, 1976
Telempath was Spider Robinson's first science fiction novel, although by this time he was already becoming well-known for his short stories and book reviews in the Analog and Galaxy Science Fiction magazines. Telempath is in fact an expanded version of his novella By Any Other Name, which won a Hugo award. Telempath is very much a quintessential Spider Robinson novel, although it is less polished than his later works.
In 1984 a mad genius released a plague in New York City, one that resulted in the collapse of world civilization, as humans developed a hyper-sensitivity to pollution and smog, and fled to the hills. This would have been bad enough, but this sensitivity also allowed humans to discover that they shared the Earth with mysterious gaseous beings called Muskies that travel freely through the atmosphere... and presumably have since time immemorial. And now that these beings know that humans can detect them, they are on the offensive, killing them by the millions.
A generation later, Isham Stone is on a mission to finally destroy the man who released the plague on humankind. He travels to the ruins of New York City, and He finds just a bit more than he reckoned on, fighting packs of Grey Brother, Muskies, and finally, the old man who destroyed civilization... and who saves his life. Isham learns that there is more to the story than he had been taught, and that there is even more still to learn.
This novel is an interesting cross between a he-man survival story and a hippy apocalypse. The characters live off the land, smoke lots of weed, and have deep new-agey psychological discussions, but they are also all well-trained in all manner of fighting, especially firearms, and take ridiculous amounts of punishment in defense of their specific Earth-spirit philosophies.
The plotting and pacing of the novel are a bit lumpy. The story appears at first to be at least two short stories welded awkwardly together, and it contains massive flashbacks and expository lumps. It is also a bit strong on the navel-gazing and touchy-feely stuff, which is really to be expected from Spider Robinson's works. Overall, this is not a major classic of SF, and is not a book that I would generally recommend to the casual reader. However, it is an important landmark in Robinson's early career, and is a strong novel for a beginning SF writer in the 70s. It is also fondly remembered by those of us who were discovering SF as teenagers, before we got too picky about style and were just looking for a blood-and-guts adventure with a dash of surrealism.
ISBN 10: 0-671-31825-X
ISBN 13: 9780671318253.