Wild Talent – Wilson Tucker (1954)
‘What IS Paul Breen?
An ordinary, patriotic American with unusual powers? Or the first, chilling incarnation of a threat that has haunted the mind of Man ever since he first gazed into the heavens – the threat of invasion from another planet?
Certainly, Breen’s mind had extraordinary – some would say terrifying – potential. No wonder the scientists and politicians who examined him were so quick to see devastating political uses for his telepathic powers.
But Breen’s ‘wild talent’ was a double-edged sword: true, he could pierce the hearts of America’s enemies. Bust just as clearly, he could read the guilty secrets of the nation he was born to serve…’
Blurb from the 1980 Coronet paperback edition
Tucker take an interesting look at telepathy in ‘Wild Talent’, a novel which begins in the depression of the 1930s, rushes us through World War II and lands us in the Nineteen Fifties. It is the story of Paul Breen, a young man with gifts which he neither understands nor welcomes.
While visiting the Chicago World Fair in the 30s, he witnesses the murder of a policeman and, reaching the man just as he is dying, manages to extract from his mind not only the policeman’s name and his call-sign, but the names of his murderers.
Not knowing what to do he writes an anonymous letter to the President about the murder.
Much later, Breen is identified through his fingerprints found on the envelope and is recruited into a government project where he becomes a virtual slave to the system, using his powers to receive information from US agents abroad (though in the main in the USSR) and to follow the thoughts of his colleagues nearer at hand.
The head of the project, Slater, finds Breen to be a useful tool, but is worried that the telepath will uncover his own terrible secret.
It’s an interesting novel to emerge from the Nineteen Fifties, being as much an examination of xenophobia as an attack on the Establishment. If we compare this with ‘The Puppet Masters’ we see Heinlein’s government agency as being immune to corruption, unless of course their minds are controlled by the fiendish alien slugs.
Tucker has no such illusions. At least three government employees are selling secrets to the highest bidder, and a sergeant is exposed by Breen as having fraudulently diverted shipments of coal for sale to his own personal benefit.
The ending, in which Breen is discovered by a secret group of telepaths, clear in their belief that they are the next stage of human evolution, is upbeat and optimistic. However, the implicit secrecy of their existence and their fear of being discovered says much about the paranoia of the time.