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There's a story I read a long ways back in which Earth was visited by aliens who "help" humanity. They help them to evolve towards a race of introspective brains. This is in order to prevent humans from realizing their potential to become overlords of the universe via a special ability.

The ability in question is called 'indication' and is effectively the ability to alter reality at will, including manipulating the attitudes of any thinking entity. This ability, fully realized, would have enabled a single human to defeat any conceivable opposition that could have been mounted by the aliens, so they used social engineering to get humans to choose to be irrelevant. At times the protagonist in the story prevents others from obstructing him by "indicating assent" or similar phrasing.

The story revolves around a single human who returns to the brutish physical form of ancient humans to chase down the abductors of a woman that he has come to love, wreaking havoc on the aliens.

I am fairly certain that this was a novella-length story from the Campbell era, but it has been at least 25 years since I read it so I could be wrong.

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This is The Battle of Forever by A. E. Van Vogt.

At the beginning of the novel all of humanity has been reduced to a few individuals who have evolved to have massive heads and vestigial bodies. So not quite giant brains, but close. It turns out this was encouraged by aliens called the Nunuli (or possibly the Zouvgites - I can't remember which is which) so they could take over the Earth.

The story follows an Earthman called Modyun who becomes curious about the Earth outside his tank and grows himself a new body so he can explore it. He finds the Earth is populated by beast-men, that is intelligent beings evolved from animals.

The Earthmen do have a mental power called indication, though I'm not sure that it is ever fully explained. For example:

He accordingly wasted no time, now, on further argument with a machine. What he did was one of the indication techniques by which the brain of man controlled matter. The force which was thus instantly set in motion dissolved the otherwise enduring electrical connections of this specific door-unlocking relay system.

I don't recall anything about the abduction of a woman. There is an important female character called Soodleel, but it's so long since I read the book that I have forgotten her role in the story.

  • Excellent, this is exactly what I was searching for. Soodleel is abducted by the aliens, and Modyun spends most of the story trying to get her back. I'd forgotten about the beast men, and their acceptance of Modyun as one of their number - an Ape-form beastman - until you mentioned it. Great find, thanks! – Corey Oct 9 '15 at 3:04
  • And apparently I was completely wrong about the age of the thing... published in 1973! – Corey Oct 9 '15 at 3:12
  • Published in 1971 according to the ISFDB. Allegedly it was submitted to Campbell for serialisation in Analog, but Campbell had no openings for it so it ended up being published by Ace. As an excitable teenager in the 70s I loved (nearly) everything by Van Vogt and read him obsessively. As a boring fifty year old I still think much of what he wrote is excellent :-) – John Rennie Oct 9 '15 at 6:12

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