I'm trying to remember a short story about a mind-reading predator of humans on a planet other than Earth. When his telepathy proves nobody believes in him, he ceases to exist.

It was in a collection of other stories. I read the book (maybe 200 pages total) in the early 80's.

  • Why was his existence predicated on the belief of others?
    – Valorum
    May 17, 2016 at 22:44
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    @Richard I believe he when he read their minds, he believed what the humans believed and thought himself out of existance. May 17, 2016 at 22:50
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    lol. If you guys ask me enough questions, I'll probably remember what the story was called before you can answer. May 17, 2016 at 23:33
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    .... and thirty seconds later: it's The Nonesuch, by Larry Niven (though details seem to be elusive, and I've not got time to add a decent answer right now, so if anyone else wants to do the honours....) news.larryniven.net/biblio/display.asp?key=97
    – andrewsi
    May 18, 2016 at 0:51
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    @MajorStackings If you are the top user of the story-id tag, WHY DO WE HAVE TO ASK YOU ALL THESE QUESTIONS?? Maybe you should read this. :-)
    – user14111
    May 18, 2016 at 2:12

1 Answer 1


The story is "The Nonesuch" by Larry Niven, which appears in his short story collection Convergent Series (1979).

From memory, it starts with a paragraph or two of backstory saying that a human colony on another planet had appeared to be doomed. A deadly, invisible predator killed one or two members of every party that ventured out of their base, and a colony cannot go on forever cowering behind barricades. Then, it says without elaboration, "a solution was found". The rest of the story describes in a much lighter vein how that solution worked in practice.

The story then jumps forward a decade or two. The next scene opens with a teenage girl walking out in the countryside of this planet going to visit someone. Evidently the colonists can now go for walks in the countryside. The viewpoint switches to that of the intelligent (but not very) telepathic predator who spies this juicy morsel. It attacks. The girl sees it coming towards her for a moment - I think it is described as looking like an ugly but somehow vaguely comic parody of a human yokel - then she shakes her head in disbelief and laughs at herself. For a moment something or other had looked like that old wives' tale of "the Nonesuch" but everyone knows they don't exist.

The poor old predator had been zapped into temporary nonexistence by telepathic feedback. The effect wore off after a while, but it decided not to attack any more humans.

  • +1 I looked up the story and read it after andrewsi named it in his comment. You remember it well, or at least your memory matches mine from 10 hours ago.
    – user14111
    May 18, 2016 at 11:31
  • Thanks! I remembered the story well because of its entertaining semi-joking premise, but also because I did wonder about the practicalities of putting their solution into practice. Presumably it had been discovered by accident but it would have required great acting skills to raise your children to think the Nonesuches don't exist when these same predators had killed some of your friends, and great faith in your solution to gamble your children's lives on its efficacy. Presumably the first generation of colonists never could leave their base. Yes, I know I am taking this waaay too seriously. May 18, 2016 at 11:44
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    @Lostinfrance They could always get more kids. Smarter. Faster. Stronger. May 19, 2016 at 1:54
  • @Lostinfrance - Thanks for writing up a much better answer than I suspect I could have managed! There doesn't seem to be much information online about it, and my memory is much too vague about the actual details.
    – andrewsi
    May 19, 2016 at 13:21
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    The "teenage girl in the wilderness" part of the story is cast, quite humorously, in the vein of "Little Red Riding Hood and the (telepathic) Big Bad Wolf". Jan 20, 2020 at 15:30

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