I'm trying to identify a story. I first read this in a library book sometime in the early-to-mid 1980s. I believe I reread it about a decade later, around the mid-1990s (again in a library book), but even that would have been roughly twenty years ago. I am sure the story was much longer than a short story, but may have just been part of a collection, rather than being published as a novel in its own little book. (Perhaps one of those omnibus volumes that reprint multiple "novellas" or "short novels" all written by the same author, many years earlier?) I remember nothing about the title or the author.

I do remember the plot outline pretty well, although not any of the names of characters. Here's the way I think it went:

  1. The story starts with a scene showing us an alien visitor's point of view (but written in the third person). The alien is telepathic. For some reason, he has just landed his ship on or near a farm somewhere in the USA. I'm not sure if it was "an emergency crash landing" or what; but I know he's all alone, without having a mother ship full of friends waiting for him up in orbit or anything along those lines. This is apparently the alien's first visit to our planet; he knows little or nothing about human psychology.

  2. As he approaches the local farmhouse (it's nighttime), a barking dog annoys the alien, and he immediately kills it. (I have a feeling he may have done this with sheer mental force, rather than a conventional weapon, but I don't swear to that.) Then the alien knocks on the door of the farmhouse (or else the farmer opens it first, having heard a noise outside?). I don't remember exactly what the alien's game plan appears to be at this point, but I think he wanted transportation. Perhaps intending to steal the farmer's car, or to persuade the farmer to give him a ride into town (which might be safer, if the alien didn't know how to drive our vehicles in the first place), or something along those lines, so that he could get into an urban area with high-tech resources which he could exploit. The alien definitely did not intend to say "take me to your leader" and try to establish peaceful diplomatic relations with a human government. Note: Either the alien looks pretty darn human to begin with, or else he is convinced he can use his psychic abilities to make the farmer think he's seeing a fellow human being. (I think it was the latter, but I could be misremembering.) This first scene ends just as the alien and the farmer are coming face to face.

  3. The story now switches to human viewpoints for the remainder of the plot. One viewpoint character -- I think the one who gets the most time in the spotlight -- is a young man who works as some sort of federal agent. (I don't remember if he was stated to be FBI, or part of some other real or fictional federal agency. It scarcely matters.)

  4. One of the young agent's coworkers is a young woman who has a special qualification: She is telepathic. We soon learn that, in this "near future" version of the world, there are numerous authentic telepaths, both male and female, but they are all required to be registered with the government, and there is a hard-and-fast rule that no two telepaths can ever marry and have children. (Although I believe a telepath may marry a normal person of the opposite sex, and the children often (or always?) grow up demonstrating telepathy of their own.) The logic on the part of the politicians was, I think, something along these lines: "The current crop of telepaths are a bit scary . . . but their powers are weak enough to leave them manageable. But if a second-generation child inherited telepathic genes from both sides of the family, that might give him double strength, or even additional powers we've never seen before, and then it might be impossible for Big Government to keep him under tight control, and we can't have that!"

  5. The male agent and the female telepath are both being called in for a task force to hunt down a scary alien intruder who is believed to be powerfully telepathic. (In other words, the government is aware of the landing of an alien spacecraft that occurred in the opening pages of the story. Picked it up on radar, or something.) The farmer is interviewed. He is still alive and well, and I think he states that his late-night visitor seemed like a harmless, ordinary sort of fellow. (I suspect the federal agents find the remains of an alien ship on or near the farm, but I could be wrong about that. Perhaps it was just a tiny little "life pod" or something similar, or self-destructed, or . . . well, I'm not sure!)

  6. On one or more occasions, the federal task force thinks it has pinpointed the location of the mysterious alien. (Say, checked into a quiet hotel room somewhere.) But when they try to close in to make an arrest, something always goes wrong -- suggesting that the alien is powerfully telepathic, and possibly telekinetic as well (I'm not sure of the exact powers that were manifested), and always manages to get out of the trap.

  7. At some point, the male agent's boss has a man-to-man talk with him, in which the boss says something along these lines (loosely paraphrased from my imperfect memory). "Listen, I know you want to marry [female telepath's name]. Which would be an interesting experiment -- since you are secretly a telepath yourself, flying under the radar! Frankly, you're not quite as clever about hiding it as you think you are. I figured it out a long time ago, and I've never yet felt the need to turn you in so you would be officially registered. If you cooperate with my plans, and we manage to capture or kill this scary telepathic alien, I may be able to help you fulfill your dream of marrying the girl and raising a child with a double dose of telepathic genes."

Note: I think, but am not sure, that the point may have been made in that conversation that if scary telepathic aliens truly were lurking out there, capable of doing much more with their mental powers than any "first-generation" telepath, then it might become easier to sell the idea to politicians that what the human race really needed was a more powerful "next generation" of telepaths to give us a level playing field in a future war against alien aggression.

  1. In the end, there are some surprise twists which really caught me off-guard in the first reading. I'll conceal them as Spoilers.


Someone -- I think our young federal agent -- somehow deduces that the farmer had killed the alien (right after the end of the opening scene). The alien thought he was doing a good job of fooling the farmer, but then the farmer saw the body of his faithful dog, and knew that this stranger had killed it for no good reason. So the farmer suddenly grabbed a gun and killed the alien with the first shot, before the alien had time to figure out what was going on. (Apparently the cold-bloodedly self-centered alien had never realized that humans might be extremely sentimental about the animals running around on their property?) The farmer subsequently buried the alien (and the dog, I think), and when federal agents showed up, the next morning, the farmer lied his face off ("I think he went thataway," or whatever) to cover up what he had done. Confronted with a withering barrage of questions about the details of this encounter, the farmer breaks down and admits the whole thing.


Then someone -- perhaps the young federal agent's boss? -- has a heart-to-heart talk with the guy whom the task force has actually been pursuing since the day following the alien landing. It turns out that the fugitive isn't a high-powered alien telepath; he's a high-powered human telepath. He is, in fact, the only living person who fits into the special category of "I am the child of two unregistered telepaths who married and reproduced. By the time I was a grown man, I had strong psychic abilities that make me unique in this world. It's a very lonely life." He was not a bad guy -- I gathered he had never used his powers to kill or badly injure anyone else. I forget his exact explanation for why he suddenly began impersonating the "alien invader" who had recently landed in the USA, but he might have been thinking along the lines I mentioned above: "If the U.S. Congress (or whoever makes policy decisions) gets sufficiently scared of alien invaders, they might change the rules regarding romantic unions between telepaths, so as to be ready to fight fire with fire the next time powerful nonhuman invaders try to make trouble for us."

  • Wow, incredibly detailed question!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 24, 2016 at 0:50
  • 1
    Well, it helps immensely that I read it twice, at least a decade apart. If I'd only read it in, say, the early 1980s, I might have said, basically: "Alien visitor lands. Kills farmer's dog. Federal agent hunting for him is secretly a telepath who wants to marry a girl who is a registered telepath. I forget just how the silly thing ended, but there was some sort of twist. Sound familiar to anyone?" (I think that's approximately how much I did remember in the mid-1990s when I sat down to read it all over again!) :-)
    – Lorendiac
    Oct 24, 2016 at 0:52
  • A similar tale is Eric Frank Russell's "Legwork". troynovant.com/Franson/Russell/Legwork.html Sep 2, 2022 at 22:40

3 Answers 3


I knew I knew it! This is one of the stories in Psi High and Others by Alan Nourse.

While "The Watchers" from the Galactic Confederation patiently await the verdict -- freedom or "Quarantine" for earth, they review man's reaction to three past crises. In the "Martyr" we have a portrait of a civilization on the brink of immortality through the discovery of a rejuvenation process. The story moves beautifully toward its climax as the Senator who has been pushing a universal rejuvenation program slowly discovers that the cost is psychological suicide -- man loses that drive that has brought him so close to the stars. In Psi High high Psis have become social pariahs, stigmatized and controlled until an enemy alien telepath arrives. Don't anticipate... this one has a real Hitchcockian twist. Finally "Mirror Mirror" shows humanity engaged in an unusual war with an elusive enemy. The solution lies in reflection... and in a very human weakness. Intelligent postulates; skillful story-telling which challenges, entertains.

You can find a more comprehensive review here, which shows that the answer is the title story, "Psi High":

In the title story, PSI High, an alien with powerful mental abilities lands alone on Earth to seek out the fledgling PSI movement and destroy it as a prelude to invasion. The PSI-ers track the alien as it cuts a swathe across America, leaving a trail of mental destruction in its wake. Nothing the PSI movement throws at the alien slows or affects its progress towards its prize - frail and beautiful Jean Sanders, PSI High's most gifted. As the alien gets closer, the PSI-ers form ranks about Jean, and a sort of mental siege takes places, with Nourse ratcheting up the tension by having the government and populace turn against the PSI-ers - they suspect the alien is in league with PSI High; and as it turns out... The denouement of the story is a twist tied as a noose; but I'm not sure that the weight is correct. The set-up is overly-elaborate and the pay-off rests entirely with the fate of the alien which, while certainly plausible, has rather a touch of Chekhov about it - permitting your raygun to be seen and not used is a delicate narrative choice. Put bluntly (spoiler ahead), the alien dies quietly at its first human encounter - at the hands of a farmer whose dog it has killed. The "alien" they've been tracking turns out to be a human, the next step in PSI development, who used the alien's arrival (and disappearance) as cover to announce his existence. As you would. The story is also a gothic romance of sorts, as a being perceived throughout to be monstrous pursues the mind of a girl. PSI High is a complex tale which probably would have worked better at greater length. Its mood is dark and ambitious, but Nourse's prose is simply not precise enough to allow it to take hold. There are too many competing elements; however, as flawed as it is, PSI High is the best story in the volume, and evidence that Nourse's work is a cut above the norm.


A story comes to mind that hit on a few of your points but is definitely a long shot. Recorded here on the chance that it might lead to the correct story or be helpful to other users in the future.

  • Brain Twister by "Mark Phillips" (AKA Randall Garrett and/or Laurence M. Janifer) from 1962. A slightly shorter version originally appeared as title "That Sweet Little Old Lady" in Astounding. It was nominated for the Hugo and lost to Starship Troopers.

    This is a federal level man hunt for a telepath story that librivox summarizes as

Brain Twister follows the adventures of FBI agent Kenneth J. Malone as he attempts to unravel the machinations of a telepathic spy. His first problem: how do you find a telepath to catch the first telepath?

It is possible that the story you are looking for is one of the others in their "Psi-power" series.

Available on Gutenberg and Librivox.

  • Thank you for bringing these to my attention. I've read a lot of stuff by Garrett over the years, but I hadn't read these. If they're freely available on Gutenberg, I may get some fun out of them. (After a little online research, though, I could see they weren't what I was thinking of, because reviewers describe them as "slapstick" and I was remembering a story with a very serious tone.)
    – Lorendiac
    Oct 24, 2016 at 22:47

Are you looking for Robert Heinlen's classic "Stranger in a Strange Land"? From Wikipedia:

Stranger in a Strange Land is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. The novel explores his interaction with—and eventual transformation of—Terran culture.

  • 2
    The OP has clearly already accepted an answer.
    – Voronwé
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:39

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