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I read a pretty interesting sci-fi paperback a few years ago and am trying to come up with a name.

The story is set in the future where humans are out running around on new planets. One planet they find has these little alien critters. The problem is when a human touches one of these critters, the dude is overwhelmed with psychic force and dies from the trauma. However, each successive touch is less deadly. Eventually, mankind decides to harness these critters by accepting suicide volunteers to go out and kill themselves (thereby earning their family members some cash) and softening up the impact of the space critters.

A human can use these softened-up space critters to gain psychic powers of their own. A number of main characters use the critters to get psychic powers. At one point, a couple of people have weird psychic sex, although they find it overwhelming and confusing.

Eventually, a new alien race comes along that ends being a major threat to the human race. Humanity ends up fighting the powerful aliens, but to no avail. It turns out that these new aliens were also psychic. The reason they were so hostile to humanity was that they saw into human minds and acted out how the humans expected the aliens to behave. In other words, since the humans feared the aliens and assumed they were dangerous, the aliens figured the way humans preferred to be interacted with was via violence and destruction.

Anyway, the really fun part of the book was that each chapter was written in a completely different format. For example, one chapter may be from the first-person perspective of a main character. The next may be a third-person perspective on a alien critter. The next chapter may be an advertisement about the suicide opportunity. The next chapter may be voice chat between two main characters. Etc. etc.

Anyone know what I'm talking about?

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It sounds like Joe Haldeman's Mindbridge

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Here's the alien telepathic critter (the titular "mind-bridge"), from ch.11 Bridge-1

One remarkable property of the ESP-inducing creature Tania Jeeves’s team brought back from Groombridge 1618 is that the creature “tunes” itself to individuals. It seems to be most sensitive, or most efficient, with the first person who comes into contact with it, and less sensitive with each subsequent contact. Further, the sensitivity does not seem to decrease with time.

Here's the hostile alien, from 49-Chapter Fifteen:

“I am an ethical and . . . the closest you say is ‘courteous’ . . . organism. My first act when I meet a new organism is to do what it expects me to do. As well as I can divine its wishes.”

“I can not believe this,” said Chin (L., Bellcomm). “These people, you claim, wanted you to kill them?”

“Not precisely. They expected me to try. Physically. Simply to kill them, with no danger to my own parts, would have been easy enough.”

The book is written in a combination of epistolary style (like a collection of letters or clippings, as in Bram Stoker's Dracula or Lovecraft's Call of Cthuhlu) as well as the first- and second-person styles usually seen in novels.

  • 1
    Dude, you nailed it! Thanks for the extra quotes as proof. I was going to post that I thought it had a black cover, but I didn't want to confuse the issue if I were remembering incorrectly. – johnjon Sep 12 '14 at 3:17
  • @johnjon: Glad to help. There's several different covers, but I think that one was most common in the U.S. – Joe L. Sep 12 '14 at 3:29

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