Tuesday, 26 September 2000

Anne McCaffrey: To Ride Pegasus (1974)

Edition: Sphere, 1976
Review number: 629

To Ride Pegasus is not only an early McCaffrey novel which has now become the first of a series, it is also in fact a collection of four novellas, three of which had been previously published. They are all about what might happen if telepathic powers of various kinds were proven scientifically, and the early problems of an institute formed to develop and exploit these powers and protect those who possess them.

There certainly doesn't appear to have been a great deal of rewriting done, which leaves the four stories rather superficially united. The first one sets the scene, and they are ordered by their internal chronology. The oldest story, Apple, which is also the best, was published again in the later collection Get Off the Unicorn.

To Ride Pegasus is not one of McCaffrey's best novels. In the shorter structure of the novellas, her characterisation never becomes more than perfunctory. Her style is not fully formed, and much is reminiscent of earlier writers (E.E. "Doc" Smith's First Lensman and A.E. van Vogt's Slan frequently come to mind). There is a logical problem, of which it is clear that McCaffrey is aware, in her treatment of several of the psychic abilities, particularly precognition and the ways in which foreknowledge might change events and invalidate a prediction. There are also other difficulties, such as where the energy comes from and how it is channeled - at one point, the clothing on a fashion store mannequin is stolen by a telepath; it just disappears and reappears elsewhere, something that would require vast amounts of energy.

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