Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Demolished Man By Alfred Bester

'A staggering achievement- First, Alfred Bester created a world- a future world ruled by enlightened telepaths who can prevent crime by knowing about it before it occurs.

Next he created a man- a 24th-century Oedipus who imagines himself irreplaceable, irreproducible, and above the law. 

Then the man set out on his own- to do the impossible. To defy the forces of mind and nature. To do what he alone could do. To get away with murder. 

The Demolished Man is an undisputed masterpiece of inventiveness and sheer suspense, acknowledged throughout the world as one of the most influential and brilliant science fiction novels ever written' -The Back Cover

1978 reprint, first published 1951. Cover price $1.95, I got it for $2.50 at Bucket O' Blood. 239 pages.

I acknowledge that The Demolished Man is a well known, heralded novel of golden era Sci-Fi, so it doesn't really fit the theme of this blog, but I have been told by numerous people that read my thoughts on Golem 100 that I just had to read this book and change my perception of Alfred Bester. They were right. This book is excellent and is a great example of a writer hitting his stride and creating a near classic. Some of the aspects of Golem 100 that drove me crazy are present: weak psychoanalysis, an overly fantastic murder plot, meandering writing and some shallow characters--but this novel is so fast paced and groundbreaking that you barely take notice. 

Ben Reich, the unnamed antagonist/anti-hero referenced on the back cover, is a ruthless man with plans on financial domination of the universe who seemingly is without a conscious. From the onset of the novel he begins devising a way to circumvent the authority of telepaths--or 'peepers' as they are known--in order to murder D'Courtney, his primary business rival. Peepers have created a world wide institution and have taken an oath similar to the Hippocratic: they not only will not commit violent acts, they will also do everything in their power to prevent them. Ben Reich is a powerful man who runs Monarch Utilities and Resources, Inc., a company that has many facets and spans several solar systems. Reich uses his vast resources and bribes a peeper with suspect conditioning (and an even more suspect moral code), which is just the beginning of his plan. 

There is the plot set up, which is pretty cool in itself for a book published in 1951.  What I found most appealing about The Demolished Man was the vintage Sci-Fi setting. You could get a way with a lot of ridiculous futurism in the 1950s and Bester goes all out in that regard. Hover cars, a supercomputer judge, far flung planets, ESP battles, gravity guns and a slew of clever naming conventions and futurespeak terms add a lot of fun to an already fast paced murder story. Many of the characters were simple plot vehicles, but I found the police prefect Powell to be a great foil for the rampaging Reich. His dialogue was witty enough to actually make me chuckle here and there. The mystery elements had a noir feel to them, which is something that appeals to me more and more every day. All in all, The Demolished Man is a very entertaining book that makes me want to delve deeper in Bester's earlier works.

Synopsis: I am very glad for the recommendations to read this book, although it does make me sad to see how far Bester fell from greatness in the period between The Demolished Man and Golem 100. I can only imagine what fans of the genre thought at the time!

Thanks to Lindsay Nass for the edits. I know this entry was a bit of a cop out, it being a Hugo award winner and all, so I will be doing another book later in the week.


  1. If you want to read a Hugo-winner that really does feel like a trashy pulp, try Lieber's The Wanderer.

    ...but if you do try it, don't blame me!

  2. i like his books and i would like to read more about him .. and this is a good to read post or review :)