Friday 23 May 2014

The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester

Title: The Demolished Man
Author: Alfred Bester
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1952
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read an award winning novel, therefore for a science fiction geek like me I thought this would be a good excuse to go back and read the first ever Hugo award winning novel. It turned out that the first ever winner was “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester back in 1953 and so I quickly picked up a 2nd hand copy from Amazon and started reading.

The story is set in 2301 and follows two characters, the first of which is Ben Reich, owner of Monarch Corporation who decides he must arrange for the death of a business rival. Unfortunately he now lives a in a society whereby telepaths can easily detect premeditated murder and therefore must enact a plan which will enable him to commit the crime and also get away with it. Against all odds he succeeds and thus the reader is introduced to the 2nd main character, Police Prefect Lincoln Powell who has an incredibly powerful telepath and identifies Reich as the culprit but can’t actually nail him down. And so the reader gets to follow a game of cat and mouse between the two.

It was an enjoyable enough read that combined a murder mystery with a science fiction environment to the point that it feels more like a mystery novel than a Science Fiction one. The basic premise of the novel about someone trying to commit murder in a society full of telepaths was actually very interesting and I did appreciate seeing how it played out. In addition the way in which Bester has extrapolated 1950’s technology was also rather fun to see. For example I loved how he introduced new powerful computers but they still used punch cards.

The age of the novel does of course result in some issues. Bester had some fresh and invigorating ideas when he put this book together in the 50’s but in today’s world some of them do appear rather tired and unexciting. In addition, the rather unflattering portrayal of women didn’t make for the best reading. I understand this is a sign of the misogyny inherent from the times but it is still pretty tough to wade through the clichéd bimbos and wimps who don’t do much beyond fawning after various men.

However, the biggest issue that affected my enjoyment though was some of the contradictions and weak plotting. For example, I found some of the various behaviours to be badly motivated and rather naïve. In addition the big premise of the novel is that premeditated murder is all but impossible yet after the first murder a few more occur that also manage to get missed by the telepaths. These types of things all conspired to reduce my overall appreciation of the novel.

My final note is positive and is in regards to the mindspeak that is conducted between the various telepaths. I loved how at times it seemed very reminiscent of the shorthand we now see via phone SMS and Instant Messenger programmes. Then there were the various mindgames that occurred between groups of Telepaths which I enjoyed reading through. It was all a quirky and fun attempt by Bester to highlight the different ways in which both communication and literature itself can occur.

Overall, this was an interesting novel that would have been rather innovative back in the 50’s and I can see why it was nominated and won the first Hugo award. It does suffer a bit from its age and I think contemporary readers may be less forgiving of its plotting flaws etc. than readers from the 50’s who were enjoying the creative boom of Science Fiction.


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