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The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
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The Demolished Man (1953)

by Alfred Bester

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This novel won the inaugural Hugo Award in 1953 and can be considered as a link between the Golden age pulp SF (which is parodied) and a New Wave (which usually date by the late 60s).

The Earth’s future, 24th century: the life is not that different, but there are ESPies (for Extra Sensory Perception), telepaths, who are colloquially known as peepers. They work at professions, which benefit from mind-peeping (psychologists for example). The story starts in the nightmare of the main protagonist, Ben Reich, who is stalked in his dreams by the Man With No Face. He is one of the richest men on Earth and assumes that the reason for his nightmares is his main rival, D’Courtney. Reich plans to kill his competitor, but how to do that? In the world of telepaths there was no premeditated murder for seven decades.

The rest of the story wanders from satire (orgy-parties by rich and powerful, universal religion as a show), crime story (closer to [b:Crime and Punishment|7144|Crime and Punishment|Fyodor Dostoyevsky|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1382846449s/7144.jpg|3393917] than to a mystery), parodying SF clichés and Freudian psychoanalysis. The later plays a significant part and reminds of classic Alfred Hitchcock movies.

While the novel is labeled SF, it is not really interested in the ‘science’ part. Moreover, closer to the finish it sounds more and more like a fantasy in its universe shattering implications.

Overall an interesting fast read, but maybe a little outdated.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |


"If you won't let it be merger, then I'll make it murder."

American author Alfred Bester's 1953 zooming supersonic science fiction crime thriller The Demolished Man features power- hungry Ben Reich, corporate tycoon a la Jonas Cord from The Carpetbaggers, moving and shaking and shooting he way through 24th Century New York City and beyond. Action and more action - enough unexpected zigzags to keep any reader guessing. A batch of highlights from this future world:

Brain Peepers: Many thousands of men and women known are Espers and that's "Esper for Extra Sensory Perception," have the unique power of reading minds. These Telepaths take up many roles in society, such as physician and police commissioner. The Espers influence is pervasive - on nearly every page of the novel, these peepers are peeping into the minds of "normal people" (author's language here) or conversing amongst themselves, mind to mind, without the need for speech.

To add complexity to this brain peeping, the Espers are categorized by the level they can penetrate: 3rd Class Espers can peep the conscious mind to discover what the person is thinking at the moment, 2nd Class Espers can peep below the conscious level to the preconscious and 1st Class Espers can peep all the way down to the unconscious, the deepest levels of the mind.

Incidentally, in this 24th century world such Extra Sensory Perception isn't the consequence of specially endowed individuals or futuristic chemical or electrical brain zapping; rather, all women and men have the potential to become Espers but only a sliver of the population receives exotic ESP training from childhood.

If all this peeping sounds like an invasion of privacy, you are spot-on - it most certainly is an invasion of privacy! However, counted among the social benefits is the fact that there hasn't been a premeditated murder in many, many years since peepers can peep the intent to murder in members of society and thus prevent the murder from happening in the first place.

Deep Psychology: Coupled with brain peeping, the characters in the novel pepper their conversation with Freudian terms like id, ego, superego. Sigmund Freud was a huge influence back in the 1950s and Alfred Bester picks up on the prevailing psychological theory in a major way.

The Big Shot and His Specter: Ben Reich (as in Third Reich, perhaps?) has a recurrent nightmare where The Man With No Face constantly appears. The further the story progresses, the more this sinister apparition is connected with Freudian theory. Also connected (ah, Freud!) is Ben's drive to control the financial/business/commercial world, not only in his capacity as head of his Monarch organization but by murdering his main competitor, old man D'Courtney.

But, again, with all the peepers peeping into people's minds, premeditated murder is nearly impossible nowadays. Ben Reich needs help from powerful 1st class Espers to cancel out those other damn Espers working for the police. To this end Ben strong- arms Augustus Tate, one of the world's most powerful Espers, to run interference for him.

Since Tate can only exert his Esper powers when in the same room with Ben, our passionate tycoon with "the killer instinct" requires an additional shield for his murderous mind - an especially potent advertising jingle he can repeat over and over when in the presence of an invasive peeper. Thus he seeks out one of the key creators of such jingles, Duffy Wyg& (more about the crazy spelling below).

By the way, back in the 1950s companies hired psychologies and put heaps of energy into making certain their advertising jingles would be unforgettable, especially when broadcast on that new piece of mind-controlling technology, the television.

Lincoln Powell, Ph.D: Police Perfect and upper-grade Esper (author's term) - Powell is one smart cookie who isn't about to let Ben Reich get away with murder. Following the evil deed, here's an exchange between Powell and Reich that kicks off their cat and mouse game:

Powell shrugged angrily. They both arose. Instinctively, their hands met in the four-way clasp of final farewell.
"I lost a great partner in you," Reich said.
"You lost a great man in yourself, Ben."
"Enemies?"
"Enemies."
It was the beginning of Demolition.

Super Judge: One piece of science fiction technology injected into the mix is the police force's Mosaic Multiplex Prosecution Computer, termed "Old Man Mose," a 24th century stationary robot that calculates a perpetrator's three key elements: motive, method, opportunity to determine the percentage for a successful conviction. Back in the 1950s the computer was in its infancy but forward-thinkers envisioned infinite possibilities for the new calculating tool.

The Unexpected: One of the many unanticipated events in the story is a case of female hysteria. And those 24th century futuristic psychologists give a new twist in their treatment to what was known in the 19th century as déjà éprouvé. Certainly one of the more fascinating bits of Bester's tale.

Nabokov Allusion: I would be remiss if I didn't note how Alfred Bester gives a nod to VN when he characterizes down on his luck former Esper Jerry Church: "The bend sinister of ostracism was the source of his hunger."

Innovative Language: With his sentences in non-liner curlicues and names with both letters and signs - @#%& - it is as if Alfred Bester wanted to underscore his speaking to a new readership rebelling again old pre-1950s mindsets.

Disgusting Cultural Assumptions: Unfortunately, Bester falls into the trap, so pervasive at the time, in his treatment of women and minorities. Growing up in the 1950s myself, I had firsthand experience of such appalling attitudes.

Innovative Novel: The Demolished Man has inspired many sf writers in both New Wave and Cyberpunk. Robert Silverberg judges Bester's novel as among the ten greatest sf novels ever written. I'm relatively new to sf but I can see this is a novel not to be missed by fans of the genre. Also, in its portrayal of 1950s America, not to be overlooked by more general readers.

Two outstanding book covers:





Alfred Bester, 1913 - 1987
1 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
The first third or so of the novel is definitely the best part: how do you commit murder in a society where telepaths comprise a significant portion of the population? Bester has fun both devising a society with a high prevalence of telepathy and showing a criminal mind work out ways to subvert this. It's enjoyable stuff, sort of like those Asimov puzzle stories, but Bester's writing has got more of a hard edge to it, doing some interesting stuff with narrative style and slang and future culture.

After the murder happens, focus switches to the telepathic detective trying to bring the murderer in, and this is pretty good, though not as good as what went before. The final part, though, where it all pulls together, is pretty so-so, with too much psychobabble and a very predictable Freudian twist, plus some weird sex stuff. Still, the first two-thirds of the novel is highly enjoyable, and I'm going to read Bester's The Stars My Destination in short order based on my enjoyment of this book.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Aug 3, 2018 |
A great book. It's a wonderful nightmarish ride. One of the Best Sci-Fi books I have ever read. Thank you Reinaldo for sending me this! ( )
  silversurfer | Apr 6, 2018 |
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun

This is the song that Ben Reich has implanted in his brain on a continuous loop to stop the detectives with telepathic powers from sensing his culpability to murder. Like most of this short but action packed science fiction novel it is extremely effective; as I was reading I found myself putting a tune to those words.

The novel is set in the twenty fourth century; a minority of people have become telepaths, espers or more colloquially peepers. They are employed in the top echelons of society and form a powerful group that are treated with some suspicion, however their involvement in crime prevention has resulted in no cases of murder for the last 70 years. Ben Reich the brash and brilliant leader of one of the largest conglomerates plans the murder of D’Courtney from a rival company. Police prefect Lincoln Powell a class I peeper knows that Rich is planning a murder and sets out to try and prevent him. What follows is a police procedural with Reich for most of the novel one step ahead of Powell, with the added incentive that he is funding an anti peeper programme. The novel moves swiftly through an extravagant murder scene at the home of a rich society lady with a taste for adventurous sex, to a chase scenario and a tracking down of accomplishes to a final denouement. The plot is well worked with some twists and surprises, however the nightmare ending takes the novel into another level making it an unforgettable reading experience

The novel takes place almost exclusively in the world of the super rich and Bester creates this world of wealthy sycophants whose lives are put under stress by the war between Reich and the peepers. Colourful characters breeze in and out of the story as the plot rolls relentlessly on. He uses different forms of writing to differentiate between peepers and normals. The peepers at the party/murder scene delight in creating word games taking the form of concrete poetry in Bester’s rendition, it helps to create a feeling of other worldliness or that sense of wonder that is so important for science fiction.
This must be one of the great science fiction novels of the 1950’s, originally serialised in 1952 and then published as a novel the year after. It stays true to its origins in that it is a fast paced story novel which would have appealed to its target audience, but a few of these novels almost step outside of their genre with their invention and creation of their own world. This is certainly one of those and if it has passed you by, then its worth spending an evening catching up with it. 5 stars ( )
  baswood | Feb 25, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bester, AlfredAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, C.W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Byttner, GöranTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chesterman, AdrianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
DiFate, VincentIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doyle, GerardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Figueroa, ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaiman, NeilForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, HarryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehman, SergeForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lippi, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Makarský, LubošTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcel, PatrickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meltzoff, StanleyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Papy, JacquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pınar, RehaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pepper, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pukallus, HorstTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serra, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tamminen, ArviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viskupic, GaryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vonnegut, KurtIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Horace Gold
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In the endless universe there is nothing new, nothing different.
Explosion! Concussion! The vault doors burst open.
Quotations
Tenser, said the Tensor. Tenser, said the Tensor. Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun!
Its lucky for the world I'm willing to stop at one murder.   Together we could rape the universe.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679767819, Paperback)

In a world policed by telepaths, Ben Reich plans to commit a crime that hasn't been heard of in 70 years: murder. That's the only option left for Reich, whose company is losing a 10-year death struggle with rival D'Courtney Enterprises. Terrorized in his dreams by The Man With No Face and driven to the edge after D'Courtney refuses a merger offer, Reich murders his rival and bribes a high-ranking telepath to help him cover his tracks. But while police prefect Lincoln Powell knows Reich is guilty, his telepath's knowledge is a far cry from admissible evidence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:14 -0400)

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In 2301, a psychopathic business magnate comes up with the ultimate plan to eliminate his competition and destroy the order of society.

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