I welcomed the re-issue of this book as it gave me a chance to read what has been touted as one of the truly great works of science fiction. With these expectations, I could only be let down. It has a complex plot (although it seems simple enough at first), and some of the surprises are truly masterful. I particularly liked the description of demolition. The best part of the novel is a long, psychic vs. normal police investigation where Bester has two characters handicapped by aspects of their society place a wonderfully written chess game where the final stake is the oft-mentioned demolition. But, overall the book has some failings.
A lack of character
The characters of the book are too simple and too Freudian. Lincoln Powell is by far the most interesting, but the alter ego that Bester sets up for Powell never really reaches the climax that it deserves. Ben Reich starts off as your simple, marxist caricature of a rich man, and really has little room to grow, either into an interesting character or a truly hateable antagonist.
Sometimes science gets in the way of science fiction ...
and this is a classic case. It is hard to read this book because the science is so dated. It is a hardcore Freudian read, and the characters are strictly governed by Id, Ego, Superego, and refer to these as truths. Although Freud is very influential in the way we think about thinking, Bester uses ideas about disorders that were fresh at the time, but have not aged well and have become dated.
Buy the book
Go ahead and buy The Demolished Man. It truly is an influential book. Gibson echoes many of the themes and characters, and the television show, Babylon 5 has a whole organization structured around its Espers Guild. Read it for what it is, a truly influential work of science fiction from sci-fi's early days. Do not look for it to speak too much for today's society, and don't look for it to keep to the standards of current masters such as Clarke, Gibson, and Robinson (Its lack of characterization makes it even have trouble standing up to past masters like Heinlein). It is good, enjoyable, fast paced science fiction. It doesn't, though, leave the reader with either the social questions or the post-technological awe of great science fiction.