on 13 January 2006
It’s genuinely hard to believe that this book was written in 1951 because it reads like a cyberpunk novel written yesterday. It’s breathtakingly fast yet still manages to flesh out two of the most interesting characters in SF.
The Demolished Man builds a world of hugely powerful corporations and guilds where murder has been eliminated through the use of telepaths called ‘espers’. The story revolves around Ben Reich, the head of the vast Monarch business empire. (Incidentally somehow the picture on the front cover of this particular edition just doesn’t particularly remind me of him – too Neanderthal-like; Reich should look much more intelligent). Keen to expand it he decides he must murder his business rival and take his company over. For me, the best novels are ones that supplant a genre onto the background of a typically SF setting and here it is done superbly with a crime/redemption theme. Reich’s opponent is police chief Lincoln Powell – a level one esper, and therefore the most powerful. What follows is an incredibly quick-to-read story that is both fulfilling and really exciting.
Rightly, this book appears in many top 10 SF books of all time, often lurking within the top 3. Its influences on other works are quite clear to see in my opinion. Most obvious is the cyberpunkers of the 80’s but the ‘espers’ outlook towards their powers reminds me of Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside in that both books see the telepathy as an inescapable curse as well providing the obvious benefits. (In fact I recommend Dying Inside as well to see what probably most of us would do with such power!)
The only problem I can foresee is how to rate this. Does the time it was made in mean that because it was ahead of its time it deserves a higher rating? Also does its reputation and the fact it won awards also artificially inflate the rating? I suspect if you gave this to a SF lover who hasn’t read anything pre-1985 they would still believe this an amazing book – it is simply timeless.
Therefore – 9.5/10
on 17 December 2015
In the future the police employ empaths, they can peep you, you can now longer get away with murder. But Ben Riechs, head of a huge 24th C business empire is driven to kill his rival, how will he get away with it, and who is the Man With No Face?
Written in 1953 this is an astonishingly modern novel, it reads very quick and has some great ideas, only a few things link it to the 20th C, like using photographs and printed tape but other than that a great slice of sci-fi. My first from the Gollancz SF Masterworks imprint but not my last.
on 19 December 2004
It is one of the great shames of Twentieth Century Science Fiction that Alfred Bester never wrote more and Asimov less. This startlingly innovative, iconoclastic and experimental work, Bester's first novel, was in its own way the 'Neuromancer' of its day. On one level it is a murder mystery in which the reader witnesses the murder, and from then on follows the investigation to bring the perpetrator to justice, or in this case, Demolition. Demolition involves having one's personality erased and rebuilt without the fatal flaws. In a sense it is Death, since one retains no memory of one's former life.
Bester portrays a future in which 'peepers' (i.e. telepaths) comprise about two percent of the population and Humanity has spread out to colonise the Solar System. He creates a rich, fabulous and detailed tapestry of society in the Twenty Fourth Century, far more credible and sophisticated than can be found in the work of some of his contemporaries.
The same can also be said for the characterisation since even the minor characters in this fast-paced psi-thriller seem fully-rounded individuals, if a little grotesque and eccentric. There is for instance, the madam and clairvoyant, Chooka Frood, who lives in an 'eviscerated ceramics plant' in which there was an explosion long ago. Her living space is a riot of colours, glazed onto the structure of the building.
There is Keno Quizzard, the blind red-bearded gangster and Duffy Wyg&, (Bester is at his best when he wittily plays with text and punctuation marks, creating such evolved names as @kins and S&nderson) a seductive composer of advertising jingles.
Ben Reich, the murderer and central figure has evolved an ingenious plot to murder his business rival D'Courtney, a man who is trying to destroy him professionally. He enlists the help of Gus Tate, a high-level telepath and psychiatrist, to provide him with access to his victim and to cover his tracks.
The murder however, is witnessed by D'Courtney's daughter who subsequently disappears.
It is up to Lincoln Powell, telepath, pathological liar and police-chief, to search for clues and find enough evidence to convict Reich and have him 'demolished'.
The settings include a romantic and implausible (but acceptable within the context of the work) Venus, and Spaceland, a flat space-habitat covered with atmospheric domes, which has become a kind of giant Theme Park in space.
Intrigue upon intrigue follows as Reich feverishly attempts to cover the tracks of his murder before Powell can discover the evidence to convict him.
It's a psychedelic rollercoaster of a novel, and highly recommended
on 22 January 2016
Though a good read this feels very predictable throughout - aside from the implausible twist ending which reduces the entire novel to a joke at the expense of psychotherapy.
It is basically an amusing riff on the id/ego/superid concept played out over a few too many pages, with some laboured Oedipus references thrown in. Bester writes phenomenally so you're never bored but more than a few times I found myself turning the page simply to confirm my suspicions rather than to discover the next movement in the plot.
It also suffers from the problem of a great deal of Cold War-era sci-fi in that it feels dated. This certainly could not have been written after 2000. Near light-speed travel seems commonplace and cars fly yet robotics is rudimentary at best, a computer still fills a room and cameras exist. It hardly detracts from what is still an enjoyable novel, but it’s hard not to notice.
It's certainly worth reading if you want literary sci-fi, of which there's not nearly enough. But it's not a patch on The Stars My Destination.
on 8 May 2016
My favourite book. My first copy has yellow pages and the cover with a picture of a clown like figure is very dog eared and has parted from the book. Still kept as an old friend. This book was out of print for many years so I was so pleased when it was re issued so I could get a reading copy again. I put in the request for a Kindle copy and my wish was granted. I now have access to The Demolished Man wherever I go. This story doesn't age and is as enjoyable now as it was when I first read it. No spoilers. Read and enjoy. This book shows to everyone including authors that a great story doesn't need to be full of swearing.
on 8 April 2001
One of the few books to give a genuine sense of what it must be like to possess telepathic abilities. For that alone, Bester should be heaped with praise. It doesn't stop there, however. In Reich and Powell, Bester has given us two of science fiction's finest characters. Despite him being an egotistical monster, we can't help admiring Reich's ingenuity and determination; we can't help rooting for him (at least a little) because, despite his power and position in society, the existence of telepaths (and, specifically, a telepathic police force) gives him classic underdog status. The character of Powell could so easily have been drawn as a virtually unstoppable force for law and order. Instead, he is vulnerable and, much to his own frustration, only too aware of his short-comings. I really can't recommend this book highly enough.
on 1 May 2014
I read this in the 1960's as a schoolboy, and it converted me to Sci-Fi for life. Most fans will place this within their list of the ten best sci-fi novels ever written---it certainly is in mine. I have been waiting---impatiently---for this to be released on kindle. Not having this on Kindle is, for sci-fi fans, the equivalent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans not having Sherlock Holmes.
A novel of rolling imagination, of constant action, and, as it's main character, has, in Gulliver Foyle, one of the greatest Anti-Heroes of Sci-Fi, if not of literature as a whole---and some of the most memorable supporting characters. It was, at times, re-titled 'Tiger, Tiger!'---a title I prefer---an apt description of Gully Foyle (Bester named him after the shop in London)
Bester, before writing this, worked writing stories for comics, and, it is said, wrote the Green Lantern Oath. When he died, he left his literary portfolio to his barman. An eccentric end to an author little known outside Sci-Fi, but a Sci-Fi great.
The Demolished Man earned Alfred Bester the very first Hugo award for best science fiction novel of the year ever awarded, and the novel's influence on science fiction has been immense over the years. The novel is a wonderfully original, fascinating tale of a future society in which guns and murder are all but forgotten, yet this brave new world's very future comes to hang in the balance as a result of one powerful man's thoughts, dreams, and fears. In the world of 2301 A.D., seventy years have passed since the last murder, and guns are nothing more than forgotten museum pieces. Espers, or peepers, men and women able to read minds when called upon to do so, are able to spot anyone contemplating a violent crime long before that person is able to act. Perhaps only one man would dare to plan a cold-blooded murder and have the guts, influence, wiles, and coercive power to pull it off; such an audacious action can only be achieved with the aid of a first class peeper, and the ethics of each and every peeper is basically unassailable. Ben Reich, head of the Monarch company and one of the most powerful men in the world, is losing his decade-long fight against the firm of Craye D'Courtney, and he eventually determines that he has no choice but to kill his rival. It won't be easy, especially the bypassing of peepers, but he has the will and the means to pull off the impossible. Prefect Lincoln Powell, a first class peeper, is called on to investigate the murder; figuring out who killed D'Courtney is easy, but proving it is something else. Convincing the super-computer at the district attorney's office of an open and shut case requires every single piece of the puzzle being put into place. The bulk of the novel revolves around Reich's machinations and brilliant moves and Powell's equally brilliant countermoves, with the case (and the novel) taking on much deeper implications toward the end as Powell begins to realize that his suspect is not only a dangerous man in the normal sense but is in fact a grave danger to the very universe as it now exists.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Demolished Man is Bester's presentation of thought and communication among peepers. Not only does he gives us a sense of the telepathic communication of a group of peepers, he describes it in an incredibly visual way; basically, he paints fascinating word pictures of telepathic thought communication. Bester also uses a good deal of slang and invented concepts in his story, which is just one of the many aspects of the writing that cyberpunk and other avant-garde science fiction writers have been influenced by over the course of recent decades. Lest you fear that Bester's writing is overly theorized and dull, I should point out the fact that the novel is blessed with a good deal of humor, action, insightful emotional complexities, and even a love story of sorts. The ending holds a surprise or two for the reader (although the careful reader will figure out many things along the way), ensuring that the ending is in no way a let-down from the suspenseful and engaging read leading up to it. It is a pity that Alfred Bester did not publish more novels and stories than he did over the course of his distinguished career, but the science fiction legacy he did leave behind will forever be studied, emulated, cherished, and most of all enjoyed by generation after generation of readers.
on 18 August 2015
One of the greatest sci-fi books I have ever read
A ripping roaring tour de force, unputdownable, epic!
As usual, when it comes to reviewing Bester, I exhaust my stock of superlatives.
Set against a backdrop of a society where no murder has been committed for 70 years, we see the emergence of Ben Reich. Tycoon, egomaniac, powerful ruthless, and committed to murder a rival in a society where crime does not occur. Thanks to human evolution, telepaths have emerged that can solve any crime.
That Reich is the villain, is evident. That you, as the reader, will him to succeed, is strange, but tantalising. It's the age old struggle of man against society. Reich risks all to win everything, and the prize for failure, is a fate worse than death, especially for somebody as individualistic as Reich.
Although not as good as The stars my destination. the demolished man still rates as amongst the best sci-fi we have ever seen, or ever likely to see.
on 30 December 2012
Oh yes, this was brilliant.
It ticks the boxes that matter: psychological characterization, plot twists, fascinating well-extrapolated sci-fi setting, powerful and concise prose, and a loyalty to it's premise that shouts a challenge to other writers to dare attempt to explore it further.
Might be the best novel ever written about telepaths. Though this is an unqualified assumption (yet to read Psion, More Than Human, Dying Inside etc).
I bet Babylon 5 has a debt to pay this novel.
The prose is almost like Raymond Chandler or someone writing SF.(