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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 July 2017
This is really what I wanted the movie Minority Report to be like, I have a copy of Bester's other book "Stars My Destination" but have yet to read it, if as some reviewers suggest that it is a better read than this one then I will be pleased because I really liked this book. I found this, my first acquaintance with Bester to be a pacy, fast moving, page turner of a read, how could you possibly plot and execute a murder in an age when extra sensory perception would appear to make detection and arrest a foregone conclusion?

The narrative is primarily focused variously upon the killer/protagonist and detective/"esper"/antagonist, as other reviewers revealed already there is perhaps some clumbsy pseudo-psychodynamics employed in the narrative, Oedipus complex and all, unconscious motivations etc. but what I found more interesting was how the protagonist, Ben Reich, plotted and executed the crime, then tried to manipulate special interest groups, the chief of police and others to escape and evade the authorities and also the authorities fortunes and misfortunes in hot pursuit of their suspect.

The topic of extra sensor perception and how it works, the status of its users, how they are regulated and self-regulated within a society which is populated by non-extra sensory perceivers in the main is brilliant. In fact its what made the book for me more or less. A very different picture to the individuals suspended in the tanks in Minority Report, the ability to mind read is not sufficient to prosecution or even correct understanding often, as it happens. I absolutely loved the way in which the author managed to portray how "espers" communicated with one another without verbalising or using speech, the way the words appear on the page crossing over and creating images (at one point during a parlour game) was very creative.

The subject of "Demolition" the consequences/punishment which await anyone committing the crime of murder did not take up much of the story as it happened, which I found surprising, it also was not what I had anticipated at all and proved a little less horrific to what I had expected, then again I realise that is a pretty optimistic piece of science fiction in an unimaginably distant future in which murder itself has been unknown for a very long time.

Something another reviewer mentioned, which I found amusing too and always do (its part of why I love the masterworks series and classics of science fiction so much, yesterday's tomorrow really is today), is the "guesswork" of the author, there are flying cars, amazing innovations but alongside that computers appear surprising primitive, punch card operated and printer paper spooling monstrosities, cameras are not antique etc.
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on 1 October 2016
It's set in a future where the solar system is colonised, computers are massive and psychics occupy key roles in society. A wealthy industrialist seeks to commit the perfect murder, which leads him into a game of cat and mouse with a psychic policeman.

It's an inventive novel, fast-paced, playful, slightly pulpy, but with a hard-boiled edge and occasional literary flare. The plot moves through several distinct phases, which I won’t give away, but it all ends in a satisfying conclusion.

The only negative thing I have to say is that it's not as good as The Stars My Destination (also by Bester), which has all the best qualities of this novel, plus a story of slightly wider scope.
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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
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VINE VOICEon 11 August 2010
This is considered an early and ground-breaking SF classic, but for me the book was a great disappointment. The story is based around the idea of telepathy with certain individuals termed 'espers' who have developed mind reading capabilities. These espers are formed into a guild and classified as first, second or third grade according to their capabilities. The main character and anti-hero Ben Reich is the head of a powerful conglomerate which is being out-competed by his rival and he faces the dilemma of how to eliminate his rival head (D'Courtney) without discovery in a world where an esper would immediately discover his guilt. In such a world no murder had been committed for 70 years. Whilst the initial premise is an interesting one, the story fails to captialise on it. Reich employs his own esper to block the telepathic probing of the investigating police esper and at the same time fills his mind with one of those infuriating jingles to confuse any mind probing. For me the book degenerates into a cops and robbers type caper with some very messy fast-paced action and dialogue which in places verges on the incomprehensible. The ending is very unsatisfying to say the least, relying on some now rather dated Freudian concepts and metaphysical nonsense. In summary the book is a single idea that the author just couldn't make into a decent story.
This may have been considered a classic in its time but this is no guarantee of a good read 60 years later. I suggest it is for the aficionados of historical SF only. There have been much better later SF works which fail to make this Masterworks list, and it seems a rather unbalanced collection to include 13 books by Philip K Dick but not a single one by Isaac Asimov or Clifford Simak! What is that all about?
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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
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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.
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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.(
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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.
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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.
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