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The Hugo Award Novels, 1: 1953, The Demolished Man

Posted 05-06-2009 at 03:50 PM by chexmix
Updated 06-17-2009 at 12:24 PM by chexmix

Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, the first novel to be awarded science fiction's Hugo Award in 1953, gets the award off to a stellar start. Although its Freudian conclusion / solution rings a little false and its vision of a future supercomputer is as silly as anything from the 50s, the novel holds up extremely well and is a crackerjack ride.

I think it was Damon Knight who (lovingly) opined that Bester's characters were a series of funny hats, but that he was so energetic a writer you didn't wind up caring much. I disagree. Although they don't make the impact of the figures in, say, Dostoevsky, I found myself caring about the major figures in The Demolished Man. Lincoln Powell, the esper Police Prefect, is especially fun to be around for the length of the novel: he is brilliant, funny but scarcely flawless.

The novel is essentially a "future mystery," but it isn't really a whodunit because from the beginning you KNOW whodunit: charming, nasty, extremely wealthy Ben Reich plans the brutal murder of a rival businessowner and carries it off, despite the 24th century being a place where various levels of "peepers" (people with ESP) fill particular positions in society and form their own sort of culture to the side of the normals. The relations of the peepers with their peeper-peers and with others who don't possess the mindreading gift is, in many ways, the most remarkable aspect of this novel. It is very believable and well-drawn. Bester explores, but never in a heavyhanded way, the impact such powers might have on a society and its legal system (what do you make an illegal use of "peeping," and how?).

And Bester really was a slambang writer, though a literate one. Things rarely stop moving; they never become boring. And yet the overall impression is leagues beyond the empty Hollywood explosion fests that pass for films these days. I'm amazed no one has tried to film The Demolished Man. Updated just a tad it could be terrific.

So give this book a serious look, and admire how it tells the tale of a man who tried to hide something terrible in a world where nothing can be hidden. And while you're at it, read Bester's other great 50s novel, The Stars My Destination, which inexplicably did not win an award.
Posted in Science Fiction
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  1. Old Comment
    I read it in the early '60s, but can't remember much about it. Must reread soon.
    Posted 05-07-2009 at 07:59 AM by brianL brianL is offline
  2. Old Comment
    I know I liked it the first time I read it (probably sometime in the 70s, in my case) but this time around I was amazed at how well it has held up.

    Bester was one of those people I often wish had written more than he did.
    Posted 05-07-2009 at 09:44 AM by chexmix chexmix is offline


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