Book review: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Some science fiction ages, overtaken by advances in science and changes in society. Some doesn’t, and among the writers who stand up best to the grind of time is Alfred Bester. He only wrote three novels in the 1950s, the golden age of SF, but all three are classics of the genre. I read them first thirty or forty years ago, only a few decades after they were first written, and they then represented a dazzling vision of possible futures. Reading The Demolished Man again forty years after I first read, it’s still a dazzling vision of a possible future: a baroque, extravagant, Nietzchean future where the police can probe minds psychically to solve all crimes.

So in a world where the police can read your mind by trained psychics, how can anyone, even the world’s richest and most powerful man, commit murder and get away with it? That’s the crux of the novel, and Bester riffs through the ways of doing it with the skill of a master, but what is particularly striking is how he conveys direct mind to mind contact on the printed page, playing with text layout and syntax. It’s a brilliantly imaginative way of suggesting something none of us have ever experienced (or at least I haven’t!).

This is what science fiction was once capable of: a pyrotechnical mash up of ideas and writing styles. Read it and wonder why writers don’t do this any longer.


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