Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

I recently posted on the best books of the 20th Century. There is no doubt that The Demolished Man deserves to be added to the list. It is an amazing piece of science fiction that has survived time better than a lot of books written in the past ten or twenty years. I cannot give this book high enough praise.

A few years ago my husband handed me The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Over the years I have continued to remember individual scenes in that story. They were unique and realistically futuristic. So when my husband handed me another book by Bester I was happy to start reading.

Alfred Bester is NOT a well known name among many science fiction readers. He does not have the memorability of Philip Dick or Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury. Yet, he should. I would suggest that he is one of the best classic science fiction authors around. The Demolished Man won the first Hugo Award after its publication in book form in 1953. Bester's books remain fresh and intriguing over 50 years later.

The Demolished Man is the story of a murder and the police attempt to track the murderer. The book fits exactly into the world of pulp fiction that was being written by plenty of authors in the 1950s. But what makes Bester's novel original is the use of ESP "Peepers" police to track the murderer. The story floats back and forth between Ben Reich, the murderer, and Prefect Powell, the detective.

Bester gives just enough detail to make the story compelling and keep it moving. But, he does not fall into the trap of giving so much detail to overly-date the book. He introduces a computer to help solve the crime - it is a bit unrealistic I suppose - but he keeps it generic enough that a reader today isn't laughing outright and how far off the author was 50 years ago.

Bester clinches the book in the final few pages. Again, he doesn't lay out the details, but he hints just enough to really force the reader to read again and go back and reevaluate the whole story.
If you're a Science Fiction fan, like classic sci fi, and have never read Alfred Bester, go out and buy his books now! They're worth it.

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