The Demolished Man • 1951 • SF novel by Alfred Bester

★★★

Meta: isfdb. SF Master works #14. SF novel published in 1951.

This novel is a perfect sample of Bester’s style: Briskly boiling ideas (e.g. the catchy earworm which is a central theme), typographical setting (like @kins for Atkins or his thought games by the Telepaths) or stream of consciousness episodes with lots of elipsis (e.g. the very central nightmare dreams with the faceless man). That is why I love Bester.

On the downside, we find plain ridiculous dialogues and naive and unmotivated behaviour: Imagine that someone comes to you to persuade you to participate in murder. Will you agree at once? In this sense, I think that Tates participation is really badly motivated. As well, as his spontaneous betrayal which nearly let me lem this novel. This is not the only thing that came too short – the world building is lacking in some respects as well – for example the interplanetary travel. He seemed to have concentrated on the telepaths and mostly forgot about the rest.

I’m glad that I didn’t give up, because the second half of the book was way better than the first half.

This is one of the first books in SF which mixes in an inverse mystery story. It has got a quite complex interaction of hunt and evasion – there are no lengths. And it weaves in lots of Freudian discussions as motivations.
Two months ago, I read The Caves of Steel which was published in 1954 – a year later than this novel.
It also has got a detective story which could be a good basis for comparison.

Detective work isn’t described in the Demolotion Man as unprofessional as in the Caves of Steel.
But some descriptions seem rather strange:
E.g. the delegation of police desicions to a central computer is unmotivated and has no real consequence. It is just artificial and flair and could be replaced with a human person. Of course, Bester didn’t have any clue how computers would develop, as there was only one computer installed all over Europe and those hadn’t got a higher programming language. So, his extrapolations with artificial intelligence were quite valid then.

Both novels develop the same flaw: Most characters in this book are naive, their actions and behaviour sometimes ridiculous.

I know that in the 50s there were really well written books with fine character developments, intelligent dialogues and logical behaviour: Homo Faber, The Tin Drum or Dürrenmatt: Der Besuch Der Alten Dame just to name a few.

So, I guess that Bester and Asimov choose this particular ridiculous style intentionally. But where Asimov fails completely, Bester makes up with better prose and style.

And this is the reason why I think that later generations stand on the shoulder of this SF giant: The 1969 Ubik clearly used the motives of corporate telepaths. And later, New Wave and Cyberpunk find their roots embedded in this novel.

I’d have loved to give 5 stars to this iconic novel. But I just can’t run blindfolded around and skip over the flaws or say: „Forget about the first half.“ That is, where this novel has lost two stars.

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