The Demolished Man • 1953 • SF novel by Alfred Bester


Rating: 3 out of 5.

I‘ve read this in 2013 and reviewed it at Goodreads. I thought it a good idea to copy it to this blog. The review is missing a synopsis, but you can find one at wikipedia.

This novel, published in 1953, 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 (hide spoiler)]) which nearly let me DNF 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 Demolition Man as unprofessional as in the Caves of Steel.
But some descriptions seem rather strange:
E.g. the delegation of police decisions 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 behavior: 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.

Meta: isfdb. It won the Hugo, the first one ever.

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15 Responses to The Demolished Man • 1953 • SF novel by Alfred Bester

  1. H.P. says:

    I liked this a lot (only a scant few quibbles). The 11-page investigation chapter is a masterpiece that modern authors would mistakenly have made hundreds of pages long. And it has what is surely the greatest Rule in Shelley’s Case joke in all literature.

    Throwback SF Thursday: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Throwback SF Thursday: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

  3. Ola G says:

    I still need to read any Bester. I have The Stars My Destination on my shelf, but the shelf is in Poland 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Let me talk about a brand new innovation called „ebooks“ 🤣
      Don’t know if they have it on your recluse little island, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ola G says:

        I actually prefer to read physical books, especially those that I own… But considering the state of world affairs, especially the pandemic, it seems it will be some time before I’ll be able to lay hands on my copy… So e-book it will be 😜

        Liked by 1 person

        • pdtillman says:

          Heh. Don’t you guys in the Old World have that ‘innovation’, public libraries?
          Granted, sometimes their paper copies are grotty. But the price (US/CAN) is always right!
          Ours have quite a few ebooks too….

          Liked by 2 people

          • Ola G says:

            Funny 😜 I’m actually in the New World, of sorts, and in lockdown – my access to physical books in my library is pretty restricted, not to say non-existent, for the last 3 months 😉

            Liked by 2 people

            • Andreas says:

              Lockdown again? Oh my!

              Liked by 1 person

                • pdtillman says:

                  Yuck! Gets really old. We do — finally! – have full access to our regional library system. Two counties plus a bonus library (In Ventura) that never seems to discard a book! Santa Paula, if you happen to know Calif. I’m in SLO County, and Santa Barbara is the senior, and wealthier member of the system. “Black Gold” — from the days of oil wealth, largely gone now.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Ola G says:

                    Ah, I’m envious 😉 Well, hopefully we’re going to get a level down in a week or two, and libraries will open again.
                    When I used to live in the US I noticed that some libraries seemed wealthier than others, which seemed really weird. But at least there’s the interlibrary loan, and you can always requests books from other libraries, right?

                    Liked by 1 person

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