A Book, Read – #10/2016 – Bester, Alfred – The Demolished Man


I don’t read a lot of science fiction.  It’s something I try to rectify every 6 or 12 months, usually with quite a bit of failure attached to my attempt.  And that’s ok.

For this go around, I decided to give a science fiction classic a try.  This particular book was published in 1953, and has the honour of being the first Hugo Award winner.

In The Demolished Man society is split into different categories of telepathic ability. Most people have little or no powers in this area, some people have a reasonable amount, and some have a lot.  There’s a fine line between duty and service, and wealth generation, which means that the very, very best of the telepathic citizens are treated well by the government but expected to serve.  Others, with some ability, can use it to manipulate people and become rich.

Murder, apparently, does not exist.  You can’t hold the thought of murder in your head unnoticed by telepathic police.

Or can you?

And that’s the book.  A character believes he can, there’s a lot of futuristic decadence, some of the terminology is a bit on the nose, the slang is a little silly, but the book is fine.  It’s a police procedural tucked into a science fiction book, which is probably why it works.  But it isn’t as interesting as it thinks it is, and so much of it seems dated, now.

I don’t know.  What do we do with a book that has been surpassed by other works, but blazed a trail?  Shakespeare and Cervantes are unsurpassed, but the methods, techniques, characters and styles they showed us are infinitely expandable.  To expect the same of Bester is ridiculous, of course, but it perhaps speaks to the historian of science fiction.  I can’t see a benefit to reading this book now, because better writers have written better books exploring more nuanced versions of the same idea.

But – but – but – sure, it’s fine.  I didn’t feel like I wasted my time reading the book.  I enjoyed the experimentation with text layout.  The book came together fine.  But, like I said, I don’t know what the benefit is to reading this story.  So much of it is clumsy in a way that more confident science fiction writers in the following decades were not.

The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.


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