Friday, July 31, 2020

49. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

I picked this up for $5 at S.W. Welch in my first post-pandemic book shopping.  A really nice old paperback edition of a book I believe is considered a classic.  I'll research that after writing my review.  I struggle with these Golden Age science fiction books. I want to keep my mind open and try and approach them without the baggage of all the great sci-fi they spawned (in one way or another).  I remind myself that times were very different and we are still today unpacking deeply buried cultural assumptions.  Despite all that, I found myself struggling to enjoy the Demolished Man. 

It's the story of Ben Reich, big-time corporate leader in the 24th century future.  He decides to murder his business rival, D'Courtney.  However, murder is almost impossible in this age, thanks to the existence of espers or peepers.  They are people with esp, organized in a guild with strict ethis and rankings.  The book is about Reich's plan to commit this murder and then the investigation and hunt by esper detective Lincoln Powell.  So underneath all the science fiction stuff, it is basically a cat and mouse detective story.  Some parts of that story were kind of fun to read.  Likewise, as an early imagining of a how a society with psychics in it would work and the mechanics of planning and detecting murder in such a world were somewhat interesting.  However, there were lots of little logical flaws (like on Reich commits the first murder, which is supposed to be so impossible, he suddenly seems to have no trouble committing several others to cover up the first) that took me out of the reality.  The Ben Reich character seems almost hysterical in his desire to murder; his motivations are not convincing.  The final big psychological reveal at the end didn't have enough weight to it because there was nothing in the character to connect to the ending, nor to the reader.  So sort of fun, but I mainly read it to get through it. 

Apologies to those with the perspective that made this book enjoying.  I guess if I were in my 20s in the 50s, this may have been quite mind-blowing.  And it was Bester's first book.  Now to go find out how wrong I am.

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