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The Demolished Man

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In a world in which the police have telepathic powers, how do you get away with murder?

Ben Reichs heads a huge 24th century business empire, spanning the solar system. He is also an obsessed, driven man determined to murder a rival. To avoid capture, in a society where murderers can be detected even before they commit their crime, is the greatest challenge of his life.

250 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1953

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About the author

Alfred Bester

321 books817 followers
Alfred Bester was an American science fiction author, TV and radio scriptwriter, magazine editor and scripter for comic strips and comic books.

Though successful in all these fields, he is best remembered for his science fiction, including The Demolished Man, winner of the inaugural Hugo Award in 1953, a story about murder in a future society where the police are telepathic, and The Stars My Destination, a 1956 SF classic about a man bent on revenge in a world where people can teleport, that inspired numerous authors in the genre and is considered an early precursor to the cyberpunk movement in the 1980s.

Άλφρεντ Μπέστερ (Greek)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,528 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
December 22, 2015
This is what my poor review looks like now that the 'pre' tag is broken:

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Come on Goodreads, fix this bug! You've been sitting on it for months.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,400 reviews3,283 followers
May 29, 2021
Man will find a way to cheat even in the ideal utopian society – the nature of human being is incorrigible…
The Demolished Man is a unique and very idiosyncratic dystopian mystery and an early harbinger of cyberpunk.
The tale is taking place in the distant future where psychiatric science is in prime and psychic phenomena factually rule society. Psychology is used to detect criminals and even to escape reality smartly utilizing catatonia.
A great new treatment… Patient goes into catatonia. It's an escape. Flight from reality. The conscious mind cannot face the conflict between the external world and its own unconscious. It wishes it had never been born. It attempts to revert back to the foetal stage.

To defy telepathic supervision the main villain applies a psychological decoy – a primitive ditty that is a real earworm – even the most advanced modern pop idols would envy its global stupidity:
Eight, sir; seven, sir; six, sir; five, sir; four, sir; three, sir; two, sir; one! Tenser, said the Tensor. Tension, apprehension, And dissension have begun.

Reeling this stupendous masterpiece inside his head, the knave blocks the telepathic access to his mind.
But sooner or later truth will out and at length the fox is brought to the furrier… However in the ideal utopias, there are no gallows therefore all the nefarious wrongdoers are demolished absolutely humanistically.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews766 followers
March 28, 2020
I have a bee in my bonnet that I would like to deal with first. I tend to feel annoyed (even though I shouldn’t) when people ask for sci-fi recommendations with the caveat that the book being recommended must not be more than 10 years old. The reason given for this clause is usually because the science is “wrong”, there is no internet or history did not turn out the way the author depicted in the book. WUT? I would like to reiterate that it is not a sci-fi author’s job to predict the future, the whole point is to speculate. Anybody who want to get into reading sci-fi but steadfastly refuse to read the classics from the 50s, 60s etc. is really doing themselves a disfavor and missing out on some of the greatest sf stories and ideas ever written in the history of mankind.

Which brings us to Alfred’s Bester’s The Demolished Man, first published in 1953. Read this or his other classic The Stars My Destination and you will understand why I insist sci-fi readers should never neglect older science fiction. These are two terrific stories that stand the test of time.

1953 cover

In The Stars My Destination Bester posits a strange future society where everybody can teleport using the power of their mind. In The Demolished Man not everybody is a telepath but they are quite commonplace and can be found in all kinds of profession. Boy, did he get the future “wrong”! In lesser hands, this conceit would never work but Alfred’s Bester was able to spin a great yarn from this fairly simple premise.

The Demolished Man is an “inverted detective story” in that the reader is immediately told who the murderer is, but the difficulty for our hero is how to catch the devious bastard. The murderer Ben Reich is a “normal”, non-telepathic person, but he is extremely smart and is able to foil even mind reading policemen. For example to avoid his mind being read by telepathic police he goes to a commercial jingle writer to play him a jingle that lodges in his brain after just one listening and bounces around it in an incessant looping playback. The hero policeman Lincoln Powell can barely keep up with him even with all the telepathic power (and manpower) at his disposal. The climax of the book is wonderfully surreal and reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven and PKD’s Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. A friend recently told me that I sometimes inadvertently put spoilers in my reviews so I’d better not elaborate any more on this point.

The awesome edition I had (lost it now!)

Bester’s writing style reminds me of noir detective fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler, with the clipped dialogue and witty banter. The book is quite short so there is not a lot of room for character development, but the protagonist and antagonist are quite complex and believable characters.

All in all a gripping, entertaining and very readable sci-fi classic that should please all sci-fi fans.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,346 reviews11.7k followers
August 29, 2021

"If you won't let it be merger, then I'll make it murder."

American author Alfred Bester's 1953 zooming supersonic science fiction crime thriller The Demolished Man features power- hungry Ben Reich, corporate tycoon a la Jonas Cord from The Carpetbaggers, moving and shaking and shooting he way through 24th Century New York City and beyond. Action and more action - enough unexpected zigzags to keep any reader guessing. A batch of highlights from this future world:

Brain Peepers: Many thousands of men and women known are Espers and that's "Esper for Extra Sensory Perception," have the unique power of reading minds. These Telepaths take up many roles in society, such as physician and police commissioner. The Espers influence is pervasive - on nearly every page of the novel, these peepers are peeping into the minds of "normal people" (author's language here) or conversing amongst themselves, mind to mind, without the need for speech.

To add complexity to this brain peeping, the Espers are categorized by the level they can penetrate: 3rd Class Espers can peep the conscious mind to discover what the person is thinking at the moment, 2nd Class Espers can peep below the conscious level to the preconscious and 1st Class Espers can peep all the way down to the unconscious, the deepest levels of the mind.

Incidentally, in this 24th century world such Extra Sensory Perception isn't the consequence of specially endowed individuals or futuristic chemical or electrical brain zapping; rather, all women and men have the potential to become Espers but only a sliver of the population receives exotic ESP training from childhood.

If all this peeping sounds like an invasion of privacy, you are spot-on - it most certainly is an invasion of privacy! However, counted among the social benefits is the fact that there hasn't been a premeditated murder in many, many years since peepers can peep the intent to murder in members of society and thus prevent the murder from happening in the first place.

Deep Psychology: Coupled with brain peeping, the characters in the novel pepper their conversation with Freudian terms like id, ego, superego. Sigmund Freud was a huge influence back in the 1950s and Alfred Bester picks up on the prevailing psychological theory in a major way.

The Big Shot and His Specter: Ben Reich (as in Third Reich, perhaps?) has a recurrent nightmare where The Man With No Face constantly appears. The further the story progresses, the more this sinister apparition is connected with Freudian theory. Also connected (ah, Freud!) is Ben's drive to control the financial/business/commercial world, not only in his capacity as head of his Monarch organization but by murdering his main competitor, old man D'Courtney.

But, again, with all the peepers peeping into people's minds, premeditated murder is nearly impossible nowadays. Ben Reich needs help from powerful 1st class Espers to cancel out those other damn Espers working for the police. To this end Ben strong- arms Augustus Tate, one of the world's most powerful Espers, to run interference for him.

Since Tate can only exert his Esper powers when in the same room with Ben, our passionate tycoon with "the killer instinct" requires an additional shield for his murderous mind - an especially potent advertising jingle he can repeat over and over when in the presence of an invasive peeper. Thus he seeks out one of the key creators of such jingles, Duffy Wyg& (more about the crazy spelling below).

By the way, back in the 1950s companies hired psychologies and put heaps of energy into making certain their advertising jingles would be unforgettable, especially when broadcast on that new piece of mind-controlling technology, the television.

Lincoln Powell, Ph.D: Police Perfect and upper-grade Esper (author's term) - Powell is one smart cookie who isn't about to let Ben Reich get away with murder. Following the evil deed, here's an exchange between Powell and Reich that kicks off their cat and mouse game:

Powell shrugged angrily. They both arose. Instinctively, their hands met in the four-way clasp of final farewell.
"I lost a great partner in you," Reich said.
"You lost a great man in yourself, Ben."
It was the beginning of Demolition.

Super Judge: One piece of science fiction technology injected into the mix is the police force's Mosaic Multiplex Prosecution Computer, termed "Old Man Mose," a 24th century stationary robot that calculates a perpetrator's three key elements: motive, method, opportunity to determine the percentage for a successful conviction. Back in the 1950s the computer was in its infancy but forward-thinkers envisioned infinite possibilities for the new calculating tool.

The Unexpected: One of the many unanticipated events in the story is a case of female hysteria. And those 24th century futuristic psychologists give a new twist in their treatment to what was known in the 19th century as déjà éprouvé. Certainly one of the more fascinating bits of Bester's tale.

Nabokov Allusion: I would be remiss if I didn't note how Alfred Bester gives a nod to VN when he characterizes down on his luck former Esper Jerry Church: "The bend sinister of ostracism was the source of his hunger."

Innovative Language: With his sentences in non-liner curlicues and names with both letters and signs - @#%& - it is as if Alfred Bester wanted to underscore his speaking to a new readership rebelling again old pre-1950s mindsets.

Disgusting Cultural Assumptions: Unfortunately, Bester falls into the trap, so pervasive at the time, in his treatment of women and minorities. Growing up in the 1950s myself, I had firsthand experience of such appalling attitudes.

Innovative Novel: The Demolished Man has inspired many sf writers in both New Wave and Cyberpunk. Robert Silverberg judges Bester's novel as among the ten greatest sf novels ever written. I'm relatively new to sf but I can see this is a novel not to be missed by fans of the genre. Also, in its portrayal of 1950s America, not to be overlooked by more general readers.

Two outstanding book covers:

Alfred Bester, 1913 - 1987
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
April 19, 2018
In a world dominated by telepaths known as Espers or Peepers crime is very difficult to get away with. When thoughts and memories are up for grabs a man like Ben Reich, who is premeditating a murder, must employ unorthodox methods to protect his inner most thoughts. He decides to go to a jingle songwriter for protection. He asks for the most mundane song to be played, a song that simple will not escape your brain, the type of jingles from commercials (usually beer) my brother and I used to sing in the car to drive my parents crazy.

Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
two, sir; one!
'Tenser,' said the Tensor.
'Tenser,' said the Tensor.
'Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.'

The best protection, Ben Reich believes, against at least lower level peepers is a song that creates interference in his thoughts concealing his true intentions and his memories.

He is in an epic corporate struggle with his main rival D'Courtney and the old man running the company is his target for MURDER. He hatches an elaborate plan involving a book of games, an antique pistol, and a flash grenade that skews a person's sense of time by wiping out the victim's rhodopsin otherwise known as visual purple. Even the best laid plans encounter problems and just as Reich is preparing to destroy his nemesis D'Courtney's daughter runs into the room and becomes a witness to the death of her father. She, as they say, becomes the fly in the ointment.

Lincoln Powell, a level one peeper and a man with a bright future in the police department is called in to investigate. It doesn't take him long to discover that Reich is his man. He is conflicted because he likes Reich and ponders at one point about the fact that Reich is really two men, a man with charm and grace and also a man who could very well bring civilization to her knees with his evil intentions. A battle begins between peepers as Reich hires his own to combat the invasive mind probes of the police detectives. Witnesses vanish. There are crosses and double crosses as the chess match between Powell and Reich becomes more and more serious. Powell tries to protect Miss D'Courtney and heal her shattered mind as Reich searches desperately for the one witness that can send him to DEMOLISHION.

This is Alfred Bester's first novel and from what I've read about the book it had a real impact on the genre when it was released in 1953 and in some cases is considered the grandfather to the cyberpunk generation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked the cat and mouse between Powell and Reich. As the hunt continues Reich's brain becomes more and more unstable. The degradation of his reasoning eventually gives Powell enough of a wedge to bring about his downfall.

Reich is sent to be demolished. In this society they don't have capital punishment, no one is wasted. They simply recycle them. The process in itself is brutal and all memory of what you once were is eliminated.

"When a man is demolished at Kingston Hospital, his entire psyche is destroyed. The series of osmotic injections begins with the topmost strata of cortical synapses and slowly works down, switching off every circuit, extinguishing every memory, destroying every particle of the pattern that has been built up since birth. And as the pattern is erased, each particle discharges its portion of energy, turning the entire body into a shuddering maelstrom of dissociation.

But this is not the pain; this is not the dread of Demolition. The horror lies in the fact that the consciousness is never lost; that as the psyche is wiped out, the mind is aware of its slow, backward death until at last it too disappears and awaits the rebirth. The mind bids an eternity of farewells; it mourns at an endless funeral."

In this society the government does steal your body when you are convicted and sent for demolishion. They wipe your mind of any memories of who you were and then implant a new personality. They may think of that as more humane, but really the result is the same. I can't think of anything more terrifying than watching the doors of my mind ripped off their hinges and my memories and reasoning slowly stolen from me.

This book is a gem of science fiction history.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
769 reviews3,505 followers
October 15, 2019
One of the first Sci-Fi crime novel hybrids with an epic scramble between a Psi investigator and an ingenious, but normal human. This opens the questions of how each side can use its special abilities to fool the opponent and what potentials of Psi may be relevant in the future.
Around this, a quite fitting description of today's circumstances draws a picture of a disparate society.

Next to the fantasy Psi that is simply there, pharmacological and technical possibilities may be on a table in a farther future. Not to forget the usage of the potential meditation and mindfulness bring with them. Like a monk that has the technical tools or implants to use the immense force of his will outside his body, expanding it, invading other minds. Probably connected to all the other million monks, uniting to an evil, absorbing, soul-eating (literally) super hive mind.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,479 reviews943 followers
August 21, 2016

Winner of the very first Hugo Award in 1953, "The Demolished Man" is a classic by any metric you might measure it with. Some fans and critics consider it a watershed moment, the transition from planetary romance, with its laser guns, barely dressed ladies and bug-eyed monsters to 'serious' considerations of the impact of technology on society and on individual lives. Under the pen of Alfred Bester a futuristic murder investigation becomes the eternal struggle for the soul of Man, as it is played through the centuries between the angels of our better nature and the demons of our base emotions.

The essence of murder never changes. In every era it remains the conflict of the killer against society with the victim as the prize. And the ABC of conflict with society remains constant. Be audacious, be brave, be confident and you will not fail. Against these assets society can have no defense.

We know who the killer is : Ben Reich, one of the richest men in Bester's future Earth, the CEO of the biggest corporation in the Solar System. Reich is a predator, and when financial double-dealings, takeovers and forced bankruptcies are no longer enough to maintain his elevated position, he is ready to murder his main rival. Reich's spanner in the works is the fact that this Tomorrow's World has managed to discover, train and deploy telepaths capable of reading minds at all levels of the social scale. Nobody can hide from the radar of these 'peepers', especially from the more proficient 'lever-3' master Espers. Corporations use them to screen job applicants and protect technological secrets. Doctors peep their patients to identify psychological problems, police use them to search for criminal intentions and to interrogate witnesses. Ben Reich must find a way to bypass these telepaths if he wants to escape punishment, or Demolition.

The first part of the novel describes in detail the careful planning and the murder. This is not a conventional whodunit. Bester uses the premise for developing his future world, most of the new techologies being related to telepathic powers in part of the population. He also puts the spotlight on Ben Reich's personality, 'emphatically' not a hero but a scoundrel, looking at his motivations, his recurrent nightmares and his forceful (bully) business and social interactions.

'Pfutz!' Reich said emphatically. 'We don't play girl's rules. We play for keeps, both of us. It's the cowards and weaklings and sore-losers who hide behind rules and fair play.'
'What about honor and ethics?'
'We've got honor in us, but it's our own code ... not the make-believe rules some frightened little man wrote for the rest of the frightened little men. Every man's got his own honor and ethics, and so long as he sticks to 'em, who's anybody else to point the finger? You may not like his ethics, but you've no right to call him unethical.'

Do I detect here a reaction to Ayn Rand's novel "The Fountainhead" published only a couple of years earlier? An extrapolation of her objectivist and libertarian principles? Since I never read any of Rand's books and I am only familiar with them through second hand commentaries, I probably should simply note that the future imagined by Bester, the world ruled by the likes of Ben Reich, looks more Dystopian than Utopian. We may have unlocked the hidden powers of our brains, but the animal hiding in the subconscious still lurks, ready to pounce.

Powell repressed the wave of exasperation that rose up in him. [...] It was anger for the relentless force of evolution that insisted on endowing man with increased powers without removing the vestigial vices that prevented him from using them.

Lincoln Powell is the opponent of Ben Reich, a top peeper that works as the chief of New York's Police Department. He is a member of the elite guild of Espers (as in Extrasensory Perception), the organization that trains new telepaths with native, untapped talents, and guards against abuses by the Espers against the 'normals'. Because with great power comes great responsibility, and some Espers are not above temptation. Here is an example of mind reading by Powell, watching over a batch of new trainees, each dreaming of what he or she will do with the superpower:

Read minds and make a killing on the market ... Read minds and know the answers to al exam questions ... Read minds and know what people really think of me ... Read minds and know which girls are willing ... Read minds and be like a King ...

What makes Espers like Powell better than corporate fat cats like Reich? The line of demarcation is so thin it is almost invisible, and in the end the reader will probably have to decide for himself where he stands on the issues. It is tempting to read the novel at the superficial level of a high octane cat and mouse game between Reich and Powell, one using his money and his connections to hide his crime, the other using mind games to trip the criminal into confession. Bester knows one of the most basic rules of the art of the novel is: first of all, tell a story! After you captured his attention, you can then guide your reader to the larger implications and underlining philosophy that made you attack the subject in the first place.

Look at Reich's position in time and space. Will not his beliefs become the world's belief? Will not his reality become the world's reality? Is he not, in his critical position of power, energy, and intellect, a sure road to utter destruction?

Are we there yet? Look at the oligarchy that is writing national and international laws in the third millenium, controlled by a small corporate and banking elite. While the earth is getting hotter each year, the oceans get poisoned, forests are clear-cut, the workers unions gets outlawed and any protest is crushed by a subservient military and police force. For a novel written almost seven decades ago, "The Demolished Man" seems painfully modern. One quote taken from Reich's power book should suffice (think of student loans) :

Keep a man in debt and he's afraid to ask for a raise

The commercial ditty that Reich uses as a shield for hiding his thoughts becomes the leitmotif of an unavoidable doom:

Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissention have begun.

I believe that if the novel was written today, Reich will win the game of power, and the Esper Guild would become an accessory of a mega-rich transnational corporation. In the 1950's though, there was still a romantic aura that surrounded scientific breakthroughs, and the future still held a Utopian promise. After spectacular chases and reversals of fortune, the ending pages of the novel are both cautionary and hopeful, same as in the other Alfred Bester masterpiece, "The Stars My Destination". The judge and the jury are all inside our heads, the world is what we make of it, neither good or bad by itself, but transformed by our expectations, by our actions or inactions.

The mind is the reality. You are what you think.

The last aphorism is also an example of an ambivalence in my reactions : mostly admiration for the elegance of the parable, but also a slight disappointment at the obvious and more than a little outdated Freudian interpretation of Reich's personality. First comes the pro-argument, as in the choice is ours, but so are the consequences of our actions. It's a Cosmic Game, and the stakes are the survival of the species, not simply the fate of Ben Reich:

'The maze ... the labyrinth .. all the universe, created as a puzzle for us to solve. The galaxies, the stars, the sun, the planets ... the world as we knew it. We were the only reality. All the rest was make-believe ... dolls, puppets, stage-setting ... pretended passions. It was a make-believe reality for us to solve.'
'I conquered it. I owned it.'
'And you failed to solve it. We'll never know what the solution is, but it's not theft, terror, hatred, lust, murder, rapine. You failed, and it's all been abolished, disbanded ...'
'But what's to become of us?'
'We are abolished too. I tried to warn you. I tried to stop you. But we failed the test.'
'But why? Why? Who are we? What are we?'
'Who knows? Did the seed know who or what it was when it failed to find fertile soil? Does it matter who or what we are? We have failed. Our test is ended. We are ended.'

When we get demolished, maybe another intelligent species, with a better instinct for self-preservation will take over. Maybe ...
Science can show us the way, but it cannot teach how to be human. Telepathy sounds great on paper, but what about privacy, what about diversity and challenging the status quo?

That's where we live ... All of us. In the psychiatric ward. Without escape ... without refuge. Be grateful you're not a peeper, sir. Be grateful that you only see the outward man. Be grateful that you never see the passions, the hatreds, the jealousies, the malice, the sicknesses ... Be grateful you rarely see the frightening truth in people. The world will be a wonderful place when everyone's a peeper and everyone's adjusted ... But until then, be grateful you're blind.

Which brings me to the real scoop of the story, so important that I will put in spoilers:

A little sidenote before the end of my review: instead of going into details about what bothered me about Oedypian complexes and the rational mind being dominated by the subconscious, I would rather quote a quaint and mostly funny detail about how the future has surpassed some of Bester's visions already. In the novel, the ruling judge in the criminal case is a computer nicknamed Old Man Mose, big as a house, with led lights on his front panel, a feed slot that receives punch cards and an output on scrolling telex tape. I remember using punch cards back in the 1980's for a school assignment, and I wonder what would Bester's reaction be at seeing all the kids on the block chasing Pokemons on their smartphones:

... they fed in the last of the punched data, warmed the computer up from "Idle" to "Run", and kicked him into it. Moses eyes blinked in hard meditation; his stomach rumbled softly; his memories began to hiss and stutter. Powell and the others waited with mounting suspense. Abruptly, Mose hiccupped. A soft bell began to "Ping-Ping-Ping-Ping-Ping-Ping ..." and Mose's type began to flail the virgin tape under it.


In conclusion, I liked "The Stars My Destination" a little better than this one, but I can still recognize greatness in the vision Bester paints for our future. His final plea is as passionate and fierce as the final message of Gully Foyle : don't give in to despair, work together and hope because the future is waiting for us to raise up to its challenges:

"Listen," he cried in exaltation. "Listen, normals! You must learn what it is. You must learn how it is. You must tear the barriers down. You must tear the veils away. We see the truth you cannot see ... That there is nothing in man but love and faith, courage and kindness, generosity and sacrifice. All else is only the barrier of your blindness. One day we'll all be mind to mind and heart to heart ...
There has been joy. There will be joy again."


p.s. While finishing my review about the first Hugo winner, I saw the Hugo results for 2016. For once, my personal favorite won. "The Broken Earth" by N K Jemisin was everything I love about speculative fiction last year, and I can hardly wait to dig into the sequel, due this month.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,135 reviews1,018 followers
August 16, 2017
I probably never would have gotten to this classic if a reading group hadn’t chosen it… and I really wouldn’t have missed it.

My response was kinda “meh”, and I’ve been thinking about why. I believe at least two problems can interfere with my appreciation of any old book, and science fiction often has further liabilities.

The first general problem is that these works, when new, were sometimes exploring ideas that were fresh and invigorating. The passage of years and the spread of mass media means what was once new is now hackneyed. This can apply to the religious revelations of Fyodor Dostoevsky as well as to the scifi innovations of Alfred Bester.

The other broad problem is a change in style. In Dostoevsky’s time the reading population was probably biased heavily towards elites with a “liberal arts education” that we can only dream of today, and since reading was the dominant entertainment pastime the readers’ attention span was probably also beyond ours. Cultural changes have rendered Dostoevsky inaccessible and dull. In contrast, Alfred Bester was writing when popular culture was exploding, and the genre of science fiction was bursting with excitement and creativity. We’ve gotten much more serious since then, and some of the “flash” of those years seems garish and amateurish now.

For Bester’s The Demolished Man these problems of content and style have both hurt. His use of interplanetary travel, for example, or extra-planetary habitats, seem poorly thought out. The Guild of Espers is simplistic, with no depth of subtext to flesh it out. In terms of style, his exuberance as a writer can get it the way. Harry Harrison notes in the introduction to the 1996 reissue that Bester had “cut his teeth in comics”, and perhaps people with a visual sensibility will find his style more appealing.

Science and technology have changed so much in the six decades since this book was written, and that can always hurt a science fiction writer who chooses to write with such particular technology in mind. Freely intermixed are technologies that have long since been rendered obsolete (especially the “Mose” computer), and others that are still futuristic (most transportation and weapons, and the “out-of-phase” safe) or represent a road not taken (his recording crystals).

But these will be problems for any old technology-laden book. Other changes hurt Bester more, such as his chauvinism. The New York of three hundred years from now is remarkably similar to that portrayed in the television series “Mad Men”, with the emphasis on “pneumatic” women (well, since I don’t actually watch television, I’m extrapolating a bit here). The “virgin seductress” is described as being Reich’s idea of the epitome of the modern career girl—Bester was doing a very good job of projecting the cultural development of the fifties and sixties, since Playboy wasn’t first published for two more years.

His reliance on an outmoded Freudian model of the psyche leads to some rather awkward plot developments. What was it with that era of scifi writers and peculiar sexual developments? For a moment I felt like he might drift into the creepy-Heinlein territory, but thankfully he never went that far.

It also didn’t help that he contradicts himself. A fundamental premise for the conflict is that telepaths make premeditated murder essentially impossible. Bester establishes early in the story that anyone contemplating murder is as likely to go unnoticed by the telepaths as “a man with three heads”. And yet two more premeditated murders take place, neither of which seem to trouble the police as particularly improbable.

On a lesser note, Reich’s safe is carefully described as one that can only be opened by his index finger, and remains “out of phase” with the rest of reality otherwise. Yet later he is spooked by the idea that a telepath might have “peeped” the combination out of his brain, even though the earlier security aspect should render a combination superfluous.

This was probably a fun and invigorating book way back when — and still might be to a subset of today’s readers — but it doesn’t have that “timeless” appeal.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.3k followers
September 14, 2019
The Demolished Man (1953), first winner of the Hugo Award, is an ingenious amalgam of noir policier and dystopian science fiction of the mega-corporate/telepathic surveillance variety. It poses the question: what if you are a very rich man who wishes to kill another rich man, but you live in a society in which mutant telepaths (called “Espers” or “peepers”) guard every big corporation and work for the metropolitan police? Is the perfect crime still possible? And how would you go about committing it?

This begins as a Columbo-style tale, in which we first watch Ben Reich as he plots and executes the murder of Craye D’Courtney, and then observe Police Prefect Lincoln Powell—an Esper himself—as he investigates the crime, interrogating Reich periodically as he gets closer to the truth. Both Reich and Powell have their stratagems and their “peeper” allies, and their dance of pursuit and flight is intricate and entertaining. Oh, and there is a love interest too, between the Prefect and the murdered man’s daughter, the traumatized—and (of course) beautiful—Barbara D’Courtney.

The best part of the book, however, is the conclusion. where we learn what “demolition”--the penalty of a serious crime—really means. It is a tour-de-force as good as anything Bester ever wrote, including The Stars My Destination, my favorite science fiction novel of all time.

Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to rate Demolished quite as highly as Stars. Some of the plot twists are too intricate, some for the dialog too hardboiled, some of the Freudian psychology outdated. Still, it is a wild ride, always entertaining, and the conclusion does not disappoint.

Here’s how the conclusion—the “Demolition”--begins:
The stars!" Reich cried. "Look up at the sky. The stars are gone. The constellations are gone! The Great Bear... The Little Bear... Cassiopeia... Draco… Pegasus... They're all gone! There's nothing but the moon! Look!"

"It's the way it always is," Duffy said.

"It is not! Where are the stars?"

"What stars?"

"I don't know their names... Polaris and... Vegä... and… How the hell should I know their names? I'm not an astronomer. What's happened to us? What's happened to the stars?"

"What are stars?" Duffy asked.

Reich seized her savagely. "Suns... Boiling and blazing with light. Thousands of them. Billions of them... shining through the night. What the hell's the matter with you? Don't you understand? There's been a catastrophe in space, the stars are gone!"

Duffy shook her head. Her face was terrified. "I don't know what you're talking about, Ben. I don't know
what you're talking about."

. . . "Wait here for me," he growled. "I'm going to find out."

"Find out about what?"

"About the stars!" he yelled. "The Christ almighty missing stars!"
Profile Image for Charity.
14 reviews
March 15, 2016
So, I finished this book yesterday. The first lady that you meet in this book spends two pages begging the hero character to marry and have children with her, even though she knows he doesn't love her. The second lady that you meet in this novel is a shop girl that spends her whole scene trying to get the protagonist to "kiss her like he means it" "pout" The third lady that you meet in this novel is a ditsy esper 3, only invited to the party because of her looks. She makes a fool of herself and everyone has a good laugh. The fourth lady you meet in this book is an oversexed society lady who has an obscene body sculpted by pneumatic surgery. This lady is the convenient host of the sex party where the murder takes place. She spends all of her scenes trying to get whoever she's talking to to stick it in her. Enter the Heroine, who witnesses the cold blooded murder of her father, becomes so traumatized that she runs outside naked and disappears. Did we mention she's naked, and also super hot. By the way, this girl is super super hot. and naked. Eventually the heroine is found in the care of the sixth female character in this novel, who is a con artist using the traumatized heroine to run a shady fortune telling operation. The heroine is rescued from this situation and taken to the hospital where it is determined she is SO traumatized from witnessing the murder of her father, that she has to undergo some bizarre science fiction "regression therapy" so she can grow back up into accepting the truth of what happened. So she get's this therapy, which regresses her back to the mentality of a baby. And get this - gets taken home by the hero, to be re-raised over the course of three months by the hero and lady number one, the swarthy unloved live in girlfriend. Who knows by now that the hero is totes in love with baby baba. All the murder bs gets resolved and the book is wrapped up by hero and baba sharing a couple of cute little jokes about how just a couple weeks ago he was changing her diaper! now they're gonna be doin it! tee hee! great effin book, thanks for the legacy of your gross ass gender politics 1950's.
Profile Image for merixien.
543 reviews281 followers
September 25, 2022
Beni uzun bir aradan sonra yeniden bilim kurgu ile barıştırdı.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,795 followers
August 29, 2021
A fantastical futuristic crime story that I read as a child, not as a stand alone novel but as part of a fat hardback compendium of science fiction novels, I am no longer sure what else was in the volume, maybe some Azimov, maybe a triffrid or three.

It was fun - the original typesetting was playful, words strung out and down in diagonals across the page to indicate telepathic communication (an important element of the story) its notions of telepaths, on reflection, may well have gone on to influence Philip K. Dick .

It's central idea that criminals should be rehabilitated and returned to function in society remains science-fiction however, indeed one has to wonder where writers get these crazy ideas from. Arguably it is less science-fiction, despite it's vaguely futuristic, setting than psychological fiction; as it is more interested in the mind and the impact on people of some people being able to 'read' other people' minds and to communicate telepathically.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,530 reviews793 followers
September 26, 2020
SF Masterworks #14. Another eerily almost-surreal futurist tale from Bester; this one's a detective story focusing on the wrong-doer in a world that strongly relies on people with extra sensory perception in all the key businesses and industries. Shaping Freudian thought, Agatha Christie whodunnit and sci-fi galaxy world-building around a very much character driven dive into the possible dangers of profit/power driven free thinking, this was the first book to receive a Hugo Award!

Another Bester jam whose descent into my surreal story mapping kind of lost me; despite that it's also another Bester jam, where he goes beyond the norm to detail how a future world/galaxy would be impacted at every level if ESP was a thing. 6 out of 12, for this alright read, but sadly ageing (plot wise) read.
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Profile Image for Stuart.
708 reviews263 followers
November 18, 2015
The Demolished Man: A SF classic about murder in a telepathic society
(Posted at Fantasy Literature)
If I had read this book back in 1952 when it was first published, I would have given it 5 stars, no question. But in 2014, with 60 years of refinements in the genre, it suffers from some very dated dialogue and characterization, and some really condescending portrayals of women, so I'm afraid the present value of the book is 4 stars.

Having said that, The Demolished Man remains an impressively-imagined story of future society shared by telepaths and normals, and the attempt by a wealthy megalomaniac industrialist Ben Reich to stage and get away with murder in a society where the police and many others can read thoughts and memories. It's an exciting and pulpy adventure, and presages the cyberpunk genre by over 30 years (Neuromancer, Altered Carbon, Minority Report in particular; they all contain remnants of Bester's DNA). So it was well deserving of the inaugural Hugo Award, especially when you see the low quality of some of the other nominees and winners back in the early days, most of which have faded from popular memory without a murmur of protest (has anyone read the next year's winner They'd Rather Be Right? Didn't think so).

It's not fair to ridicule how badly aged the future visions of venerable SF authors from the Golden Age can become. Instead, we should consider how much they inspired future generations of genre practitioners, who updated and improved on the early ideas and imbued them with more telling details that resonated with each successive generation. Just like a piece of classical music, it's value lies not only in the music itself but its legacy for the musical compositions that follow.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,038 followers
September 22, 2013
The very first Hugo winner of all time, The Demolished Man is more like a crime novel that happens to be in a science fiction universe, an earth where nobody has committed a murder in 70 years because so many people are trained to be telepathic.

The people who have telepathy are referred to as Espers, and go through training, and fall into three categories depending on their abilities.

This is a good read because of the action (fast-paced) but also because I love all the little details of the world. I wish I could see a movie version because I want to see people fighting in their heads, having telepathic party games, and more than anything I want to see the Rainbow House of Chooka Frood.

Number 99 was an eviscerated ceramics plant. During the war a succession of blazing explosions had burst among the stock of thousands of chemical glazes, fused them, and splashed them into a wild rainbow reproduction of a lunar crater. Great splotches of magenta, violet, bice green, burnt umber, and chrome yellow were burned into the stone walls. Long streams of orange, crimson, and imperial purple had erupted through windows and doors to streak the streets and surrounding ruins with splashing brush streets....

A molten conglomerate had oozed down through the floors to settle on the floor of the lowest vault and harden into shimmering pavement, crystal in texture, phosphorescent in color, strangely vibrant and singing."

Gorgeous, and I really want to see it. I also enjoyed my friends Scott and Julie discussing this novel over at their podcast, A Good Story is Hard to Find.
Profile Image for Jareed.
136 reviews273 followers
May 22, 2014
“But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” (Hemingway, 1952)

The human spirit cannot be defeated, but it can be destroyed, in this case, the complete eradication of what you once were, the complete destruction of the psyche, the birth of The Demolished Man.

Awarded the first ever Hugo Awards in 1953,The Demolished Man is considered to have had an extensive impact to the genre that rippled through the ages especially in the cyberpunk generation. But 62 years after it first came out, reading it today felt worn-out and clichéd, I guess in the science fiction genre, it just got ‘old’.

An idea similarly grounded to that of Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report, The Demolished Man operates in a world where crime is but a concept thanks to Espers, individuals who are capable of ESP, which of course involves reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses but is sensed with the mind.

No murder, designated as a triple AAA felony, has been committed in over 70 years since the latent capacity for ESP emerged, until a fatal game of Sardine was played in the Beaumont Mansion. The prime suspect, Ben Reich, is the owner of the company, Monarch, second only to the D’Courtney Cartel to its lucrativeness. The victim, Craye D’Courtney, the namesake and owner of the most profitable cartel, had his head blown off by an unknown weapon. Enter Lincoln Power, a 1st class Esper and Prefect of the Police Psychotic Division who investigates the historic murder case which inevitably leads him to a collision course and hunting expedition for the world-shaker Ben Reich. Voila! You have The Demolished Man.

I am arguably compelled to label this as a mystery, police, and investigative novel rather than a sci-fi book. Really, the plot is all about the investigation of the murder, the search for evidence, and the incarceration of the criminal. This is a mystery novel done the science fiction way. But that aspect was actually the fun enjoyable part of the book. The morally challenged banters, the deceptive maneuverings, and the cunning and shrewd exchanges between Reich and Powell were exhilarating.

Of course, the concept of intent versus positive act in crimes was included in this book, albeit it was not played out as well or as extensively as was done in The Minority Report.

What I failed to appreciate however was how Bester chose to lay down his world building and science fiction elements, his style.

For example, the explanation of the varying levels of Esper classification was carried out in a rough unrealistic fashion.

“First, the background, Mr. Reich: There are approximately one hundred thousand (100,000) 3rd Class Espers in the Esper Guild. An Esper 3 can peep the conscious level of a mind---can discover what a subject is thinking at the moment of thought. A 3rd is the lowest class of telepath. Most of Monarch's security positions are held by 3rds. We employ over five hundred...” (15)

The instance above plays out when Reich turns to one of his employees, but the facts therein stated are not the things an owner/CEO does not know when he runs and owns a company that employ Espers. What happens here is that Bester directly laid down the ideas thread bare, without any effort at subtly building his world. This instance is repeated again when he tried to connive with one of his Esper employees to which in response he gets this;

“You don't understand. We're born in the Guild. We live with the Guild. We die in the Guild. We have the right to elect Guild officers, and that's all. The Guild runs our professional lives. It trains us, grades us, sets ethical standards, and sees that we stick to them. It protects us by protecting the layman, the same as medical associations. We have the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath. It's called the Esper Pledge. God help any of us if we break it... as I judge you're suggesting I should.”(19)

The point is, these are things that are not introduced through a normal conversation, they made certain characters stupid and seemingly oblivious to the operative facts of the world they were supposed to be living in.

Another aspect of Bester’s style that bothered me was how he transitioned between scenes in his story. They felt rough at times and I experienced this momentary feeling of displacement and surprise that I’m reading another unrelated scene.

It was okay (2.5 Stars), but I will not recommend it to people when they ask me about sci-fi books. Instead, why not read the Hyperion Cantos and have a science fiction experience of a lifetime. And please do forgive me for using Hemingway as an attention step for this review. :)

This has been cross-posted in i'mbookedindefinitely

This book forms part of my HUGO AWARDS reading list.
Profile Image for Nick Imrie.
287 reviews123 followers
March 28, 2017
The Demolished Man is sometimes called the first cyberpunk novel, and it took me ages to figure out why. There's one computer in this story and it doesn't even have a screen. The characters feed data in using punchcards.
But that's not where the cyberpunk comes from. The Demolished Man features a society of telepaths, known as Espers, and Bester has clearly given a lot of thought to how telepathic communication might work – and pretty much predicted how conversation works on the internet! People speak to each other using symbols in place of letters, in names such as @kins and Wyg&. The Espers send each other images (just like memes) and see each others self-image (like avatars). They even arrange their thoughts in pleasing patterns on the page.
You can see why this was the first Hugo winner. Not only because of the well-thought out telepathy, the story also has some fun SF speculation about life on Venus and Mars (with characters taking interplanetary jaunts in rockets), and wonderfully weird futuristic buildings, despite very 1950s social structures. It's also a very good noir thriller. The early chapter where the villainous Captain of Industry plays a game of cat-and-mouse with the heroic Esper Police Prefect is perfectly paced tension-building.
I really enjoyed these parts of the book, so it's a shame that the rest of the book has dated so badly. For some reason, Freudian psychotherapy was very popular in America in the 50s; people even thought it was 'scientific'. And this book was really, terribly marred by it. The stronger Espers can pry right down to the level of the sub-conscious to discover the deep motivating drives of people and, well, if you're even slightly aware of Freud's favourite Greek myth then you know what they discover there. As the Oedipal complex drives one character, so the Electra complex drives another, in what is a very well-structured mirroring, so it's a shame that it's so gross. The character suffers a sever shock, has to regress and grow out of childhood all over again with the loving guidance of a 'father figure'. The reader will find this revolting or not, depending on how much they enjoy some light Daddy/daughter romance.
Unfortunately, this was not the worst depiction of women in the book, which was really one of the most misogynistic stories that I've read. Every single female character is described primarily by how fuckable she is. Literally every time Barbara is mentioned the men harp on about her great rack and vacant eyes (ah women, how lovely they are when they're brain dead, amirite?) As a female lead, she could easily have been replaced with a sexy lampshade.
Poor Mary, the perfect female martyr, begs Powell to marry her and have children, despite the fact that he doesn't love her and doesn't want to; meanwhile Duffy begs Reich to knock her around a bit before he conquers the universe. All the women, whether mothers or sexbots, are terrible masochists and pawns in the games of powerful men. It was difficult to struggle through, although, on the whole, I do think it was worth it for the fun parts.
Profile Image for Shayan Foroozesh.
54 reviews128 followers
April 15, 2018

Alfred Bester, one of the icons of science fiction (though I didn’t know him until a month ago [yep you got me I’m not much of a sci-fi guy]), challenges himself by writing an inter-genre novel, The Demolished Man , which is the Hugo Award winner dated in 1953. The novel is certainly one of his best novels but a way behind to best his best Bester novel: The Stars My Destination . Yet it was a pretty entertaining novel with some good old ancient obsolete science. Oh I’m exaggerating; you can leave out the word “ancient.”

Bester mixes two genres: sci-fi and detective, and succeeds in doing so. In a world where murder is nearly impossible, because of a cult of better evolved humans who can read the mind of other people, a man cleverly manages to murder (the first murder in seventy years) a VIP and a dozen more after that. Well how did that murderer got past from those mind readers*** without letting the cat out of the bag? And how did the murderer got away from the murder without revealing the truth that he had committed the murder? Oh well there remains the mystery and my loathsome LINCOLN POWELL, The Perfect, Esper#1, and a detective tries to solve this case.

*** Or peepers [or Espers] which are of three degrees: Esper#3: Just peeps the conscious. Esper#2: the conscious and the subconscious. Esper#1: the former, the latter, and the unconscious!). I wish I could write with a “pattern”: the peeper-exclusive way of communication.
Profile Image for Beatriz.
820 reviews696 followers
April 28, 2019
Un argumento original y muy atractivo. Un crimen y el enfrentamiento de los dos personajes principales (el policía y el asesino) en un juego con reglas muy restrictivas para ambos: una sociedad en que un importante número de personas es telépata por lo que es casi imposible cometer un crimen premeditado, y un sistema judicial que no acepta los testimonios de los telépatas si, además, no hay evidencias del motivo, el método y la oportunidad para cometer el crimen.

La trama es muy inteligente respecto de cómo estos dos personajes van elaborando sus respectivas estrategias; uno para evitar que los telépatas lo detengan antes de cometer el asesinato, y el otro, para demostrar lo que ya leyó en la mente del asesino. A pesar de lo anterior, la lectura me dejó algunas cosas al debe o no bien sustentadas, como por ejemplo, la motivación del asesino, o las características que adopta hacia el final y que hacen imprescindible su detención “y demolición”.

Por otra parte y sin considerar las descripciones de las grandes computadoras “del futuro” (siempre me ha llamado la atención que en las décadas de los 50 y 60, la mayoría de los escritores de CF las concibieran como gigantescas cuando, en realidad, ha sido al revés: “mientras más pequeñas, mejor”), es una novela de ciencia ficción que ha envejecido muy, pero muy bien. Digna merecedora del primer premio Hugo.
Profile Image for Hazal Çamur.
172 reviews200 followers
May 9, 2016
Yıkıma Giden Adam pek çok katmandan oluşan bir keşmekeş ve ben bunu iyi anlamda söylüyorum. New York'lu Bester'ın büyük şehir insanının içine doğduğu, büyüdüğü ve öldüğü kaosu anlatımına taşıdığı; sürekli bir yerlere yetişme, bir şeyleri kaçırmamak için acele etme ve bu sırada önüne geleni ezip geçme dürtülerini diline aktardığı bir eser. Bester'ın bu büyük şehir dili bana inanılmaz tanıdık geldi. Eh, bir İstanbullu olarak ben ve bu şehrin diğer insanları da büyük bir kaosun parçasıyız.

İşte tüm bu nedenlerden Ben Reich'ın karakteri ile Bester'ın anlatımı adeta tek yumurta ikizi özelliği gösteriyor. Bu da karakteri daha somut, daha gerçek kılıyor.

Evrimin bile kapitalizmin bir parçası olması bu kitapta çok güzel aktarılmış. Dahası, Oedipus Kompleksi de bizlere göz kırpıyor. Hatta burada Chuck Palahniuk ve Görünmez Canavarlar geldi aklıma. Spoiler'a girmemek için burayı detaylandırmıyorum, ama bu kitabı okumuş olanlar Oedipus Kompleksi ile ne demek istediğimi anlayacaktır. Chuck Palahniuk'un Görünmez Canavarlar'da geçen bir sözü de buraya cuk diye oturuyor. Kitabın alt metninde yatan bir sağ-sol çatışması bile mevcut ki, bunu okurken çok eğlendim. Ama buradaki "sağ-sol"dan kastım para vs. idealler tadında. 

Son olarak, Reich'ın bir başkarakter olarak "doğal yok edici" rolü de hoşuma giden bir başka etmen. Evet, kendisi nam-ı diğer "yıkıma giden adam". Evet, kitap boyunca Yıkım iki anlamda kullanılıyor (çiftdüşün). Ancak tüm bunların dışında, Reich başlı başına bir sembol. O bir doğal yok edici. Ben Reich, pek çoğumuzun özünde barındırdığı bir adam.

Bir de bana mı öyle geliyor, yoksa Kaplan! Kaplan! ile Yıkıma Giden Adam arasında benzerlikler mi var? Sanki aynı zemin üzerine inşa edilmiş farklı mimariler gibi. Özünde aynı evreni kullanıyorlarmış gibi bir his verdi bana.

Velhasıl, büyük şehrin büyük öfkesi ve yıkımını taşıyan güzel bir romandı bu. Tavsiye ederim.
Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,144 followers
January 19, 2012
An enjoyable story that combines a murder mystery with SF. I liked it, but was a bit let down after the awesomeness that was _The Stars My Destination_. Once again Bester introduces an sfnal change to the world and logically posits some of the possible changes that would result in society: in this case it is psychic ability.

The most obvious impact that Bester examines is the way in which crime and policing will be affected by the fact that a fairly large segment of the population can at least sense, if not outright read, the thoughts of others. Thus in this world a premeditated murder has not happened for 70 years, primarily due to the existence of the Esper Guild, the mandatory society of all espers who live under a strict code of conduct...the angle on being able to stop murder before it happens reminded me of Philip K. Dick, though of course Bester did it here first.

Along comes Ben Reich, one of the richest men in the solar system, and someone with both the resources and the willpower to get what he wants when he wants it. Ben Reich is also a man with a problem in the form of his biggest business rival Craye D'Courtney. When overtures of a more peaceable nature are apparently denied he decides it's high time that he proves that he is the one man on the planet that can get away with murder.

Enter Lincoln Powell, class 1 telepath and police prefect. Lincoln is equally driven and just as resourceful as Reich. what ensues is a game of cat and mouse between the two, as each attempts to thwart the other using every resource at his disposal.

As I said the story is enjoyable, but it seemed a bit more dated to me than _The Stars My Destination_. While some of the changes Bester made to his society made sense and certainly changed elements from what we know today, other aspects of it felt a lot like nothing much had changed since the 1950's and 60's, the era when the book was written. For some reason I also started to lag a bit near the middle of the book, but, as thus far has always been the case with Bester, he manages to turn things around at the end and make me see the whole as much greater than I thought it might end up being. The climax and finale of the book were especially enjoyable and had elements that made me think of the best aspects of the classic Twilight Zone series...not exactly an unforeseen conclusion, but one that was constructed just right.

All in all an enjoyable read, if not one that totally blew me away.
Profile Image for Mattia Ravasi.
Author 5 books3,485 followers
June 3, 2019
Video review

Pynchonian science-fiction - except that, of course, it's Pynchon's fiction that's Besterian.
Profile Image for Lizzie.
688 reviews94 followers
June 15, 2015
This is a 2.5 for me and I'm hovering on which way to round it. What will I decide??

See, this book has rubbed off on me! At many turns, this book sounds overwhelmingly cheesy. I can see why these roots of sci-fi are so interesting to people, because they're such a product of their period as well as reaching for something forward -- thus, it's weirdly bold and corny at the same time. This book is focused on its characters, which is a very good way to write. (This was a present from Evan, who pointed that out.) Yet, allow me to quote the inner monologue that closes the first chapter: "'All right, D'Courtney. If you won't let it be merger, then I'll make it murder.'" Er. Wow. There is a lot of this level of silliness in the text, and it's not really like what I usually read. It was a bit hard to adjust to.

The most unique part of the book is of course the "Espers," the eminently well-structured class of telepathic humans. There is spoken dialogue and telepathic dialogue, and some neat layout of the text to try and show how they think. Powell's ventures deep into Barbara's unconscious as part of his police investigation are probably the coolest scenes. And I really liked when he and Mary bickered subconsciously.

In general the book got much much better to me near the end, but also more confusing. I guess the peril of establishing a genre as an author is that your work won't benefit from the refined expectations of its later fans, so in a lot of ways I felt lost as a reader -- what's this world like, what's the explanation? There is a lot of pop psychology here, and that's the main basis for everything, so a lot of the characterization doesn't make enough sense to my ear. And Reich's position as a "Universe-shaker" is properly surprising but entirely undefined. (Is it a spoiler if I really don't know what it is?) But, the revelation of what the Demolition threat really means, and the final scene about "Maybe in those days they wanted sheep," that's pretty damn good.

Like all old sci-fi, it's irresistible to compare the "future" to what's come to pass since it's written. This book is from 1951, which in pop culture terms is endearingly ancient, a decade or two off some of the most influential events of the century. (Of course, also rather nearby some others, but I don't feel the war's impact here so much.) It's fantastic to see what an author was able to conceptualize, and what just couldn't possibly happen for them yet.

So on the one hand, in this book there is a wall-sized supercomputer that doesn't even have a screen. It outputs on a typewriter! Incredible, considering the fact that I am posting this review on Goodreads.com right now, you know what I mean? So far away. And "Do I have time to catch the 10:00 rocket? Call Idlewild," kind of slayed me. How could this rocketeer know the airport would rather soon have to be renamed JFK? The future, it's dated.

But there's plenty of right ideas, the ubiquitous video-phone and audio-bookstore, plus the humorous "brooch-operas" ("She Shall Have Music Wherever She Goes") that I suppose are probably how iPods would have been designed in 1950, sure. And, distressingly: "Snim trudged downtown to Maiden Lane and cased the banks in that pleasant esplanade around Bomb Inlet." Too right. Actually.

I can't, though, let this book go without saying that its misogyny makes it really hard to enjoy. For this reader. Indeed some won't mind but it did do its number on me. It isn't just that the only women in the book are just around to want the men, who are allowed to want other things besides the women. It's that it is mean, kinda borderline violent, and that's not good fun or inevitable social history to me.

Like: The literal infantilization of Barbara the love interest -- she regresses into a drooling, baby-talking woman-baby, as a coping mechanism -- who then falls in love with her Da-Da. And there's Duffy, the "virgin seductress," who begs to be thrown around.

A few moments:

"You're delighted with yourself because you're a woman, aren't you? It's your substitute for living. ... 'It's enough to know that thousands of men could have me if I'd let them. That makes me real.'"

"'I'm beginning to hate her ... that goddamn girl.'"
"'Mr. Beck, I hate women too. For Christ's sake, why are they all trying to get me married?'"

"'Why waste all that dear violence? Punch me around a little.'" (Thanks, Duffy.)

Some of this is intentionally disturbing, but some of it is probably not. Sometimes this atmosphere is just icky. I don't like reading around this, but I know some readers don't mind it, and some enjoy the sort of pulpiness about it.

So they can rate this higher, whatever.
Profile Image for Lit Bug.
160 reviews439 followers
September 23, 2013
3.5 Stars

This book manages to both impress and fail to impress, on account of its strong plot and weak narration.

The conception is realistic, exciting, and has enough elements of SF - that of a world teeming with graded Espers or mind-readers who police the world that has now expanded to settle on various planets, and catch the criminal before he can even properly lay on the plan.

In 2301, Ben Reich, owner of Monarch corporation, decides, in murderous passion, to murder (of, course) his rival - knowing well enough that it is nearly impossible. A premeditated murder can be easily detected by the Peepers. And he intends to not only commit it, but also get away with it - in a world where murder has been unheard of for at least 80 years.

And he succeeds. Police Prefect Powell, a Grade 1 Esper, knows it is him, but cannot nail him down. And thus begins the cat and mouse game to implicate Reich before THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE devours Reich.

It could have been amazing - the conception is strong, but fails on account of the clumsy, unbelievable narration. The motivations of the characters are too fast, too abrupt to allow the reader to enjoy the work. Comes across as phony when it could have been simply amazing. The narrative mars a solid concept, a promising story and nearly ruins it.

The only lines I liked in this work are these words that come at the end:
“Be grateful that you only see the outward man. Be grateful that you never see the passions, the hatreds, the jealousies, the malice, the sicknesses... Be grateful you rarely see the frightening truth in people.” And this is the only time I really felt like I had any insight in any character of this story.

The world-building is not only adequate, but in fact, novel, innovative, far ahead of its time and yet plausible. But too many things seem artificial, some things fall into place too conveniently, and the dialogues are plain pathetic.

And to think how much more scope in this novel has been wasted! THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE was such a beautiful trope - the psychological aspect that could have elevated the novel from a mere run-of-the-mill thriller to a psychological masterpiece - the Freudian elements were barely touched upon in a novel that focused so much on the gradations of Espers on the basis of their ability to peep into the layers of the mind.

The play of the conscious, subconscious and the unconscious was the perfect place to play out the game - Reich outwitting the Espers, pitting two Class 1 Espers against each other would have been so much fun, apart from the brilliant expositions Bester could have made deriving from Freud or Lacan or whoever he wished.

The conception is superb - but the execution is deeply flawed. The story wasn't properly explored, leaving quite a few glaring loopholes and other lapses, not to mention the narrative that bogged down the work even more.

And yes, what was it with female characters in the 50s? Why did all of them have to be fawning, helpless creatures waiting in the sidelines for their man to come and deliver them? Did this story really need Barbara or Mary in the way they were used towards the end? And how stupidly convenient was the resolution for Powell and Barbara - honestly, I'd already seen through it long before it actually came.

In the end, I'm only glad it didn't clinch the Nebula, because Nebulas came much later - it is way too flawed. As for the Hugo, well, I can see how radical this would have seemed in the 50s, and well, who cared back then about how women were depicted, anyway? And in any case, this was the first work to get a Hugo, so there was no set benchmark for it to be judged against.

To be concise, disappointed is the word. Great conception that descends into mediocrity. The stars are only for the world-building and plot-outline.
Profile Image for Antonio TL.
195 reviews21 followers
May 5, 2022
Premio Hugo 1953

El hombre demolido, esta ambientada en el siglo XXIV donde ha desaparecido el asesinato premeditado. No es que la gente no tenga pensamientos asesinos, todavía ocurren crímenes pasionales pero la humanidad ha comenzado a cosechar habilidades latentes en la mente humana. Los telépatas, conocidos como Espers, son mundialmente reconocidos y han formado una sociedad dentro de la nuestra.

Es la existencia de estos individuos telepáticos lo que impide el asesinato. ¿Cómo puedes evitar ser “demolido” si los detalles del asesinato que cometes son fácilmente leídos por un hombre que está a tu lado? ¿Cómo puedes cometer el asesinato en primer lugar, si alguien que camina por la calle puede escuchar tu mente mientras planeas los detalles?

Ben Reich, propietario de Monarch Enterprises, se pone en contacto con su rival, el empresario Craye d'Courtney, y le solicita que fusionen empresas. Sería beneficioso para ambos, y tiene sentido. Desafortunadamente, después de que D'Courtney responde Reich decide matarlo.
La preocupación para Reich es cómo hacer esto sin ser atrapado. Si puede vencer a los telépatas, mantener a la policía lejos y evitar delatarse a sí mismo cuando un esper le lea la mente...... todo podría funcionar. Casi nada.

Al igual que "Minority Report" de Philip K. Dick, la narrativa principal de "Demolished Man" gira en torno a alguien impulsado a cometer un asesinato en un mundo en el que el acto de asesinar es casi imposible por definición. Ahí terminan las similitudes. "Minority Report" fue una meditación sobre la imprecisión de la clarividencia y el efecto que tiene conocer tu destino en tu decisión de representar tu parte de ese destino. "Demolished Man" es, en cambio, un juego del gato y el ratón en el que leer la mente de alguien te da acceso a una verdad más o menos absoluta, pero que no es admisible en los tribunales y que debe complementarse con pruebas objetivas.

"Demolished Man" también ofrece una interacción maravillosa entre sus personajes psíquicos y aborda bien cómo serían las relaciones entre hombres y mujeres psíquicos. A diferencia de muchos clichés del tema, la interacción de dos de los psíquicos adultos en "Demolished Man" puede ser lúdica, calculada, y matizada.

Otras novelas usan la la telepatía como un teléfono de manos libres y solo para avanzar en la trama. Bester, por otro lado, hace un buen trabajo al demostrar que, al igual que el lenguaje de señas, una nueva forma de comunicación tendría su propio carácter en lugar de ser simplemente una traducción directa del lenguaje escrito y hablado.

"Demolished Man" también es interesante como narrativa, ya que la narración sigue a un personaje casi exclusivamente durante la primera mitad del libro, y sigue a su némesis casi exclusivamente durante la última mitad.

Muy buena novela; es increíble que Bester lo escribiera hace más de 50 años. El mundo futuro que visualiza es inteligente y convincente. Se siente mucho menos anticuado de lo que cabría esperar de un libro escrito hace tanto tiempo. La escritura es rápida y competente. A veces (especialmente cuando conversan grupos de Espers) incluso deslumbrante.
Al igual que The Stars My Destination, esta es una historia rápida y esperanzadora de compulsión y redención.
Profile Image for Yaprak.
Author 23 books124 followers
June 23, 2016
Yıkıma Giden Adam bize 24. yüzyılda zihin okuyucuların da olduğu bir dünyayı tasvir ediyor. Esper adı verilen bu zihin okuyucu kişilerin varlığı ve bu bağlamda kullanımları suç oranlarını düşürmüş, hatta cinayeti tamamen ortadan kaldırmış durumda çünkü insanlar cinayet planladıkları anda Esperler bunu fark edip gerekli yerlere bildirmekle görevliler. Ben Reich yaratılan bu güneş sisteminin bir çoğunu içine alan dünyanın en güçlü adamlarından biri ve rakibi olduğu şirketin sahibini başka türlü yenemeyince onu öldürmeye karar veriyor. Bir yandan ise Yüzü Olmayan Adam'ı içeren kabuslar görüyor ve bunun sebebini çözemiyor.

Yorumlaması gerçekten zor bir kitap ve tam bir bilimkurgu klasiği. Ben daha önce benzeri bir esere rast gelmedim (Bir benzerinin olabileceğine de inanmıyorum). Büyük şehir yaşandısını ve kapitalizimi ele alışından mı bahsetsem, yoksa Esperlerin aralarında koşurken yarattığı motifleri mi anlasam bilemiyorum. Her yerinden ayrı ayrı yaratıcılık fışkırıyor.

Yorumun Devamı --> https://www.instagram.com/yaprak.onur/
Profile Image for Jlawrence.
305 reviews145 followers
September 27, 2013
A pulpy energy drives this science-fiction noir through writing that is sometimes clunky, sometimes excellent (check out Jenny Colvin's review for a quote of the great passage that describes an exploded ceramics plant), a future setting with ESP-endowed "peepers" investigating the first murder in many years, and interesting if too broadly-characterized characters. This future has some inevitable dated elements mixed with some quite interesting details, and there's a whole Freudian subtext that's kinda-silly yet well-worked by the narrative.

Really enjoyed this pow-sock-em-but-never-TOO-over-the-top ride despite any of its flaws. Seems well-deserving of the first Hugo award, and looking forward to checking out some more Bester.
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