I’ve been meaning to read more hugo winners, so when I finally got around to grabbing the novel which won the very first year it was offered. What do you get when you mix telepathic police, murder, and corp take-overs? Well, you get this book, Alfred Bester’s THE DEMOLISHED MAN.
For being the very first hugo winner, I was expecting something grand, instead,it was somewhat underwhelming, more a piece of dated science fiction. I know this is always a danger when reaching back over fifty years. That’s the tricky think with science fiction, you’re never quite sure if the predictions that some writers make will age well. Sadly, Bester’s award winning work did not stand the test of time, at least from where I sit.
Ben Reichs is a mogul of business, whose empire spans the solar system. When his merger agreement is denied by a rival, he aims to “fix” this by murder. The only problem is that a murder has not been allowed to occur for decades, thanks to the ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) police, how can you out think those who can read your mind? Reichs is obsessed and will stop at nothing to claim his prize, even if it means outwitting those who can read his thoughts as soon as he holds them.
Here is Reich, a power hungry, overly ambitious man, who believes he is ultimately entitled to anything he wants, including murder and he is incredibly hard to relate to, so enter Powell, our ESP gifted detective and off the two men go in a dance that goes up and down within 250ish pages.
In some ways, Bester attempted a different format with the subversion of your typical detective plot, and allows the reader to know straight away what is afoot. This is even flows in a meta-fiction way, since in order to best the police, Reich has to be plain with his thoughts lest he be found out straight away. The format that the “telepathy” is given in strange columns or even prose “waves” is inventive and something like that carries over into fiction today. So, while some of the diction, mannerisms, and concerns remain somewhat dated, Bester manages to spin a readable tale, even if it underwhelmed me.