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Romance and other things

"The demolished man" by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1996-07-02) - Alfred Bester

In a world policed by telepaths, Ben Reich plans to commit a crime that hasn't been heard of in 70 years: murder. That's the only option left for Reich, whose company is losing a 10-year death struggle with rival D'Courtney Enterprises. Terrorized in his dreams by The Man With No Face and driven to the edge after D'Courtney refuses a merger offer, Reich murders his rival and bribes a high-ranking telepath to help him cover his tracks. But while police prefect Lincoln Powell knows Reich is guilty, his telepath's knowledge is a far cry from admissible evidence. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



Dear readers, recently I had been thinking about some of the books which I first read when I was somewhere between ages of eight and ten, give or take. A lot of these books stuck with me throughout my youth and pretty much travelled with me where I am here today. I decided that I should attempt to review at least some of them. This sci-fi classic is first is my first try. I know I read it first when I was very young and then I just kept rereading and rereading. When we came to US, I bought this book in the original and was very impressed as to how good the translation was. I also learned that this book was the first ever recipient of the Hugo award for the best novel in 1953.

It is really hard for me to describe what impressed me so much for the first time in the beloved story because I read it so many times by now. I think the description of telepaths, how they were attempting to govern themselves, how they were interacting with “non – telepaths” or “normal” were fun. I know the way Bester describes telepathic conversations is still fun for me to read. I tried to quote those parts of the book, but for some reason it just would not work. I am guessing that the reason was the unusual structure of those conversations does not translate into a good quotation for review – some conversations are written in a circle, some – like another complicated drawing. The whole book is very linguistically creative I guess? One character’s last name is spelled as @kins, another as 1/4maine. There are many more examples like this.

But all of this is just a setting for the story – the main plot line is just what the blurb describes. Ben Reich, charming businessman (not that charming clearly) decides to murder his business rival presumably because that business rival pushed him to the point of no return, overpowered him in many business dealings and then to add insult to the injury refused the offer of the business merger.

So, what’s the solution you ask? Killing of the said rival of course, because for the good reasons. Here I have to interject something. Over the years I not only read many reviews of this book, but I was actively seeking them out because I was interested in what other readers thought about it that much. I could not believe myself when I read one of the reviews and the reader made a comment along the lines that clearly Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” influenced this book.  Because of course it did! I have no idea whether Bester did it consciously or it just happened, but it is there, for everybody to see and I did not connect the dots at all before I saw that review. So I am trying to give the credit where the credit is due.

We have the man who is charming and has a lot of good in him, but who also thinks that he is allowed to kill – for the good reasons (he is not even trying to come up with reasons that are good for the rest of the society, just for him, but this is not a fanfiction of “Crime and Punishment”, this is just the book which seemed to take inspiration from it). And to make things interesting we have the world where telepaths are trying to guard against murders (and other crimes – more or less successfully) and so far they did it successfully for seventy years. But Reich is confident that he would be able to outsmart everybody and win in the fight against society. Have I mentioned that he is having nightmares about “The Man With No Face” and really wants not to see those nightmares anymore?

Blurb talks about it, so this is not a spoiler – Reich successfully commits the murder. Enters Lincoln Powell, Prefect of the Psychotic Division of the Police who is able to read that Reich was a murderer almost right away, but he still needs to collect evidence in admissible form in order to convince the Judge (The role of the judge is played by the Computer actually) that they have strong case to convict Reich. Come to think of it Computer is probably substituting for Grand Jury as well.

The problem is? Powell really likes Reich and wants to try everything he can to convince Reich to surrender and save the better part of him.

If you have not read the book, I really want you to experience the plot twists and don’t want to talk about them. I mean, if you are a SFF reader, I think the chances of you not reading this classic are small, but I still don’t want to take my chances J.

You have to understand guys, I really love this book. I never wrote fanfiction and never plan on doing so in the future, but I spend hours imagining different endings for some of the characters. I read and reread this story in Russian, I took the book with me when I came to live in the USA and then I bought paperback in English and collector’s hardcover and when kindle edition appeared I bought it too. I thought it was creative and fun and influenced so many books which were to come later. I thought that the use of language was often brilliant and the possible redemption story was there too (not that I was completely satisfied with that part).

What I am trying to say is that in this review I am indulging myself and allowing “how I feel about the story” to take larger element of my grade than usual. In some ways the book is of course dated. The 23 century society which is portrayed so creatively in some ways, in others reminds us about US in the 1950s which is not surprising of course. The way female characters are represented was lacking to me. Actually all characters could have used some more depth (the guys were interesting plot pieces for sure, but more depth would not have hurt).

My final grade is A and had the book not been on my favorite rereads mental shelf for years and years, I would have probably given it a B.