Its Vintage Science Fiction Month 2019! I see a lot more participation this year from readers and I am happy about it. I, so far, have only read one novel. I actually cannot guarantee that this is the first time I have read the novel. Its hard to know with some of the more famous older ones. Anyway, I read The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1913 – 1987). The novel was originally published in periodicals in 1952. One of its biggest claims to fame is that it won the first Hugo Award. Now, in the last decade or so, I have read a lot of dissent regarding the Hugo Awards. I have read a few. Some seemed quite deserving of a prized award, others not so much. Having read several novels from the 1950s, I think that this novel is a reasonable and worthy selection for the award. I can see how it was selected.
I read the 1996 hardcover edition by Vintage. I also own the 1970 Signet paperback. Looking at the various covers this novel has seen through the years, I gotta say there is not yet one that really appeals to me.
So the story takes place in the future, but a future that is not marvelously different from our current world. The biggest element is that there are espers – peepers; telepaths who are known to exist and are employed in a variety of jobs in the governmental and corporate worlds. In fact, there is some effort to produce these espers – for example, a peeper has to marry a peeper. There are grooming places where potential peepers are farmed.
This telepathic society is probably what Bester is most known for. It helped that Babylon 5 (TV series, 1993 – 1998) showcase a Psi Corps in which Walter Koenig (Cp. the character Chekhov in Star Trek) plays a Psi Corps commander named “Bester”. In any case, while Alfred Bester did not write a large number of novels, this is the one people seem at ease in recalling.
The storyline is interesting – until its not. It’s good when it’s a page-turning game of cat-and-mouse between two slick characters. Detective versus murderer. But when it moves into the very pseudo-psychological-trippin’ territory, I got bored and uninterested and, frankly, a little lost. And the motive for the killing….well, it was there all along, but I was hoping it wasn’t true because it’s rather lame and unsatisfactory, anyway. Because FREUD. I am thoroughly sick of Freud. But I do wonder a little bit how nifty and edgy authors thought of themselves when they decided to use Freudian concepts in their works. Now it seems ridiculously overdone and tedious and, sometimes, ridiculous. However, its 2019 – I am sure when it was first done it was fresh and novel or a little bit edgy.
The thing is, authors tend to cherry-pick their Freud when it suits their stories. Which is fine, but if they get too in-depth with it all, like in this story, it gets blurry and muddy. It harms their stories – turning them from unique and interesting into sketchy inexact mush. Novelists might like to borrow from Freud, but few of them actually are Freudian, I guess.
Anyway, what is good: I really think the first half of the novel is good stuff. Its fast-paced, there are guns, men-of-action, and cool cats who smooth talk like noir kings. I like the way the game pits the wealthy Reich versus the telepaths. Can money beat “omniscience”? Can telepaths always play by the rules even when it might seem the end justifies any means? Can one man outwit the masses? Can a crime that has allegedly been extinct be committed and gotten away with? These are super fun questions the first half of the book brings us.
The canvassing the scene of the crime is one of my favorite sections in the book. I like the way the telepath detective works with and upon the witnesses/suspects and his fellow investigators. Its well-written and fun.
The bad is when the game of chase changes into a weird Freudian exploration. See, when Freud comes in, it gets bad. So, there are some quite rough parts here where it is really heavy-handed in the psychology arena. And at this point, so much Freudian stuff makes the novel seem really dated and not well-kept.
Also there is hideous love-interest business. Its really awful. I mean, I tried to look at it as optimistically and kindly as I could – I mean, if you speak in Klingon, stand on your head, close one eye, and spin tops – then you may be able to see the small ounce of romanticism in this scenario. However, nowadays and without all that effort, it just comes across as majorly uncomfortable and very weird. In defense of it all – this whole love-arc is couched [sic!] [I had to…sorry!] in a hugely Freudian architecture. So, maybe its not as bad from that perspective.
There’s some good fun science fiction in here. Concepts and methods writers needed to have and build on. But I don’t see a big need for us to return to it. Recommended for the strong readers of vintage science fiction. Readers who dig psychological focus may find something here to enjoy.