The Demolished Man

The Demolished Man
Alfred Bester, 1953

Premise: Ben Reich, industrialist and CEO is determined to destroy his hated rival D'Courtney. But there hasn't been a  premeditated murder for over seventy years, so he'll have to find a new way to trick the mind-reading Espers working in every level of society. Powell is an Esper 1, an extremely powerful mind-reader working with the police. These two powerful men clash explosively, but it will all come down to the secret of Ben's nightmare nemesis, The Man With No Face. First Novel to win the Hugo Award.

This is a very intriguing book with a weak ending. It's an interesting mesh of a sci-fi world with a very hard noir tone; the style is rooted in that exploitative world of dames and gangsters that no one can really pull off nowadays.

In some ways this is a mystery with no hero or villain; both Reich and Powell act only for their own interests and for what they want out of society. Reich is a lot more murderous, but Powell is no boy scout.

Personally, I found the subplot of Powell's relationships (or lack thereof) with Mary and Barbara distasteful, and that kept me from really warming to the character.

I really enjoyed the way that the Espers communicated, and there are several lovely sections near the beginning where complicated word art on the page tries to imply the intertwining conversations and different nuances that are available in mental speech. Bester apparently coined the term esper (ESP-er) in an earlier short story, and everything to do with the telepathy is interesting to me because of how exploratory it feels. Ben Reich's counter-plotting against the cops is fun to follow as well.

The ending section was dull, though. The revelations were foreshadowed heavily enough that they weren't interesting when they finally came, and some of the explanations for characters' actions made little sense. The explanation for why Powell is so keen on Demolishing Reich is all fluffy language that doesn't seem to say much. I'm sure that when it was written the reveal on "Demolition" would have been new and interesting and creepy, but as it is, it's just silly, dated and obvious.

All that said, up until the end it was an interesting read for an early look at psychic cops. Even if I do think it was awfully convenient for the sake of the length of the plot that 'peeped' (mind-read) evidence wasn't submissible in court.

3 Stars - A Good Book

List of Hugo Award Winners


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