Review: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester is the first Hugo to win a novel, though not the first Hugo Award winning novel published as several retroactive Hugo Award were given. This story is one that frustrates me because there are a lot of elements of this story that I really like, but I do not like the story itself.

I first tried to read this story fifteen years ago. I was in High School and I found it at the used book store. I remember this because I remember asking what @ meant as it is used in names along with other typographical tricks that distract me more than add to it. I also remember that I did not finish this book. As I reached the halfway point of this book again I remembered why I did not finish it and if I were not planning to read all of the Hugo award winning novels I am not certain I would have finished it this time.

The story is actually very simple, though there are some twists. Ben Reich runs a corporation and he is losing a battle against his long time rival Craye D'Courtney. After trying to suggest a merger and failing he decides that the only choice is to kill the man. The difficulty is the esper guild, psychics which are throughout society. In fact due to the Esper guild there has not been a premeditated murder in 70 years because anyone who is abnormal enough to kill someone is going to be seen by a esper.

Most of the story takes place after the murder as the police try to prove who committed the murder. The difficulty for the story is that you know who committed the crime and so unless you are interested in the procedures this looses something. You do learn later that there is more going on but by that time I simply didn't care all that much.

Where the story is interesting for me is the world itself. The Espers feel like a group that could actually exist. This is aided some by the fact that this was clearly the inspiration for the Psi Corps from Babylon 5 (Which is why the name Bester appears in that show). That isn't the only modern science fiction that has used ideas from this. There is a section of this book which feels as if it was an inspiration for the Star Trek episode Remember Me as well as Eureka episode Games People Play. Without giving away too much the basic idea is of the universe shrinking. Finally, the connection to Minority Report is reasonably easy to make if you simply replace thousands of espers with a handful of precogs.

The truth is that I did not really care all that much for this book, but I am still glad I made it through because this is an important part of science fiction history and so if you're interested in the history of science fiction and the origin of the ideas of some of the best stories around this is worth picking up but I'm not sure its something I would recommend for the average reader.