PAPERBACK ORGY: The Demolished Man (1953)

Welcome to the paperback orgy, where I ramble about old sci-fi novels in the guise of criticism. In the first installment I rapped about Robert Sheckley’s 1956 comic look at body snatching, Immortality Inc. While that one was nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel (basically the Academy Award of sci-fi literature), this week’s novel won it. Not only that, but it won the very first Hugo ever. I speak of Alfred Bester’s 1953 puzzlebox, The Demolished Man. It’s notable for winning the inaugural Hugo, but in my opinion it’s even more remarkable to note that the novel has NEVER been adapted into a film. For such a landmark sci-fi novel   (one that has it’s share of suspense and action sequences that would lend itself to film) to never get the Hollywood treatment is nothing but a miracle. That’s not to say people haven’t tried, but I’ll get to that later. First, take off your pants and let’s rap about the almighty Demolished Man.

“It’s lucky for the world I’m willing to stop at one murder. Together we could rape the universe.”

Preceding the publication of Philip K. Dick’s novella Minority Report by three years, The Demolished Man is also about a world where crime has been made obsolete with the help of people possessing outstanding psychic abilities. Set in the 24th century, a murder hasn’t happened in over 70 years thanks to “peepers”, mind-readers who can sense a persons intentions before they act. As you can guess, the police force is peppered with peeepers, as well as other upper class jobs like business advisers, lawyers, therapists, etc.

Inter-planetary corporations are booming, but for businessman Ben Reich, success isn’t coming easy. Reich’s the owner of Monarch Utilities & Resources, a commercial cartel that’s on the verge of bankruptcy. His cartel’s economic pains are causing Reich to have recurring nightmares of someone his therapist dubbed The Man With No Face – because, well, he has no face.

Reich’s chief competitor is the D’Courtney Cartel, headed by aging Craye D’Courtney. On his last legs, Reich sends Craye a coded proposition of merging their two powerful cartels. When Craye declines (or does he?), Reich sees no choice but to kill the man and destroy the D’Courtney Cartel. With the aid of a greedy Esper who can run sort of a mental interference on anyone trying to get into Reich’s head, Reich managers to pull off the perfect murder at a party attended by Craye.

The remainder of the novel takes a pseudo-police procedural approach. Police Prefect and Esper First Class Lincoln Powell, a ruthless and highly gifted Esper, takes the case and pursues Reich through much of the Solar System.

There’s a great amount of ideas presented by Bester covering a range of topics such as perception, applying mathematics to the way we think, and putting too much power in the hands of authority figures. Math and cops = gross! But honestly, it’s a novel of beefy ideas that reads just as prophetic today as it most certainly did in 1953. Bester manages to make most contemporary sci-fi authors look like dinosaurs. He passed away in 1987.

Here’s some terrific tributes to Bester I found on something called Wikipedia:

Firefly: Many of the names of off-camera and minor characters are drawn from the ranks of science fiction writers. Notably, Bester as the original mechanic of Serenity.

- Lisey’s Story  — Stephen King’s character Scott Landon makes reference to Bester when making a dedication to a new library, saying: “This one’s for Alfie Bester, and if you haven’t read him, you ought to be ashamed!”

- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz draws heavily on themes from The Demolished Man and incorporates the Man with No Face throughout the novel.

- From The Simpsons Episode “Lisa’s Substitute”, Springfield Elementary student, Martin, campaigning for class president:

Martin: As your president, I would demand a science-fiction library, featuring an ABC of the overlords of the genre: Asimov, Bester, Clarke!
Kid: What about Ray Bradbury?
Martin: (dismissively) I’m aware of his work.