Wordy Wednesday – The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
I read this one over the summer. Verdict: I liked it.
But it isn’t as interesting as one of Bester’s other novels, The Stars My Destination.
The world of The Demolished Man is one of peace. There hasn’t been a murder in about seventy years, thanks to the efforts of psychics (called espers or peepers). If you’re walking down the street, a psychic can pick up on your thoughts and maybe find out that you’ve got a little bit of murder planned. He’ll follow you, or get other psychics to follow you, until your murderous intent is fully uncovered.
Then you go to prison – or you get mindwiped, which is called Demolition.
So what happens when a wealthy man, his business failing, tries to form a merger with his main competitor and is rejected? Why, it’s time for some good old fashioned murderin’!
Ben Reich knows what he’s doing. The first thing he does is go to one of his employees, a woman who makes up jingles for products, and has her make a little repetitive song that he can use to block out psychic prying. Then, since he has a whole cartel of corporations under him, he finds himself some flashbombs to stun anyone guarding his target.
The book is almost a murder mystery, except we see the murderer plan his every step, and then carry them out. Afterwards, we switch over to the point of view of the top-level psychic investigator, Lincoln Powell, as he tracks the movements of Reich. So we get to see the murder planned and committed, and then slowly unraveled.
Oh, and Reich is plagued by nightmares. A Faceless Man hunts him in his dreams, and it seems as though no one can explain why.
I though this might be a drag on the book, but it wasn’t. Bester keeps the action moving at a good pace, and even if we know the answers, it’s fun to see how Powell tries to trap Reich and how Reich evades him. There’s a lot of political maneuvering, but all of it stays interesting.
We eventually begin to learn that Reich might be the focal point for a dramatic shift in society. If he gets away with murder, it would prove that the system of psychics isn’t totally effective. More and more people would lose faith in the espers, and the world would begin to return to the older days of chaotic, non-psychic regulations. Powell is determined to prevent this; Reich is equally determined to stay a free man.
Can Powell prove that Reich is the murderer in time? Can he, in short, prevent society from backsliding into the past? Because if he can’t, he may be at risk for Demolition himself.
Overall, The Demolished Man was fast-paced, interesting, and well-written. As I said, it’s no The Stars My Destination, which is my favorite by Bester so far (it starts will all of humanity getting to power to teleport with their minds, and then ramps up from there). But I would highly recommend The Demolished Man if you haven’t read it.