Can the award-winning science fiction novels of the past actually still be worth reading several decades later? Do they have messages, technology, and characters that are pertinent in modern society? Have I just been reading rehashed versions of past award-winners? There's only one way to find out...
read and review the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning novels.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester, was first published in book form in 1953, and was the recipient of the first Hugo Award. It's a mystery/crime story set in the 24th century, and for the most part it holds up pretty well today. For some reason, most reprints of the book omit the original introduction, which can be found in the collection "Redemolished"; it sets the stage nicely for the book, and is worth tracking down.

If you watched the TV series Babylon 5, you're familiar with a huge homage to this book--the PsiCorps was obviously lifted, largely intact, from its pages (which is probably the reason behind the name of Walter Koenig's character in the show). Many lesser characters, in print and on film, have been inspired by the author, his major characters, and his novels.

Bester does some spiffy stuff in this book, stylistically, such as using non-standard text layout to depict what a telepathic party might "sound" like to the participants. Although Bester's characters aren't very relatable to me (for some reason, they're all "the best" at whatever career they've chosen rather than being just an everyman), they're all colorful, consistent, and interesting.

For the most part, the novel's future-tech has held up pretty well. The only jarring item I found was a slightly-off envisioning of what would come to be the Walkman/MP3 portable music technologies; the reality would have amazed Bester!

My conclusion: Bester's 2nd novel, The Stars My Destination, uses similar characterization and stylistic quirks, but is more polished and gripping than this Hugo winner. If you're a fan of sci-fi and haven't read anything by this author, you should track down The Stars My Destination as soon as you get the chance. If you like it, it's probably worth following it with The Demolished Man; if you didn't care for TSMD, pass on this one. Rating: 4/5

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