29 June 2010

59. The Demolished Man

The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester

This may be the most enjoyable science fiction novel I have ever read. I loved it.

It was published in 1953 and was the winner of the first Hugo Award.

The year is 2301. There are no guns. There is no crime. There has not been a murder for 76 years. All this is accomplished through the use of telepaths ("Espers" or "peepers") who can read the minds of the population and detect intent to commit crimes before the events occur. The crimes are stopped before they are commited.

One man changes that. He is the richest businessman in the galaxy and only has one real competitor. He wants to own it all and will go to any lengths to accomplish this...including murdering his rival.

The story unfolds across a wide variety of places. Mostly New York City on Earth (Terra), but also Mars, Venus, Jupiter's moons, and a wildlife sanctuary built on an asteroid. The world in which these folks live is similar to what we have today, but is different in many ways. Personal cars that fly ("jumpers") for instance. Rockets to far away planets take off regularly from Idlewild (now JFK airport). They even use "computors". Interesting, since in 1951 they did not have such things available to all but governments and such.

The world of Terra, where most of the story takes place, was wonderful. It was a post nuclear war world, but the devastation had limited areas. it was still inhabitable. New York City contained large old homes and a devastated city area that has been taken over by an underworld dealing in whatever people needed. The society where the use of psychics is so prevelant was interesting also. The way Mr. Bester built this universe in order to tell the story was believable and sounds like it could actually happen in 300 years.

The characters were excellent. I especially liked Ben Reich (the businessman), Gus Tate (a peeper psychiatrist that runs interference for Ben), Lincoln Powell (police prefect peeper), and Duffy Wyg& (yes, written that way)

Some of the writing itself was different. Names like @tkins, Wyg&, and others stood out as something I had not seen before. The authors technique for writing what the Espers were communicating without speech was also interesting, even if it was difficult to read it with any semblance of understanding. These "styles" were called "graphologic deviations".

The book is science fiction but was not so far out there that it felt impossible. Maybe it did feel that way in 1951. We have come a long way since then. Maybe what felt totally fictional then feels reachable today.

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