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The Demolished Man    by Alfred Bester order for
Demolished Man
by Alfred Bester
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 1996 (1953)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The author of The Demolished Man (an early SF classic) addresses the question of how to get away with murder in a telepathic society. This is a psychological mystery set in a future in which humanity has moved into the Solar System; ESP (extra sensory perception) is prevalent; but man's desire for power and revenge still corrupts. Bester has written a compelling story of a megalomaniac, his downfall, and of the telepathic policeman who regretfully engineers it.

Ben Reich is a powerful man, head of the vast Monarch corporation, but he is plagued by regular nightmares of 'The Man With No Face'. He has an Esper psychiatrist on retainer, but even this 'peeper' cannot help because Reich is attempting to suppress 'the face of murder.' Though the bad guy, Reich is likeable in many ways, and this is enhanced by the fact that the reader initially views events from his perspective.

Members of the Esper Guild take a pledge similar to the Hippocratic Oath. If they break it, they are ostracized, a dreaded sentence which forces them to live like 'normals', the telepathic equivalent of being deaf-mute. To further his plans, Reich corrupts a 1st class Esper, one who resents the high tax paid to the Guild for the education of other telepaths. To block mind readers, he infects himself with an incredibly persistent advertising jingle ... 'Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun.'

The hero of the story is Lincoln Powell, talented telepath and charming Police Prefect. He is plagued by an 'enlarged sense of humour', resulting in the emergence of 'Dishonest Abe' who cooks up tall stories from a wild imagination. Powell and his alter ego Abe make an entertaining and highly sympathetic combination. In general, Bester does a remarkable job of handling the ESP element in his characters, showcased by their communication during a party early in the story. In this respect, he set a standard in the 50s, that has not been matched since.

The murder succeeds but the victim's daughter witnesses it and flees. Police and villain race to find her first, and to determine what she knows. It's a great future mystery, with an element of romance, but turns out to be even more significant ... Reich is 'one of those rare World-Shakers whose compulsions might have torn down our society and irrevocably committed us to his own psychotic pattern.' He must be stopped at any cost, and the buck stops with Powell.

The Demolished Man is a must read for any SF fan, and recommended as well to any who appreciates futuristic mysteries. Its author says 'In the endless universe there has been nothing new, nothing different' but I beg to take exception. He imagined a very new and different world evolving towards a time when 'we'll all be mind to mind and heart to heart ...' Don't miss it.

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