fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Demolished Man by Alfred Bester science fiction book reviewsThe Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

If I had read The Demolished Man back in 1952 when it was first published, I would have given it 5 stars, no question. But in 2014, with 60 years of refinements in the genre, it suffers from some very dated dialogue and characterization, and some really condescending portrayals of women. I’m afraid the present value of the book is 4 stars.

Having said that, The Demolished Man remains an impressively-imagined story of a future society shared by telepaths and normals, and the attempt by wealthy megalomaniac industrialist Ben Reich to stage and get away with murder in a society where the police and many others can read thoughts and memories. It’s an exciting and pulpy adventure, and presages the cyberpunk genre by over 30 years (William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report in particular; they all contain remnants of Bester’s DNA). So it was well deserving of the inaugural Hugo Award, especially when you see the low quality of some of the other nominees and winners back in the early days, most of which have faded from popular memory without a murmur of protest (Has anyone read the next year’s winner They’d Rather Be Right, for example?).

It’s not fair to ridicule how badly aged the future visions of venerable SF authors from the Golden Age can become. Instead, we should consider how much they inspired future generations of genre practitioners, who updated and improved on the early ideas and imbued them with more telling details that resonated with each successive generation. Just like a piece of classical music, its value lies not only in the music itself but its legacy for the works that follow.