No. 4: The Demolished Man


We've reached my first actual awarded-at-the-time Hugo award winner--1953's The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester.

Elevator Pitch Summary: Look, it's basically Crime and Punishment in space, with a little more detective business and a little less of the endearing weirdness of Dostoevsky's characters.

What I Like: This book is immensely fascinating and immensely frustrating, and I love it. I love the perfect crime story (I'm a sucker for detective stories, so that was always a given). I love the society of telepaths and how it's worked out (actually, I love the society in general--a wonderful mess). I love the detective character (mostly--caveat below). I love the way the mysteries are juggled. I love the final confrontation with Reich. I love the concept of demolition.

I just really love a lot about this novel. It's tightly written, exciting, with a lot of great concepts. As every good detective story should it has a detective who is excessively brilliant but not offensively so. It evokes a vivid social order, whether or not all of the parts are worked out to the nth degree. It tackles some ambitious stuff.

What I Don't Like: The ending, basically. I was intensely, intensely frustrated by the conclusion to the mystery. Some of this is perhaps a reflection of changing times: pseudo-Freudian solutions just don't carry too much punch here in 2015. I wanted something more tied to the lore of the world (no, the tying-in that was done wasn't sufficient for me), something that would have made it all feel significant. Something that carried the moral weight of Raskolnikov's motivations in Crime and Punishment, you know? Though maybe there's something in there about Bester's moral vision vs. Dostoevsky's. I can't say without reading more Bester (which I may do after this project is complete).

(Tangentially, I really really really did not like--cannot overemphasize--the romance between the detective and another character that I won't detail for spoilery reasons. There was this weird age thing going on that was very uncomfortable.)

I also felt that the philosophical questions raised weren't really satisfactorily explored in the conclusion. The wrap-up conversations seemed pat, and rather hurried--I would have liked to see more dialogue between ideas. I would have liked to see more attention given to the demolition process--it's in the title, it's alluded to throughout the book, and it seemed to have been tacked on at the end. I think, had Bester consulted me, I (in my doubtless infinite sagacity) would have told him to write a few more chapters--a leisurely denouement is no weakness if it covers interesting ground.

On the other hand, I guess that also parallels Dostoevsky's disorientingly brief denouement, so...

Extra Thoughts: Along with looking back to Crime and Punishment (has someone done a critical essay? Surely someone has done a critical essay), in some ways I feel like this future society looks forward to the feel of the busy, corrupt world of Neuromancer, some three decades later. I don't know. I haven't thought this out fully, but I feel like they're of the same kidney.

My Recommendation: Yes, absolutely, read it. You may be frustrated, but also fascinated. Though be warned that, as noted, there is that one relationship that is really uncomfortable.

Hugo-Worthy?: I can believe that this was a best-of for that year.

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