30 July 2018

Hugos 1953: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Trade paperback, 250 pages
Published 1999 (originally 1952)
Acquired August 2017
Read September 2017
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

While voting in the 2017 Hugo Awards, I became cognizant of how many past Hugo winners I actually haven't read. And so I resolved that whenever I vote in the Hugos, I will pick up one old winner of Best Novel that I haven't read before. (This means that I will finish in 2053 if everything goes to plan! And that doesn't even count the Retro Hugos. Um...) My first stop is thus the first book to ever win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, back in 1953, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man.

The first third or so of the novel is definitely the best part: how do you commit murder in a society where telepaths comprise a significant portion of the population? Bester has fun both devising a society with a high prevalence of telepathy and showing a criminal mind work out ways to subvert this. It's enjoyable stuff, sort of like those Asimov puzzle stories, but Bester's writing has got more of a hard edge to it, doing some interesting stuff with narrative style and slang and future culture.

After the murder happens, focus switches to the telepathic detective trying to bring the murderer in, and this is pretty good, though not as good as what went before. The final part, though, where it all pulls together, is pretty so-so, with too much psychobabble and a very predictable Freudian twist, plus some weird sex stuff. Still, the first two-thirds of the novel is highly enjoyable, and I'm going to read Bester's The Stars My Destination in short order based on my enjoyment of this undertaking.

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