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At the dawn of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Alfred Bester--who as a comic book writer created the original Green Lantern Oath and such supervillains as Solomon Grundy--wrote two of the seminal works of the genre and then pretty much retired from the scene.  His first, The Demolished Man, won the inaugural Hugo Award in 1953.  It posits a future where a significant number of humans have developed extrasensory perception.  Known as "peepers" and organized into their own Guild, they have become invaluable in business intrigues and, working within the police force, have nearly eliminated serious crime--there has not been a premeditated murder in 70 years.

So when Ben Reich, the non-peeper mogul who runs Monarch Utilities & Resources, decides to eliminate his rival, Craye D'Courtney, he faces formidable odds.  In order to cloud the perceptions of the "ESPers", he recruits Augustus Tate (1st Class ESPer) who can identify rivals and interfere with the less skilled.  Reich also purchases a jingle which when recited mentally will make his thoughts harder to read.  And he purchases an ancient weapon, a gun, from Jerry Church, a former peeper who has been shunned by his fellow ESPers after participating in an earlier scheme of Reich's.  He confronts and murders D'Courtney at Maria Beaumont's town house party, but the crime is witnessed by D'Courtney's daughter Barbara, who runs out of the house and disappears.   Lincoln Powell, Esper First Class and Prefect of the Police Psychotic Division, is called in to investigate and quickly determines that Reich is the culprit, but must convince the District Attorney to prosecute and the DA just happens to be Old Man Mose, a computer which makes completely rational decisions based on the evidence.  The problem is that Mose refuses because some irrational elements have snuck into the case--it does not appear to be murder for profit after all.  What is the hidden reason for Ben Reich's crime?  Lincoln Powell has to know, but to his surprise discovers that even Reich doesn't really understand his own motivation.  And who is The Man With No Face?

Bester cagily took the elements of a traditional murder mystery and added futuristic touches.  But even more importantly he cadged several themes from the Western Canon.  The story is easily understood to be rooted in Greek drama, but the more interesting source is Crime and Punishment (see Orrin's review).  Ben Reich, like Raskalnikov, feels himself to above petty morality.  As he tells Powell:

    Ben Reich: We don't play girl's rules.  We play for keeps, both of us.  It's the cowards and
    weaklings and sore-losers who hide behind rules and fair play.

    Lincoln Powell: What about honor and ethics?

    Reich:  We've got honor in us, but it's our own code...not the make-believe rules some frightened
    little man wrote for the rest of the frightened little men.  Every man's got his own honor and ethics,
    and so long as he sticks to 'em, who's anybody else to point the finger?  You may not like his ethics,
    but you've no right to call him unethical.

These classic overtones helped to give added intellectual heft to what might have been merely one more entry in an essentially pulp fiction medium.  Some of it is a little clunky now--the Freudian motivations ring especially hollow--but it's easy to see why it would have been so important to the field of Science Fiction when it was written.  Borrowing from the classics, Bester himself created a Classic.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Alfred Bester (2 books reviewed)
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Book-related and General Links:
    -"the iddividual"--An Alfred Bester Website
    -Authors : B : Alfred Bester (Steampunk)
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY: (Fantastic Fiction)
    -LINKS: Lycos Fiction Guide: Bester, Alfred
    -SYNOPSIS: Stars My Destination (Preliminary Script Treatment) by Alfred Bester (Synopsis by Claude Needham)
    -ETEXT: The Demolished Man
    -EXCERPT : An excerpt from The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
    -BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY: Alfred Bester    (Ryan Farinha)
    -ESSAY: Alfred Bester   The Pi Man
    -REVIEW: of The Stars My Destination (Hemos, Slashdot)
    -REVIEW : of Stars My Destination (Jade Mountain)
    -REVIEW : of Stars My Destination (Ellen D. Micheletti, All About Romance)
    -REVIEWS : of Stars My Destination (Epinions)
    -REVIEW: of PSYCHOSHOP by Alfred Bester & Roger Zelazny (Steven Silver Reviews)

    -TIMELINE 1950-1960 (The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide)