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The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 30, 2014

Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 16/12/2012

Publisher – Hachette; Year of Publication – 1953; Pages – 250; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 350

Ben Reich is a man on a mission; a mission of murder. Unfortunately he lives in a world where telepaths can absorb even the slightest bit of murderous rage from your mind. It is difficult to commit murder when the target has telepathic bodyguards to protect him. “The Demolished Man” is the story of how Reich plots an improbable murder and attempts to get away with it.

Set in a futuristic universe, the novel has Reich as the head of a struggling corporate cartel planning to take out his main rival, Craye D’Courtney. With peepers (people who peep into other people’s minds) on the lookout for criminals, it is difficult for anyone, even someone with vast resources like Reich, to commit a crime. In his aid is an ancient family guide to commit crime leaving no trace, not even a smoking gun, behind.

Written in 1953, when futuristic novels were still a rarity, “The Demolished Man” progresses into a psychotic nightmare, mixing dementia and telepathy to create an explosive cocktail of craziness. What appears to be a run-of-the-mill crime novel in the beginning goes on a perennial high as the author brings in psychosomatic traits. The author explores many psychological issues ranging from paranoia to oedipal complex to complicate the storyline, but keeps the reader hooked.

The story is at its most intriguing during the interplay between Reich and Powell (a telepathic cop chasing down Reich). Powell, like any good private detective, is able to instinctively identify the culprit, despite the obvious lack of physical evidence. The second half of the storyline has Powell trace out the path of the criminal and still remarkably get lost in the way, as the author slowly reveals the demented state of the plot.

On the whole, the book is an interesting read though the plot fizzles out towards the end as it gets mixed up with philosophical gobbledygook. The only saving grace for the ending is the act of demolition, the punishment for murder in this futuristic world; about which details are withheld till the end. While spoken of in infrequent whispers as the crime is plotted, the punishment of demolition gives the impression of being of a horrific nature unlike the contemporary capital punishment. In line with the overall theme of the novel, the act of demolition raises a few eyebrows about crime and punishment.


One Response to “The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester”

  1. […] 38)  The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman – Published on 08/12/2012 39)  The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester – Published on 16/12/2012 40)  Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K Dick – Published on 22/12/2012 41) […]

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