Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
I really wanted to like this novel. What with it being included in 9 out of 10 best ever SF novels lists, but I really can't get to like it. I posted something about it in the 'what you're reading' thread, but I'm going to double post it here to stir some debate.

I'm 150 pages into the book, and the only way I can finish it is by forcing myself. It's not that it's badly written. It's sort of an SF noir, but Bester's got nothing on Dashiel Hammett. His style is somewhat dry and only scientific on the surface. Completely unappealing to me. I'm not a big fan of the mystery/noir genre anyway, so that's probably an issue.

I can't really bring myself to care about any of the characters. I keep hoping that both bad guy and good guy get killed so the book will end in a satisfying way for me at least. Maybe Bester wanted the reader to despise both Ben Reich and Lincoln Powell. If that was so, he achieved it.

The SF element throughout the book is not interesting enough to grab me either. OK, it's set in the future, and there's mind-reading going on, interestellar travelling and whatever else, but if you remove all that, it's a boring, formulaic mystery (at least up to this point).

Maybe I'm thrown because the characterization is way too poor. I don't want hard science, I want more imagination getting into play when something potentially exciting like peeping comes into scene. Maybe if he cut out all the psychobabble I'd be more inclined to open up to the whole thing too. That's probably because of the decade it was written in though.

Bester also makes the huge mistake of claiming that both of his main characters are charming and charismatic, and yet he fails to show that in their lines and interactions with others. We have to take his word for it or just reach the conclusion that he's either stupid or his notion of charisma is totally different from ours. If you have a character in your book who's supposed to be the greatest poet ever, you don't dare quoting one o his poems unless YOU, the writer, are the best poet ever.

Anyway, I have way too much stuff waiting to be read, and unless someone tells me that there's a huge reward coming in the next 100 pages, I guess this one's going to slip to the bottom of the TBR stack unfinished.
 

chrispenycate

resident pedantissimo
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
7,223
Location
West Sussex
Now, it must be fourty years since I read it, but I remember enjoying it intensely. So much so that phrases (tenser said the tensor, tension, aprehension and dissention have begun - riff - tension…) have stayed with me.
It's a bit like chess, or go; a game of perfect information. How do you win a game of chess, when your opponent knows everything you do, everything you can do?
But perhaps if I read it now, I wouldn't be so impressed, I can't be sure. I remember being disappointed that Sturgeon's "More than human" didn't live up to my memories, when I picked up second-hand copy. So I can make no promises.
Still, I will fondly remember each Bester I read (yes, even "extro", though it might be difficult for you to understand how anyone could like that)
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
You say you dont want hard science and psychobabble, hehe that covers about 50% of SF genre :p


Okay seriously i would urge you to finish the book before deciding the book isnt something you like. Alot of things can happen in the second half.


Also so this dont happen again. Reaserch carefully the next book like this you read. Dont listen blindly to people opinion about a book. If you found alittle about the book before getting it you can see if its something you can like or not.

Somethings you like to read about and somethings you dont want to read about. There are certain types of SF i dont wanna read so i avoid them.


Im like you im pretty new to genre of SF. I have seen the hard way you cant choose a book blindly on people's opinion or cause the writer is uber famous.
 

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
Yes, I supposed a lot of my disappointment has to do with taste and age (both mine and the book's). But doesn't any of my gripes ring true with anyone?

Maybe if I try another one of Bester's books.... Is any other of his that's radically different from this one?
 

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
You say you dont want hard science and psychobabble, hehe that covers about 50% of SF genre :p


Okay seriously i would urge you to finish the book before deciding the book isnt something you like. Alot of things can happen in the second half.


Also so this dont happen again. Reaserch carefully the next book like this you read. Dont listen blindly to people opinion about a book. If you found alittle about the book before getting it you can see if its something you can like or not.

Somethings you like to read about and somethings you dont want to read about. There are certain types of SF i dont wanna read so i avoid them.


Im like you im pretty new to genre of SF. I have seen the hard way you cant choose a book blindly on people's opinion or cause the writer is uber famous.
Yes, I did research it before deciding to get the book. I'm trying to achieve SF literacy by reading all works that I see mentioned often as classics. I'm trying to at least sample all subgenres before I decide what I like best. When I said 'I don't want' hard SF, I meant I wasn't expecting it, and I don't really care for the science anyway, it's the fiction part I'm more interested in.
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
It depends on what kind of SF you want. What kind do you like?

That what i did. I went after the type of SF i wanted to read. That way you see what you like and what you dont like. Its better than going after books based on only the books fame.

The Stars My Destination
http://www.sfsite.com/03a/smd99.htm

In that link you can see what its about. I think its suppose to be his best.

Read the review and see if that type of story is for you or not.


The age of a book doesnt really matter, you have to see the book as what it is and not how old it is. I have enjoyed reading SF books written in the 40's and my age(25) and the books age had nothing to do with it. I have also read SF written in 2000's and hated it If its a good story you dont even think about its age.


EDIT: This post is a reply to your first post. But also to the post above me cause you say you looked after SF books seen as classics and i said in this post its better to go by types of SF or subgenres rather than only by the books fame as classics. Dont get me wrong i read alot of classics but i try first the types i know i will like. That way you will find authors that are good no matter what kind of SF they write.
 

iansales

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 8, 2006
Messages
3,447
I have to confess I don't like The Demolished Man either. I think The Stars My Destination is excellent, but The Demolished Man didn't impress me at all. Too contrived, unconvincing, and dated.

(Um, since I too hated TDM, but greatly enjoyed TSMD, then perhaps it's worth trying the latter, as Connavar suggests.)
 

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
It depends on what kind of SF you want. What kind do you like?

That what i did. I went after the type of SF i wanted to read. That way you see what you like and what you dont like. Its better than going after books based on only the books fame.

The Stars My Destination
http://www.sfsite.com/03a/smd99.htm

In that link you can see what its about. I think its suppose to be his best.

Read the review and see if that type of story is for you or not.


The age of a book doesnt really matter, you have to see the book as what it is and not how old it is. I have enjoyed reading SF books written in the 40's and my age(25) and the books age had nothing to do with it. I have also read SF written in 2000's and hated it If its a good story you dont even think about its age.


EDIT: This post is a reply to your first post. But also to the post above me cause you say you looked after SF books seen as classics and i said in this post its better to go by types of SF or subgenres rather than only by the books fame as classics. Dont get me wrong i read alot of classics but i try first the types i know i will like. That way you will find authors that are good no matter what kind of SF they write.
You can't judge a book only for what it is. It isn't something that came to being out of thin air. It's created under the influence of the writer's time. When you judge a book, you can't help but judge its author too, and, why not, a whole genre. When analyzing Bester's work, I took into consideration that the psychobabble was fashionable at the time, and tried to accomodate that fact, but still it bothers me because I hate it too much to let it slip.

By the age of the book I meant this particular book hasn't aged well in many aspects. Yes, there are punch cards in huge filecases, and Reich has to wait hours to get a reply on a business message that would probably be relayed in a milisecond today, but that's not really what bothers me about dated SF. It's the socio-historical aspect that I'm always hanging on. I can't help it. I can't help but notice that most of Bester's women in this book are just waiting for men to get in their panties. I can't help but notice that this happens a lot in SF of that time, like in Heinlein's work. That and many other minute details add up to something I can't get over.

Anyway, I suppose, as someone famous said, the best age for SF is thirteen. I'm a little past that, so sometimes it's hard to stop being critical and just enjoy it.

As for what I like, I'm still making up my mind in this genre. I want to read all I can before avoiding any subgenre altogether. One thing I know is this is the second 'classic' I can't really get into so far, the first being Sir Arthur's Rendezvous with Rama.
 
Last edited:

Ian Whates

Author and Editor
Joined
Sep 8, 2006
Messages
1,613
I'll also add my strong endorsement to those singing the praises of Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination).

This was the first Bester I read, many years ago, and it completely 'wowed' me. I know that The Demolished Man is generally held in equally high regard and that the two are often hailed as the author's best work, but have to confess that I never found it as engrossing as either Tiger! Tiger! (TSMD's original title, inspired by Blake's poem "The Tyger") or Bester's many outstanding short stories.

The central protagonist, Gully Foyle, rocks! :)
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
Anyway, I supposed, as someone famous said, the best age for SF is thirteen. I'm a little past that, so sometimes it's hard to stop being critical and just enjoy it.
Haha who said that?


What do you do stop reading SF when you turn 14 :p


Sorry but that sound crazy to me. I dont think anyone of the SF fans in these forums has been 13 for many years.

You dont have to stop being critical to enjoy SF. Maybe this book was just wrong choice for you. Dont think less of old SF just cause of one book. There is a reason its called Golden Age of SF.

This is exactly what i tried saying. Its not a smart move getting classics and expecting to be blown away no matter what type of story it is.
 

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
I actually expect to be blown whenever I start reading any book. I DEMAND to be, as I have paid to gain access to what's written in there. When it falls short of that, I'm disappointed to varying extents. But when it's good enough, I'm elated.

I won't stop reading SF, of course. I just won't be re-reading this particular book, probably.

But yes, as per everyone's exortations, I'm going to check out The Stars My Destionation. I had already planned to.
 

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
So I finished the book, and I'm glad I did. I would have missed the best part if I didn't, which was when Reich was tricked into believing the whole world was disappearing, and he was left alone with the man with no face. I really liked that part. Too bad it then goes back to how it was before when Powell comes back in the scene. The last bit when he explains in minute detail how he 'brilliantly' tricked Reich nearly made me sick. This is amazing, I don't feel sorry for Ben Reich at all, I couldn't care less if he got demolished or ruled the world, but I'd really like to kick Lincoln Powell's head in. Some hero.
 

Anthony G Williams

Greybeard
Joined
Apr 18, 2007
Messages
1,225
Location
UK
I'll also add my strong endorsement to those singing the praises of Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination).

This was the first Bester I read, many years ago, and it completely 'wowed' me. I know that The Demolished Man is generally held in equally high regard and that the two are often hailed as the author's best work, but have to confess that I never found it as engrossing as either Tiger! Tiger! (TSMD's original title, inspired by Blake's poem "The Tyger") or Bester's many outstanding short stories.
Same here. TSMD is one of SF's all-time classics and probably my favourite SF novel, ever. TDM was OK but it hasn't survived the occasional culls of my book collection.
 

Triceratops

ChrisStevenson
Joined
Nov 1, 2006
Messages
324
Location
Sylvania, Alabama
Gosh, I think it's been 20 years since I read Demolished Man but I do remember I enjoyed it entirely--the title stuck to me like glue.

Funny, and I'll burn for this one--I could not wrap my teeth around Ender's Game. Nup. Not buying it. Might have been a great idea decades ago, but didn't do anything for me--kids bouncin' off walls in nul grav for 280 pages.

tri
 

Addy

Win awards!
Joined
Jun 6, 2007
Messages
352
I think Ender's Game has much better plot development and characterization than The Demolished Man, not to mention a much more interesting twist in the end. Card was also much better able to keep my attention than Bester. I really felt something for the characters whereas in Bester's book I was thoroughly untouched. I couldn't wait to get to the good part, which was very short.
 

gully_foyle

Here kitty kitty kitty!
Joined
Feb 1, 2007
Messages
1,257
Location
Brisbane, Queensland
The central protagonist, Gully Foyle, rocks! :)
Thanks Ian.

I enjoyed The Demolished Man, though the plot holes were pretty cavernous. I don't think the characters were as 2D as you suggested, though the annoying egos are a distraction.

Whatever you do, don't read Golem 100, it ended up on the bottom of my TBR unfinished stack (and it's a pretty big stack).
 

Fried Egg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2006
Messages
3,496
I've just finished reading "The Demolished Man" and reading back through this thread, wow, I'm surprised on how negative people's reactions to this book were and how badly dated some people thought it was.

To me it felt fresh and exciting and (in most respects) very modern. I would say it could have been written recently only they don't write SF that good any more (in my admittedly somewhat limited experience). I thought the two central characters, especially Ben Reich, were deeply fascinating and while they were not really the sort of people you could empathise with, I definitely cared about what happened. I found myself feeling torn between rooting for Reich and hoping he would get caught.

In some ways it did feel a little dated, true. What was most noticeable for me was it's treatment of the female characters which I found particularly old fashioned. But given this is around sixty years old, I think it comes off rather well, especially contrasting this with other books of the time I have read. This would come high up my list of classic SF that has dated well.

I would also depart with most people here in saying I preferred it to "The Star's my Destination". While I liked that book a lot too, it didn't blow me away as much as this one did. A masterpiece in my opinion, well deserving of it's place in the SF Masterworks series.
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,886
Nice to see someone else who came away with a much more favorable impression than I usually encounter. For me, the two are about on a level, though in different ways. (The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for Bester's later novels. Each has its points, but none are truly satisfactory.) I also think The Demolished Man is one which takes on greater (or perhaps, more accurately, different) dimensions with rereadings.

At any rate, to me it is a sterling example of the possibilities of sf in many ways, and I would agree that it deserves its reputation as a masterpiece of the genre.
 

eternalmetal

Member
Joined
Aug 31, 2012
Messages
12
I thought The Demolished Man was a fantastic read. While I didnt particularly 'like' any of the characters, the insight into their feelings and desires was fleshed out in a very intriguing way. Very thought provoking with lots of interesting concepts of the future and telepathy. I dont mind it when books have dated ideas in them, so the way in which Bester portrays women or technology doesnt really bother me; actually I find it more interesting to consider the book in the context of the year it was written than to expect any book to be completely timeless.

Personally id have to jump on the TSMD bandwagon simply because I found it to be a little bit more enjoyable to read and had better conceptual flair, even if TMD was a bit more thought provoking.
 

Similar threads


Top