• A Standalone Novel
  • First Published in 1953
  • Reprinted under the Gollancz SF Masterworks banner
  • A violent SF thriller
  • 250 pages

With telepathic law enforcement, violent crime should be impossible. But death always finds a way, and one man’s journey into violence could spell disaster for all involved . . .

The Demolished Man holds a special place in the science fiction canon. As this SF Masterwork edition proudly boasts, it was the first novel to win a Hugo Award, which even now is one of the most coveted literary awards in the science fiction community. That sort of reputation is enough to make me sit up and take notice. And then there’s the premise of the book, which promises a fraught battle of wits between a would-be murderer and the telepathic police force determined to stop him. Though The Demolished Man came out well beforehand, there are shades of Minority Report in that summary, and I was intrigued.

To give Bester credit, the ideas in this book are great. A considerable amount of thought has gone into the espers (Extra Sensory Perception-ers) who make up the police force. Bester has clearly thought long and hard about the way these abilities would change law enforcement, and how they might conceivably alter society as a whole. When I could follow the plot, it was indeed exciting and tense. But as with Bester’s other work, those moments of beinga ble to follow what was going on were not as extended as I would have liked them to be. The ideas are great, but the execution is a distaster.

In general, I find Bester’s prose difficult to get into. This is one of those quibbles I have with a handful of authors, but one that I can’t pinpoint precisely. Something about the way he strings a sentence together just makes my brain glaze over. That’s a matter of personal taste, of course, and it’s hard to fault Bester for my own interests in terms of prose. Where I find it easier to fault the man is in his more bizarre stylistic choices. Any other author would have called a man Atkins. Not Bester, he calls him @kins. Likewise, Quartermain becomes 1/4main. Clever little jokes, for sure, but the shorthand writing pulls me out of the writing every time, breaking up the flow of the writing every time it starts to form. And that’s far from the worst of it.

Entire pages of this book are almost impossible to read. Paragraphs drift across the page like leaves on the wind, making iot impossible to tell which order to read them in. In one case a poem must be read by reading down the left hand side of the page, up the righ, and finally across the middle. In another, words fall out the neat lines of print for no discernable reason. Ampersands abound and words are struck through or printed in gothic fonts. It is absolutely infuriating to read, and sucks any remaining joy out of the book, whatever Bester’s final claims about joy returning might be.

In short, The Demolished Man is a book I simply cannot reccommend, and proves that even an institution as venerable as the Hugo Awards can get off to a rocky start.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

More by Alfred Bester
The Stars My Destination

More books about telepathy
Blindfold, by Kevin J. Anderson
Mutant!, by Henry Kuttner

4 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester”

  1. James Farson Avatar

    I really enjoyed it, but I read it when I was younger and had a higher tolerance for typographical inventiveness. Have you read The Stars My Destination? I think it shades Demolished Man and is another one of those novels that’s worth looking at because all your favourite SF writers read it when they were kids.


    1. Alex Hormann Avatar

      I read The Stars My Destination earlier this year. Preferred it to Demolished Man, but overall I’m just not fond of Bester’s writing style


      1. James Farson Avatar

        Hey if you don’t like it you don’t like it 🙂


  2. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: December 2022 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester […]


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