I finished reading Alfred Bester's debut science fiction novel THE DEMOLISHED MAN (1953) the other day. I raced through this one at a wicked pace. Of the three vintage science fiction novels I've recently read, including THE NAKED SUN by Isaac Asimov and TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson, this one is far and away the best. Bester was, in my opinion, the best writer of the three and his groundbreaking first novel is both an award winner and a certifiable genre classic.
Originally published in three parts beginning in the January 1952 issue of GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, Bester published the novel in 1953. Bester wanted to title the novel DEMOLITION! but GALAXY editor H.L. Gold talked him out of it. THE DEMOLISHED MAN was the first winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year in 1953.
Like Asimov's NAKED SUN, THE DEMOLISHED MAN is a science fiction/detective novel. In the 24th century, Ben Reich, a wealthy businessman and owner of the immense Monarch Company fears a take-over of his interests by rival businessman Craye D'Courtney. To forestall the take over, Reich plots to murder D'Courtney. But how do you commit a murder in a world in which a percentage of the population are "Espers", that is, mind readers, or "peepers" as they're called in the language of the day. Peepers are classed according to their abilities on a scale from 1 to 3 with Class 1 being the highest.
Reich enlists a Class 1 peeper, Augustus Tate, to run interference for him and to protect him from Police Prefect Lincoln Powell, who is also a Class 1 peeper. Reich commits the audacious crime and soon finds himself on the run with Powell dogging his every move. Reich and Powell engage in an intricate and breathlessly plotted game of cat and mouse, with action occurring in both the physical world as well as the mental. Should Powell finally gather the evidence to convict Reich, Reich faces the horrifying fate of demolition, the details of which are vividly displayed in the books' final chapters.
It's an intriguing concept and Bester executes it beautifully. He plays with language and, in some sections, the way words are laid out on the page to approximate what it's like inside peepers' minds. He creates a fully realized future world populated by a variety of colorful characters, some good, some bad. But he never forgets that he's telling a thrilling, suspenseful detective story. I won't say much more about this terrific book except to say that I loved it. If you're a science fiction fan, THE DEMOLISHED MAN is a must read. If you're a genre novice, this is an excellent place to start.