(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Alfred Bester won the first Hugo Award in 1953 for The Demolished Man. Bester had published numerous short stories prior to this book, his first novel and generally considered to be his best. The quality of the book is attested by the fact that it has held up for more than forty years as a fascinating study of the human mind, of psychic and psychological detective methods, and of the intricacies of human relationships. It is especially effective in its study of the ways in which the Espers relate to one another and to society.

Powell, for example, has a private house rather than the standard apartment. This is not because of his superior economic means. Esper 1’s must have private residences because they are bombarded by the thoughts of others in small, poorly insulated apartments, and they must have privacy to maintain their sanity. Being an Esper is a decidedly mixed blessing. Insight into the thoughts of others is a gift, but that gift is received whether one chooses it or not, and Espers cannot avoid knowing things that they might rather not know. Early in the book, Bester describes the dialogue at a party. It is presented typographically to show that strains of the conversation intertwine because the Espers at the party can both hear spoken conversation and understand the unspoken thoughts behind it. They also play a game of creating word patterns, much like poems but with visual aspects, in their minds for others to perceive.


(The entire section is 500 words.)