Sunday, January 27, 2013

In search of Alfred Bester

Two out of print covers for The Demolished Man from

     One of my favorite science fiction novels of all time is The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (absolutely no connection to the atrocious Sylvester Stallone film Demolition Man). Originally published in 1952, it won the very first Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1953.
     The novel takes place in a future society where telepaths dominate most professions, including the police, so it is almost impossible to commit a crime and get away with it. The plot involves a man who kills his business rival and his attempts to get away with it, and the investigation by the telepathic cop assigned to the case. Its an open-mystery, in which the reader knows who the killer is, but there is a deeper mystery, a Man with No Face who haunts the killers dreams even before he plans the murder, and the secret of Demolition, the frequently mentioned and feared -- but not explained until the end -- ultimate punishment for criminals in the society.    
     (A deleted prologue from the magazine version of the book -- along with some short fiction and nonfiction pieces by the author -- may be found in Redemolished: An Alfred Bester Reader.)
     It has been re-published many times, and I assumed it would always be in print. (Its well-known  and well-regarded enough that, for his television series Babylon-5, J. Michael Straczynski named a telepath Bester.) I had a mass market paperback edition from 1983 which I re-read several times. (There was a trade paperback edition from Vintage in 1996 also). When my copy disappeared (probably donated to a library by accident), I thought I could easily find another.
     That was several years ago, and I have yet to find one. (According to, some publisher called Literary Licensing released one in April 2012, but this is apparently a no-frills-but-high-cost edition for libraries or collectors with too much money on their hands; it retails for $31.95 in paperback, and may already be out of stock or even out of print.) 
     I also checked the secondhand bookstores to no avail. (I suspected that others found the book too valuable to sell, but then I checked and found used copies available for as little as 1 cent, plus $3.99 shipping and handling.)
     I suspect part of the reason may be that Alfred Bester died in 1987 and left his estate -- presumably including literary rights -- to his bartender. Then, too, his works (of which there arent that many) may soon be out of copyright and in the public domain, so publishers may be waiting until they don't have to pay for the right to publish it. Or maybe everybody's just forgotten about the book and the author or just doesn't care.
     Bester wasn't just a good writer but also a good raconteur. When he writes autobiographically (in the introductions to his stories in Starlight: The Great Short Fiction of Alfred Bester or in his essay “My Life in Science Fiction”), he is very entertaining. Besides science fiction, he wrote for the comic books, radio and television, and served as an editor/writer for Holiday, a glossy upscale magazine.
     Maybe there will soon be a Library of America edition of his best works (I'd buy it). If not, look for his best books in second hand stores.
Selected works by Alfred Bester (1913-1987):
The Demolished Man
(Literary Licensing, LLC, 2012)

The Stars My Destination
(J. Boylston & Company, Publishers/ibooks, 2011)

Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester
(Vintage, 1997)

Redemolished: An Alfred Bester Reader
(J. Boylston & Company, Publishers/ibooks, 2000


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