Saturday, December 16, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester was an American science fiction writer active from the 1940's to the 1980's. His best work came in the 1950's, including the novel, The Demolished Man, which won the very first Hugo award for best science fiction novel. Here's a description of that novel from the SF Encyclopedia:
The Demolished Man tells a story which in synopsis is straightforward: industrialist Ben Reich commits murder (in a society where murder is almost unknown because Telepathy-using Espers can either detect the idea before the act is carried out or subsequently read the perpetrator's guilt), almost gets away with it, is ultimately caught by Esper detective Linc Powell, and is committed to curative brainwashing, "demolition". It is the pace, the staccato style, the passion and the pyrotechnics that make the novel extraordinary. The future society is evoked in marvellously hard-edged details; the hero is a driven, resourceful man whose obsessions are explained in Freudian terms that might seem too glib if they were given straight, but are evoked with the same New Yorker's painful, ironic scepticism that informs the whole novel. 
The novel, The Stars My Destination, is also fantastic as are his short stories. Bester's stylish and sophisticated prose was quite revolutionary at the time and it was often said of him that he helped science fiction "grow up". Bester all in all was quite a character as shown by this excerpt from his memoirs, where he encounters the great SF magazine editor John W. Campbell, Jr. and gets a bit more than he bargained for, including a lecture on Dianetics:
I wrote a few stories for Astounding, and out of that came my one demented meeting with the great John W. Campbell, Jr. I needn’t preface this account with the reminder that I worshipped Campbell from afar… I sent off another story to Campbell, one which no show would let me tackle. The title was “Oddy and Id” and the concept was Freudian… Campbell telephoned me a week later to say that he liked the story but wanted to discuss a few changes with me. Would I come to his office?….
Campbell arose from his desk and shook hands. I’m a fairly big guy but he looked enormous to me, about the size of a defensive tackle. He was dour and seemed preoccupied by matters of great moment. “You don’t know it,” Campbell said, “you can’t have any way of knowing it, but Freud is finished…”
“Oh come now, Mr. Campbell. Surely you’re joking.”
“I have never been more serious in my life. Freud has been destroyed by one of the greatest discoveries of our time. Dianetics… Come and have lunch.”
We sat down at a small table while he continued to discourse on dianetics, the greatest salvation of the future when the world would at last be cleared of its emotional wounds. Suddenly he stood up and towered over me. “You can drive your memory back to the womb,” he said. “You can do it if you release every block, clear yourself and remember. Try it.”
“Now. Think. Think back. Clear yourself. Remember! You can remember when your mother tried to abort you with a button hook. You’ve never stopped hating her for it.”
Around me there were cries of “BLT down, hold the mayo. Eighty-six on the English. Combo rye, relish. Coffee shake, pick up.” And here was this grim tackle standing over me, practicing dianetics without a license. The scene was so lunatic that I began to tremble with suppressed laughter. I prayed. “Help me out of this, please. Don’t let me laugh in his face. Show me a way out.” God showed me.
Quite a guy. Check his stuff out.. You won't be sorry. 

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