Literature / The Demolished Man

Alfred Bester's other famous novel besides The Stars My Destination, The Demolished Man is a Reverse Whodunnit centering on Ben Reich's attempt to get away with the murder of a hated business rival and the efforts of Esper policeman Lincoln Powell to prove his guilt. The novel heavily inspired the psychic police of Babylon 5, although the ones in the novel are by far more benevolent. The name of the author was used for the PsiCop character played by Walter Koenig, along with possibly the Death of Personality inspired from "Demolition", the "what do you want?" question by Morden, and an Ear Worm being used to block telepathic scanning.

Also, it was the first winner of a Hugo Award.

Contains examples of:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Reich, to Jerry Church: "What do you want?"
  • Benevolent Boss / Nice to the Waiter: Reich makes a conscious effort to be well liked by his employees due to a wish to avoid enemies. Thus, its not really a Pet the Dog for him.
    • Particularly since it doesn't work; he can charm his servants face-to-face, but behind his back they hate and fear him.
    • It does work for most of his employees, just not on the few he screws. And he actually does want to be nice to everyone, it's just that he's willing to throw people to the dogs if he feels it will help him.
  • Blank Slate
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.
  • Consummate Liar: Reich because of his Ear Worm; Powell might fit as well, as he refers to an aspect of his personality as "Dishonest Abe" which makes him do things like making up outrageous lies and telling them with completely convincing sincerity.
  • Death of Personality: Demolition, performed on Reich in the end. After all, anyone smart enough to plan such a crime would be worth keeping around, with their abilities directed toward healthier goals.
  • Ear Worm: An in-universe example, which Reich uses to protect himself from telepathy.
  • Fantastic Recruitment Drive: There's a scene where the Espers are trying to find undiscovered Espers. There is a line of people moving through an area, and an Esper broadcasts something along the lines of, "If you can hear this, please go through the door on your left."
  • Freudian Excuse: A highly literal example, as Reich murders his (unknown) father on account of psychological hang-ups.
  • Friendly Enemy: Reich and Powell both have great respect for each other, and Powell tells Reich directly that he wants him to be caught and undergo the Heel–Face Brainwashing because there is so much that is admirable about him
  • Future Imperfect: Ear Worm jingles are called "pepsis" but no one can remember why and things from the 20th century are considered ancient if remembered at all.
  • The Future Is Noir: One of the original examples.
  • Heel–Face Brainwashing: What it means to be "demolished", a process of Loss of Identity which at the end of the book happens to Ben Reich. Granted, it's used here as an alternative to capital punishment so it arguably avoids the Family-Unfriendly Aesop that usually comes from this trope.
  • Hero Antagonist: Lincoln Powell.
  • Idiot Ball: Translate the telegraphs at the beginning.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: Names like Wyg&, ¼maine, @kins and S&erson.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: D'Courtney is actually Ben's father and far from being his enemy, actually wanted to make amends for abandoning him, something for which he felt great guilt.
  • Madness Mantra: After a while, Reich's Ear Worm becomes this- essentially, when Espers try to read his mind, even if they can't read particular thoughts, it's quite clear he's having a breakdown.
  • Meaningful Name: Ben Reich. Who, it so happens, is about to, almost without realizing it, start a Fourth Reich of a telepathic master race...
    • Reich does also mean rich in German.
    • It's also possible that Lincoln Powell might be meaningful. Also, Jerry Church if you look at the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Nazis.
    • And, of course, in a Meta way as stated above, the Babylon 5 use of Bester and "Demolition".
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Subverted. Powell claims that telepathy is a dreadful burden, but he's actually feeding his boss a line.
  • Mutant Draft Board: The Espers Guild which is based in part on something like a bar or medical association, especially in the sense of mandating using their powers for beneficial ends, but also dominates the lives of its members, including stipulating that they marry one of their own, since the gift is hereditary.
    • Senior Guild members have to pay almost all of their income to support the Guild, which becomes a plot point when a disgruntled Esper shows Reich how to defeat a mind scan in exchange for support in his campaign to reduce the Esper tithing rate.
  • Noodle Incident: It's possible to make Powell blush by asking him "Who stole the weather?" We never find out why.
  • Painting the Medium: The conversation at the telepath cocktail party, which is represented as lines of dialogue intersecting (and reusing each others' words) in two dimensions. It's referred to as "weaving a pattern."
  • Proto Cyberpunk.
  • Psychic Powers
  • Rousseau Was Right: Powell makes a statement about this at the end, and it drives him throughout the novel. People are good but the barriers between them cause misunderstandings. That's why he wants to catch Reich and is more appalled at the idea of executing him than brainwashing him. He sees that Reich can be good, and that humanity needs people like him. It's also behind the eugenics program of the Guild — once everyone can read minds they can break down the barriers and live in harmony.
    "Powell peeper....Powell friend."
  • Smug Super: Powell and other Espers fall into this to varying extents, but are fairly benevolent about it as examples go.
  • Society Marches On: Despite the characters stated disconnect from the 20th century, the book is pretty emblematic of the time it was written in respect to gender roles, although Ms. Wyg& clearly has an active sex life which is only complained about when she distracts undercover cops. On the other hand, there is a scene where a black applicant is accepted into the Esper's Guild on account of his latent talent, which suggests that at least their group is meritocratic. Also, the president of the Guild is Asian.
  • The Stars Are Going Out
  • Übermensch: Reich is very clearly on the verge of becoming one, and this is the ultimate reason Powell has to stop him.
  • Unconventional Formatting
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Frab" and "slok" for "fuck" and "shit".
  • Villain Protagonist: Ben Reich.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: Not played for laughs at all here; it's in fact what sets the murder plot into motion.