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Literature / The Demolished Man

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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 psychic policeman Lincoln Powell to prove his guilt.

It was the first winner of a Hugo Award.

Contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The plot remains the same in the original magazine version and the novel, but some details (including those listed under I Never Said It Was Poison and Noodle Incident) were added for the novel.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the original magazine version, Reich's company is called Sacrament. In the book it becomes Monarch. Some of the characters' names change, too, such as Preston Powell to Lincoln Powell and ¢try [Sentry] to Graham.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: At one point, Reich needs a favour from Jerry Church, who's in no mood to help after what happened to him the last time helped Reich with a swindle. Reich repeatedly asks Church "What do you want?" until Church has run out of insults to throw at him and submits.
  • As You Know: Near the beginning, Monarch's chief of personnel recapitulates at length the rules of telepathy in the setting — something anybody in 24th-century New York would know, but the readers don't. Reich's secretary hangs a lampshade on it, complaining that everyone knows what he's saying, and would he kindly get to the point?
  • Blank Slate: What it means to be demolished.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Powell, needing to question a witness on Venus, simply asks Mary to call the spaceport and book him a place on the 10am flight.
  • 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.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: The Mass Cathexis Measure, which allows the telepath guild to combine their latent power and channel it through one person. It's dangerous and forbidden because it almost invariably kills that person in the process.
  • 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.
    Eight, sir; seven, sir;
    Six, sir; five, sir;
    Four, sir; three, sir;
    Two, sir; one!
    Tenser, said the Tensor.
    Tenser, said the Tensor.
    Tension, apprehension,
    And dissension have begun.
  • Evil Cripple: The underworld boss Keno Quizzard is blind.
  • 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."
  • Flying Car: Referred to in the text as 'Jumpers'.
  • 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: The central murder, the police investigation, the criminals and lowlifes, the glittering aristocrats, the snappy dialogue.
  • Future Society, Present Values: 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.
  • Genius Thriller: It's very similar to Death Note, one of the Trope Codifiers except the antagonist has the supernatural power instead of the protagonist.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: When Lincoln Powell arrives at the crime scene, Inspector Beck is acting as the Bad Cop so that Powell can be the Good Cop — much to the amusement of Reich's lawyer, who knows them both.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In the original magazine version of the story, the term 'Panty' is frequently used as a shortened version of 'Emotional Pantograph' (a cross between theatre and what today might be called 4D film). The word was wisely dropped from the book version.
  • 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. It's used here as an alternative to capital punishment.
  • Hero Antagonist: Lincoln Powell is the antagonist of the more or less main character, murderer Ben Reich.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Reich, deflecting Powell's questions, lets slip that when Barbara D'Courtney ran off after the murder, she was undressed — something he wouldn't have known unless he'd been present at the murder.
  • Japanese Politeness: In the magazine version, President T'Sung of the Esper Guild speaks in this manner.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: Names like Wyg&, ¼maine, @kins and S&erson. The magazine version also does this to Tate ('T8'), Jackson ('$$son') and Sentry ('¢try'); there's even a reference to "Mark 2ain".
  • 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, when Reich starts breaking down, his Ear Worm becomes this.
  • 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.
  • MegaCorp: Monarch Utilities and Resources (run by Reich) and the D'Courtney Cartel (run by D'Courtney) are both vast concerns with interests all over the Solar System.
  • 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 also have to pay most 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.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Inverted. A lot of extras (like the guests at Maria's party) have names in the magazine version, but not the book.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Reich makes a conscious effort to be well liked by his employees, but secretly feels nothing but annoyance and condescension toward them. In the opening chapters, he's constantly snapping at his employees and then apologizing. This is particularly awkward around his esper employees, who can peep exactly what he really thinks of them.
  • Noodle Incident: It's possible to make Powell blush by asking him "Who stole the weather?" We never find out why.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Powell's police investigation is run on two levels: Rough and Smooth. The intention is that Reich only notices the Rough cops' incompetent antics, and not the Smooth undercover officers doing the actual work. It doesn't work; thanks to Tate's help, Reich is able to counter both investigations.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: The fact that Reich calls his lawyer immediately after the murder points Powell directly at him. Powell tells him as much.
  • Orphaned Punchline: Early in the book, Reich tells an old dirty joke which we don't hear in detail, but the punchline is "I'm just one of the tourists." We later see people getting a laugh by using the same punchline on its own.
  • 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."
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Reich casually refers to Maria's camp social secretaries as "fags".
  • Psi Blast: Basic Neuro-Shock is a newly-developed psychic attack that knocks the target unconscious. Powell implies that it's a technique only taught to top-level Espers.
  • Psychic Powers: The Espers have the ability to read minds, at three different levels depending on ability.
  • 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."
  • Schizo Tech: The computer reference system in Monarch's science division wouldn't look out of place in a 21st-century office — it's a terminal you sit at, taking inputs by keyboard and voice recognition, and outputting using a screen and a synthesized voice. By contrast, the police prosecution computer is a room-sized mainframe that communicates with its operators using only paper tape.
  • Smug Super: Powell and other Espers fall into this to varying extents, but are fairly benevolent about it as examples go.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Towards the end of the book, Reich learns that the police's case against him has collapsed, and there's nothing to stop him taking over the Solar System. In the middle of his Nothing Can Stop Me Now speech, he happens to look at the sky... and the stars have disappeared.
  • Stupid Evil: Ben Reich thinks he's come up with the perfect murder. Powell knows it's him almost immediately. Even without peeping- Ben's the only guest to call a lawyer while everyone else is in shock and knows that Barbara ran off naked. Although, if you take the psychology at the end seriously, this all ties in to his subconscious desire to be punished for the crime. When it looks like the police have failed he tries to kill himself, although not by conscious suicide.
  • That's What I Would Do: Reich guesses that Powell sneaked a look into his mind during his speech in Maria's study, because that's what Reich would have done if the situations were reversed.
  • Übermensch: Reich is very clearly on the verge of becoming one, and this is the ultimate reason Powell has to stop him.
  • Unconventional Formatting: When espers talk to each other, especially when in groups, the formatting becomes very abstract.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Frab" and "slok" for "fuck" and "shit".
  • Villain Protagonist: Ben Reich, the murderer.
  • Wife Husbandry: An accelerated version — as part of her treatment for the trauma she's undergone, Barbara D'Courtney is mentally regressed to childhood and placed in Powell's care. Over the course of the three weeks it takes to regain her adult personality, she falls in love with him.
  • 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.
  • Yes-Man: When Reich is searching for Barbara D'Courtney, one of the lines of inquiry he launches is to try and recruit her as an advertising mascot. As he lays out his "campaign", the only contribution made by the head of Monarch's advertising agency is sycophantic fawning.