SF Masterwork of the Week: The Demolished Man

> So. Cyberpunk. That’s a subgenre of science fiction, isn’t it?

Why, yes it is.

> Full of computers and film noir atmosphere and human-technology interfaces and stuff?

That’s the one.

> And it was born in the 1980s, wasn’t it?

Bzzzzzzt. Wrong! Thank you for playing. You leave us with a five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disc that you’ll never be able to use, and a pad of lined paper for you to write out Newton’s statement about standing on the shoulders of giants one hundred times.

Cyberpunk did indeed slap the literary world in the face and demand to be listened to back in the ’80s but, as with most creative movements, it had its genesis much earlier. I’m not going to tempt the wrath of the internets by proposing a single ur-text – but I will say that anyone who talks about the origins of Cyberpunk without talking about Alfred Bester is not taking due care and attention.

Bester’s The Stars My Destination is an obvious progenitor – the cybernetically-augmented Gully Foyle, the dark tone, the mega-corporations are all classic Cyberpunk tropes – but The Demolished Man also has an ancestral claim. Winner of the first Hugo Award for best novel, in 953, it anticipates much of the Cyberpunk milieu if not the more biotech trappings.

In the year 2301, guns are only museum pieces and benign telepaths sweep the minds of the populace to detect crimes before they happen. In 2301 murder is virtually impossible, but one man is about to change that . . .

Ben Reich, a psychopathic business magnate, has devised the ultimate scheme to eliminate the competition and destroy the order of his society. The Demolished Man is a masterpiece of imaginative suspense, set in a superbly imagined world in which everything has changed except the ancient instinct for murder.

The Demolished Man is available as an SF Masterworks paperback, and you can read more about Alfred Bester in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.