The Literary Year: 18 December
If you could read other people's minds, would you? Alfred Bester, who would have been 107 today, created a memorable world where that was possible ...
The Demolished Man (1953) has the distinction of being the first ever winner of the prestigious Hugo award. It's a typical Golden Age SF text in the novum, or 'what if?' Bester introduces, but like so much writing of this genre and of that time, I think we can go a little deeper.
By the time the novel was published, the Cold War was well and truly under way. If speculative literature reflects the fears of the society it was created in, and I believe it does, we see the Golden Age not just embracing science and technological progress, but worrying about the technologies 'the enemy' were secretly developing on the other side of the Iron Curtain. This was the period of McCarthyism, 'Reds under the beds', and the enemy within. Which makes a novel about a man who wishes to commit a crime in a surveillance society a delicious and still relevant read, and a worthy entry in the SF Masterworks series.
By the same author: The Stars My Destination (1956), set in a future universe where humanity can 'jaunt' (teleport) across vast distances, and inspiration for one of my favourite Stephen King short horror stories, 'The Jaunt' (1981). Bester's novel contains the following quotation - can you spot the influence of Charles Dickens in it?
This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living and hard dying... but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice... but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks... but nobody loved it.
Philip K Dick is, frankly, a Science Fiction genius whose life-story is almost as unbelievable as his fiction. You can read the best examples of his 'Golden Age' work by reading the first two volumes of his collected short stories, Beyond Lies the Wub and Second Variety (both (1987). Volume 4, The Days of Perky Pat, contains the short story, 'The Minority Report' on which the 2002 Tom Cruise film is based.
Ray Bradbury's Science Fiction has a beautiful lyrical style which is unmatched in the Science Fiction pantheon. The Martian Chronicles (1950) is a great Golden Age read.
Robert Louis Stevenson. I can't be the only person who reads the opening quotation and, thinking about man's dual nature, remembers The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886).
Want a download of today's resource? Sure, here you go ...