The Hugo Awards are being presented this weekend at Worldcon, the annual gathering of the World Science Fiction Society, being held this year in Australia. So, I thought it would be a good time to review the first ever Hugo Award winner. Bester is one of the original masters of Science Fiction (along with Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke) and is also known for his novel The Stars My Destination (both of these books were re-printed and re-released by Vintage Books in 1996).
Okay, now on to the book, and why you should read it – especially you folks who turn your nose up at the thought of “lowly science fiction” – and doubly so to those of you who prefer to read “high and exalted mystery novels.” The story involves murder (in a world where murder no longer occurs), corporate intrigue, betrayal, secrets, and has a great psychological thriller twist ending to boot. Ben Reich is a corporate magnate and the head of Monarch Enterprises in heated competition with his rival the D’Courtney Cartel. The trouble is, as powerful as Reich is, he’s losing to D’Courtney and it’s just killing him. He suggests a merger between their two companies, but is rejected. So, he decides the only way to come out on top is to murder D’Courtney. There hasn’t been a murder in over 70 years, as almost all crimes are prevented before they occur by the presence of “Espers” (telepaths) who read thoughts of the population. Ah, yes, this is where it gets a bit science-fiction-y. In addition to the Espers, also known as “peepers”, the story contains inter-planetary travel that’s as easy as catching a commuter rail to the suburbs, along with other futuristic technological marvels, and is obviously set in the future – the 24th century in this case. But, bear with me, and you non-Sci-Fi types just might be tempted to give this one a try.
So, if you can get past the futuristic setting and accept the presence of a large portion of the human population that can read minds, you’ll discover a first rate police procedural murder story in which Police Prefect Lincoln Powell (a Class 1 Esper) plays a high stakes game of cat and mouse with Ben Reich. Powell has been able to “peep” Reich to know that he’s committed the murder, but he still needs traditional evidence to prove motive, opportunity and method, because “peeping” isn’t admissible evidence. As Powell works to prove Reich’s guilt, and Reich covers his tracks and enlists some hired help in evading the police, we’re treated to some truly great story telling. A little over half-way through the book, I thought that it was good, but maybe not great. But, that twist ending I mentioned made me change my opinion in a hurry! Some of the dialogue and attitudes are a bit dated (it was written in the early 50’s, after all), but in a way that just adds to the atmosphere of the book, and reminded me a bit of Mad Men (especially when referring to Idylwild spaceport). I hope you’ll consider giving Mr. Bester a try, even if you don’t usually read Sci-Fi.