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Alfred Bester (author)

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Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester (born December 18, 1913 in New York City, died September 30, 1987) was a science fiction author and the winner of the first Hugo Award in 1953 for his novel The Demolished Man.

Bester attended the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1936 married Rolly Goulko. His first short story, "The Broken Axiom", was published in Thrilling Wonder Stories (April 1939) after winning an amateur story competition. This competition was arranged so he could have a start on the business. He already knew some people and had given to them some work to read, and they came up with the contest. He continued to publish short fiction, most notably in John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction, and in 1942 he began working at DC Comics as a writer for Superman, Green Lantern, and other titles. He wrote the original Green Lantern Oath. After four years in the comics industry, he turned his attention to radio scripts, writing for The Shadow and Charlie Chan.

His short fiction was initially collected in Starburst (1958) and The Dark Side of the Earth (1964), with further collections appearing in the 1970s, including Star Light, Star Bright. His short stories, such as "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" (about unsuccessful attempts to change history through time travel), cemented his reputation, but he is best known for two of his novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination (a.k.a. Tiger! Tiger!).

The Stars My Destination had its origins in a newspaper clipping that Bester found about a shipwrecked WW II sailor on a raft, who had drifted unrescued in the Pacific for days because passing ships thought he was a lure to bring them within torpedo range of a hidden submarine. From this germ grew the story of Gully Foyle, seeking revenge for his abandonment and causing havoc all about him: a science fiction re-telling of Alexander Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo with teleportation added to the mix. It has been described as an ancestor of cyberpunk. The book is famous for the following line: "Millions for defense, but not a cent for survival."

The Demolished Man is a police procedural in which telepathy is relatively common; a major plot component is an obsessive tune that the protagonist has in his head to block his thoughts from casual scanning. This novel is dedicated to H. L. Gold, the editor of Galaxy, who both published it and made a number of suggestions during its writing. Originally Bester wanted the title to be Demolition!, but Gold talked him out of it.

One of the strengths of these novels is the skill with which Bester integrated his science fiction elements into his future societies.

Bester stopped writing for Astounding when its editor, John Campbell, became obsessed with L. Ron Hubbard and Dianetics, the forerunner to Scientology. He found then in H. L. Gold an editor and a good friend.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, he was chief literary editor of Holiday magazine. After the magazine ceased publication in the early 1970s, Bester returned to science fiction with more short stories and several more novels, although none captured the full brilliance he exhibited in his earlier period.

A radio adaptation of The Stars My Destination was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1991, although this may have been a repeat broadcast. [1] (http://www.miranda-richardson.com/mrsound.html) lists the play as a 60-minute episode, but the original running time was almost certainly 90 minutes.

Bester wrote one mainstream novel in the 1950s, Who He? aka The Rat Race, in which a TV game show host, waking up after an alcoholic blackout, discovers that someone is out to destroy his life.

Notable short stories:

  • "5,271,009," in which a character is placed within various science-fictional wish-fulfillment scenarios, and discovers the flaw in each (the Last Man on Earth, and no dentists...)
  • "Fondly Fahrenheit," in which a malfunctioning android becomes murderously violent in hot weather
  • "The Rollercoaster," written in the '50s, in which there's an unusual, ahead-of-his-time treatment of violence and time travel.

The producer of the first Superman movie sent his son off to search for a writer. The name Alfred Bester came up. Bester wanted to focus the story on Clark Kent as the real hero, while Superman was only "his gun." Bester was devastated when the producer declined to hire an unknown writer and decided to go with Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather.

Bester's other novels include The Computer Connection aka Extro (1975), Golem100 (1980), and The Deceivers (1982). He died alone and was remembered at a convention that same year. Alfred Bester left everything to his bartender, who was surprised because he didn't even remember Bester.

Homages to Bester

Bester has been memorialized by other science fiction writers in their own works. Notably, the character of Psi-Cop Alfred Bester is named after him (and the treatment of telepathy in Babylon 5 is similar to that in Bester's works), as is the time-travelling pest named Al Phee in Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series.

External Links

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