Blurb on the back of "Starburst".
By age 16 I had devoured hundreds of science fiction books and
had decided who my favorite authors were: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke,
Heinlein, van Vogt, and not much else. But at that time a new star
appeared on my science fiction firmament: Alfred Bester with his
"The Demolished Man".
Although I cannot find the book on my bookshelf - I probably recommended
and lent it to some friend over forty years ago - I still carry
a jingle from the story in my head. It goes like this:
Sir, Four, Sir, Three, Sir, Two, Sir, One.
said the tensor.
Tenser said the tensor.
Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun."
The story is set a few centuries in the future, when telepathic
policemen monitor the thoughts of would-be criminals and thwart
their plans before they can be implemented. The principal character,
a rich businessman, decides to kill a competitor. To avoid detection
by the telepathic inspectors, he deliberately repeats a jingle over
and over to himself until it is so stuck in his mind that it is
constantly humming in the background, serving as a mental screen
to prying mind readers.
I do not remember much else from the story, but I liked its originality
and inventiveness. Now, surprisingly, when I google the Net for
the phrase "tenser said the tensor", I get 64500
hits! But when I add the term "-blog", the count
drops to about 500. It seems that there are a lot of bloggers out
there, members of an Alfred Bester cult, perhaps.
The following year I read a second Alfred Bester novel: "The
Stars my Destination". Again, the story takes us a few
centuries into the future. An otherwise unremarkable character is
left to die in a spaceship wreck in interplanetary space. This makes
him very angry and unlocks hidden mental resources, so that he discovers
how to teleport himself from one place to another through sheer
willpower. He sets out to get his revenge. - To a non-SF reader,
this will not sound very enticing, but the story is brimming with
linguistic pyrotechnics and amusing observations and allusions.
Near the end his senses get mixed up, which is illustrated in a
funny way using the limited possibilities of graphics before desk-top-publishing.
This playful exploration of new means of expression may recall the
famous "LSD trip" in the movie "2001":
Some critics have pointed out parallels in the story line between
"The Demolished Man" and Dostoyevsky's "Crime
and Punishment", and between "The Stars my Destination"
and Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo".
Alfred Bester (1913 - 1987) was born in New York City and lived
on the American east coast. He was active in the media world, writing
comics, radio, TV and film scripts. He became a literary editor
at Holiday magazine.
Alfred Bester also wrote several collections of short stories.
He returned to writing novels in the 1970s and 1980s, but with less
success. By that time, my interest in science fiction had dropped
considerably, but back in 1957 I had named my motor scooter "Alfred"
to express my admiration for his works (and those of Alfred Korzybski).
In the course of surfing the web to find out what happened to Bester,
I found some interesting links. Here
is a programmer who obviously used the jingle for inspiration. And
is an amusing Bester blog. It also points out some interesting differences
between various editions of his stories. See also this Wikipedia