More Alfred Bester while I work on new stuff.
Raw Feed (1991): The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester, 1975.
This is not, as Bester said in an interview, an undefined failure.
The story works in terms of interest after a slow start. The novel picks up after the murder of Fee-5 Grauman’s Chinese. It is without the more strained typographical devices and incomprehensibility of his Golem 100. The story of immortals killing to increase their number and their eventual transcendence to virtual godlike omniscient was coherent. It prefigures some cyberpunk themes in books like William Gibson’s Neuromancer as does his unusual emphasis on the criminal underworld — here less pronounced than, say, his The Demolished Man or The Stars My Destination. I wonder if this was one of the first sf novels to show computers running society through electronic networks of linked devices — both inputs of data and executing machines — rather than a central monolith computer. These elements help explain cyberpunk authors listing Bester as an influence.
It’s interesting to see how Bester repeatedly uses certain elements at certain points in his writing career. Here the ecological themes and idea of a computer run society echo Bester’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, a violent America and Indians show up in his “The Four-Hour Fugue” and Golem 100. (I liked his witty satire and rioting, illiterate students.)
I didn’t, after awhile, mind the contrived romance between Curzon and Natorna. I’m even able to overlook lapses in plot logic. (Why go to Titan to get the Neanderthal immortal to fool Extro? Why not just go back to the salt mine and detain Guess by force so he can’t serve as Extro switchboard by surfacing from the salt mine?.) I liked the brilliant, colorful group of immortals. But the story didn’t work nearly as well The Stars My Destination or The Demolished Man. Both these novels were, especially the former, rather grim books. In Bester’s latter novels, his wit and urbanity overwhelm his emotional effects, make the story an exercise in plot mechanics and cleverness with no emotional depth. In these latter books — especially Golem 100 — typographical devices are not as well integrated, seem to be present more out of habit than need. To be sure, the glibness, wit, and superficiality of this book’s story was due to the nature of the narrating character but that makes it no more effective.