His last sf novel was The Deceivers (1981), which features a Synergist hero who can perceive patterns; sadly, but interestingly in the light of Bester’s fame, the sf press almost unanimously failed to review this, presumably out of respect for his feelings. Despite many pale thematic echoes of his best work – chiefly Tiger! Tiger!, [aka The Stars My Destination] with the hero’s pattern-sensitivity deriving from “The Pi Man” (October 1959 F&SF) – it is not good.
John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
The last installment, for now, in my Alfred Bester series.
Raw Feed (1990): The Deceivers, Alfred Bester, 1981.
This is Bester’s last novel. In one way, it’s a fitting end to his career because it’s a scrap heap of a novel. There are elements of practically every sf story or novel of Bester’s here, welded together in a plot that, while witty and full of occasionally dazzling detail and decadence, is not very exciting and lacks the blazing finale of his The Stars My Destination or The Demolished Man. The elements of other Bester works are: the sensitivity of Rogue Winter to patterns reminds one of the “The Pi Man” and his Moari past reminds us of Gully Foyle’s tiger tatoo in The Stars My Destination; there is passing reference to the title number 5,271,009; Thomas Young as Manchu duke hearkens back to a similar Chinese secret organization in the later novel; the attempted rehabilitation of Young using dolphins hearkens back to Reich’s rehabilitation in The Demolished Man; the children of Demi Jeroux and Rogue Winter being the next step in evolution reminds one of the climaxes of Golem 100 and The Stars My Destination; the con games remind one of Bester’s “Star Light, Star Bright”.
There are points of interest here. The idea of a zero-g chef is almost worth reading the book for, the sexual decadence of all sorts — remarked on explicitly enough to be sure of what’s described but not lingering in detail — is more explicit than any of Bester’s other works, and the idea of each planet and satellite belonging to a different nation or culture was wonderfully space opera-ish (And, as I recall, nary a word of terraforming to make Venus and other worlds habitable). The Manchu deathlock on Meta, that entropy reversing substance, was, I suppose, something of a satire on Arabs and oil or, perhaps, a manifestation of American unease at Japan (really getting started in 1981, date of the book’s publication). Bester does throw in some interesting science with the fluid inclusions on Titania and inclusions within inclusions ad infinitum reminds me of the fractal elements of chaos theory. There is a passing reference, of the unfortunately literal type, to the Gaia hypothesis.
Stylistically, the novel is interesting. There are typographical elements, question and answer exposition, a script/play format (also used in Golem 100), and shifting first person narrative — I liked the main narrator being an intelligence operative and not one of the main characters.
Still, though I liked this novel, I can’t help but thinking it may just have been published to coincide with Golem 100‘s paperback release. It doesn’t have Bester’s usual vigor though it does have his style and wit. I suspect this may have been a story just laying around or previously rejected before Golem 100 was printed. This may explain why so many critical books after 1981 fail to mention this novel.