In a world dominated by telepaths known as Espers or Peepers crime is very difficult to get away with. When thoughts and memories are up for grabs a man like Ben Reich, who is premeditating a murder, must employ unorthodox methods to protect his inner most thoughts. He decides to go to a jingle songwriter for protection. He asks for the most mundane song to be played, a song that simple will not escape your brain, the type of jingles from commercials (usually beer) my brother and I used to sing in the car to drive my parents crazy.
Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
two, sir; one!
'Tenser,' said the Tensor.
'Tenser,' said the Tensor.
And dissension have begun.'
The best protection, Ben Reich believes, against at least lower level peepers is a song that creates interference in his thoughts concealing his true intentions and his memories.
He is in an epic corporate struggle with his main rival D'Courtney and the old man running the company is his target for MURDER. He hatches an elaborate plan involving a book of games, an antique pistol, and a flash grenade that skews a person's sense of time by wiping out the victim's rhodopsin otherwise known as visual purple. Even the best laid plans encounter problems and just as Reich is preparing to destroy his nemesis D'Courtney's daughter runs into the room and becomes a witness to the death of her father. She, as they say, becomes the fly in the ointment.
Lincoln Powell, a level one peeper and a man with a bright future in the police department is called in to investigate. It doesn't take him long to discover that Reich is his man. He is conflicted because he likes Reich and ponders at one point about the fact that Reich is really two men, a man with charm and grace and also a man who could very well bring civilization to her knees with his evil intentions. A battle begins between peepers as Reich hires his own to combat the invasive mind probes of the police detectives. Witnesses vanish. There are crosses and double crosses as the chess match between Powell and Reich becomes more and more serious. Powell tries to protect Miss D'Courtney and heal her shattered mind as Reich searches desperately for the one witness that can send him to DEMOLISHION.
This is Alfred Bester's first novel and from what I've read about the book it had a real impact on the genre when it was released in 1953 and in some cases is considered the grandfather to the cyberpunk generation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked the cat and mouse between Powell and Reich. As the hunt continues Reich's brain becomes more and more unstable. The degradation of his reasoning eventually gives Powell enough of a wedge to bring about his downfall.
Reich is sent to be demolished. In this society they don't have capital punishment, no one is wasted. They simply recycle them. The process in itself is brutal and all memory of what you once were is eliminated.
"When a man is demolished at Kingston Hospital, his entire psyche is destroyed. The series of osmotic injections begins with the topmost strata of cortical synapses and slowly works down, switching off every circuit, extinguishing every memory, destroying every particle of the pattern that has been built up since birth. And as the pattern is erased, each particle discharges its portion of energy, turning the entire body into a shuddering maelstrom of dissociation.
But this is not the pain; this is not the dread of Demolition. The horror lies in the fact that the consciousness is never lost; that as the psyche is wiped out, the mind is aware of its slow, backward death until at last it too disappears and awaits the rebirth. The mind bids an eternity of farewells; it mourns at an endless funeral."
In this society the government does steal your body when you are convicted and sent for demolishion. They wipe your mind of any memories of who you were and then implant a new personality. They may think of that as more humane, but really the result is the same. I can't think of anything more terrifying than watching the doors of my mind ripped off their hinges and my memories and reasoning slowly stolen from me.
This book is a gem of science fiction history.