The Demolished Man is a story
respected by those who appreciate SF of that era. I imagine it's a matter of
taste in terms what subgenres of SF one likes. I have tended to like SF that
is also a mystery story - Asimov's mysteries are among my favorite Asimov
stories. If you don't appreciate mysteries, you may be less inclined to enjoy
The Demolished Man.
The main character, Ben
Reich, is the head of a major big business. He is plagued with nightmares
about a Man With No Face. And his company is in a struggle with another large
company headed by D'Courtney. Reich's company is hard-pressed as a result.
Reich offers D'Courtney a merger. When he's told the offer has been rejected,
Reich decides he must kill D'Courtney. Reich figures this will not only be a
cure for his business problems, but also he hopes that once that is over his
nightmares will go away.
The rub is that nobody has
gotten away with murder for 70 years. That is because there are now thousands
of people capable of mind-reading. Through use of mind-readers it is
"always" possible to get information that can lead to physical
evidence against the murderer. (As readers of this site may know, I have a pet
peeve against psychic powers and the like in SF. This element was an irritant
for me while reading the book.)
Reich concocts a scheme to
avoid being caught by mind-readers. And it has a number of clever pieces to
it, carefully portioned out. There's one detail all his planning is unable to
take into account. A battle of wits follows between Reich and the police
prefect (a mind-reader). Although the prefect believes Reich to be guilty, he
lacks substantial evidence. (There are restrictions on police use of
mind-reading and Reich has made it harder to read his mind.)
There's an interesting race
between good guys and bad guys to collect or destroy clues. Those who enjoy
mysteries should like this. Then 3/4 of the way through the book there's a
serious twist that re-scrambles things for a while. In the end, I wasn't
entirely satisfied with the conclusion, but these final twists can be tricky
that way. And aspects of the twist seemed too much like mumbo-jumbo to me.
Your mileage may differ depending on how you react to such things.
To a more limited degree, the
story deals with the possibility (on one level or another) of deconstructing an
individual's personality in order to let it re-grow in a less damaged way.
This is presented in a context where it is being used beneficially to help the
individual (not a means to mind control or such). The idea is developed only
so far in this story.
Is it SF?
Aside from the mind-reading,
there are other indications that the story doesn't occur in the past or present
day. Some of these do play some role in the crime and maneuverings by police
and Reich afterwards. For instance, arrangements are made to have a person
with incriminating information go to another world to be away from the
investigation. But the story is basically a mystery. Its main speculative
theme is the question of crime in a society where it is more-or-less impossible
to hide one's (serious) criminal activities. Since that is a matter of
mind-reading, this may be more "speculative fiction" than
"science fiction". You must decide whether this is the kind of
reading that appeals to you.
The deconstructing of a
personality to let it start over again could potentially be done in a
scientific way (that is, no mumbo-jumbo). However, this takes up a small
enough part of the book that you shouldn't read the book with the expectation
of having this dealt with extensively.