RARA-AVIS: Bester's "Man," Dick's "Tears"

From: chrisaschneider@earthlink.net
Date: 04 Jan 2004

When I suggested "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said" and "The Demolished Man," my memory of these two novels was rather hazy. A good reason for rereading them, right?

Having finished both of 'em, now, I discover: 1) I love them (no great surprise); and 2) there's a lot of similarity between Bester's 1953 novel and PKD's 1974 one.

Both novels are balanced between two male protags: someone in law enforcement (police-prefect Lincoln Powell in the Bester, "police general" Felix Buckman in the Dick) and a celebrity-turned-criminal who becomes unhinged (corporate honcho Ben Reich in the Bester, singer Jason Taverner in the Dick). And in both cases, although it can be said that the law figure represents "virtue," I think that it's the criminal who's the more crucial character.

(An analogy: The difference between these figures is like the difference between Bogart and Frank Lovejoy in the Ray-directed "In a Lonely Place." One represents sanity, but the other's the one with the sympathy.)

Wasn't one of the points made in the latest "defining Noir" thread that "criminal's P.O.V." tended to point toward Noir, whereas empathy with the law-enforcer pointed toward HB? With that in mind, I'd say that "Demolished Man" flirts with Noir and "Flow My Tears" definitely aligns itself.

For those who haven't read 'em, let me specify that:

1) "Demolished Man" deals with the question "How do you commit murder in a society where E.S.P. is common and most crimes can be anticipated before they're committed?"

2) "Flow My Tears" shows a universally-known singer/TV personality who awakes one morning, in a "day after tomorrow" society, and discovers that his fame has never existed and no one has ever heard of him.

It's a "So Long At The Fair"-ish scenario for "Tears." Of course, we do discover that Taverner is part of a genetically-bred superior breed of humans -- "6's", whereas others are 5's or 4's; that, in the wake of the last war, society (U.S. society?) is run with the aid of forced-labor camps; that citizens have their ID numbers tatooed on them; that marijuana is legal whereas tobacco is contraband; that students/youths are trapped and criminalized prisoners beneath the remains of the unversities; that racist procreation laws have reduced blacks to a status of "rare and endangered" (etc etc). These last factors aren't so much "plot" as they are details to be glimpsed in the novel's interstices.

I've gone on for too long about these books. Let me add, however, that the Bester contains some violence that shows it to be a part of the era of "I, The Jury." Perhaps one could write about it as an example of Bester's fascination with amoral, law-breaking Superman? Reich, the murderous honcho, would be an example of that species.

There are moments, too, when "Tears" is almost canonically Noir.

Tom Neal in "Detour" --
"Yes. Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all."

Felix Buckman thinking to himself in "Tears" --
"... this one specific man who never harmed anyone, never did anything except let his file come to the attention of the authorities. That's it right there. Jason Taverner let himself come to our attention, and, as they say, once come to the authorities' attention, never completely forgotten." (Chapter 27; p. 217 of the Vintage Books edition)

To be strongly recommended, both of 'em.


-----Original Message-----

Last updated: 2 December 2003


December 2003: No theme.

January 2004: Hardboiled/noir SF

Suggested reading:

  John Barnes, KALEIDOSCOPE CENTURY (1995)
  Neal Barrett, Jr., THROUGH DARKEST AMERICA (1986);
  Greg Bear, QUEEN OF ANGELS (1990)
  Alfred Bester, THE DEMOLISHED MAN (1952)
  Robert Bloch, "The Weird Tailor" (1950); "The Yougoslaves" (1986)
  Michael Blumlein, THE MOVEMENT OF MOUNTAINS (1987)
  Leigh Brackett's science fiction
  David Brin, KILN PEOPLE (or KIL'N PEOPLE) (2003)
  Algis Budrys, ROGUE MOON (1959) (aka THE DEATH MACHINE (2001);
     WHO? (1958)
  Les Daniels, the Don Sebastian novels
  Avram Davidson, MASTERS OF THE MAZE (1965)
  Harlan Ellison, "A Boy and His Dog" (1969);
     "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" (1973)
  M.J. Engh, ARSLAN (aka A WIND FROM BUKHARA) (1976)
  William Gibson's cyberpunk, e.g. NEUROMANCER (1984)
  Ron Goulart, GHOST BREAKER (1971)
  Russell M. Griffin, THE TIMESERVERS (1985)
  Laurell K. Hamilton, Anita Blake series
  K.W. Jeter, DR. ADDER (1984); THE GLASS HAMMER (1985); DEATH ARMS
     (1989); FAREWELL HORIZONTAL (1989)
  Terrill Lankford, ANGRY MOON (1997)
  Fritz Leiber, "I'm Looking for 'Jeff'" (1952);
     "The Night He Cried" (1953)
  Barry N. Malzberg, HEROVIT'S WORLD (1973)
  George R.R. Martin, "Sandkings" in SANDKINGS (1981)
  Richard Matheson, I AM LEGEND (1954)
  Richard K. Morgan, ALTERED CARBON (2002)
  Kim Newman, THE NIGHT MAYOR (1989); ANNO DRACULA series
  Curt Siodmak, DONOVAN'S BRAIN (1942)
  Bruce Sterling's cyberpunk
  Theodore Sturgeon
  Edward Wellen, HIJACK (1971)
  Donald E. Westlake, ANARCHAOS (1966, as Curt Clark)
  Jack Womack, RANDOM ACTS OF SENSELESS VIOLENCE (1993) (prequel to the
     Terraplane series)
  Roger Zelazny, MY NAME IS LEGION (1976)

February 2004: James Sallis


Having a theme for a month, where people can read any book by a particular author or in a certain series or on a certain topic, is easier all around than the old book-of-the-month readings we'd do. It brings up a lot more discussion on the list and it doesn't tie everyone to a certain book that may be hard for them to find. I encourage everyone to read something related to the theme of the month and mention it on the list. All the regular RARA-AVIS talk goes on as well, of course.

This message is automatically sent out twice a month.

William Denton List-Owner

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