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den4
10-04-04, 02:33
Why did Alfred Bester become forever estranged from one-time mentor John W. Campbell Jr.? Blame dianetics. Campbell, the legendary SF writer and editor of Astounding, considered L. Ron Hubbard's controversial theories revolutionary and inspiring; Bester disagreed and could barely read the first "dianetics" articles without laughing. This difference of opinion forced Bester, more interested in psychology than so-called hard science, to move on to the fledging Galaxy in the early 50s.

Working with editor Horace Gold, Bester soon published his first SF novel, The Demolished Man, a futuristic saga about ESP-enhanced crime fighters who prevent murders in advance by reading the minds of would-be killers. The harrowing brain-bender won the inaugural Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1953. Bester's follow-up, 1957's The Stars My Destination (published in the UK as Tiger! Tiger!) was edgier and more disturbing, moving some skittish critics to question its frank depictions of violence and sexuality. Almost fifty years later, however, Stars may be Bester's most enduring, revolutionary work, a penetrating, hyper-intense tale of obsession and revenge that just happens to occur amidst an interplanetary war between the Inner Planets and the Outer Satellites--in which protagonist Gulliver Foyle is left for dead on a disabled warship.

As Peter Nicholls summed it up in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Bester "bridged the chasm between the old and the New Wave . . . his SF imagery . . . conjured up, with bravura, both outer and inner space."

Despite this uniquely unifying achievement, Bester arguably spent much of his career outside the genre. He earned his living as a writer for mainstream magazines, comics, radio and TV, and criticized many SF authors for ignoring the human and emotional aspects of their literature. In a written critique of author James Blish, Bester suggested Blish try "drink, drugs, seduction, crime, politics . . . . anything that will shock him into experiencing the stresses that torture people, so that he will be able to write about them with the same lucid dedication which he presently reserves exclusively for science."

Bester was born and raised in New York and acquired his B.A. in humanities and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. After a brief stint in law school, he got married and began his writing career in earnest. Growing up with fairy tales, H.G. Wells and Amazing Quarterly on his nightstand made SF a natural choice, and he won a $50 amateur prize for his first short story, "The Broken Axiom," published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1939.

About a dozen published stories later, Bester took a decade-long sabbatical from SF--writing instead for the likes of BatmanŽ, SupermanŽ and the Green LanternŽ in comic books, Charlie Chan and The Shadow in radio scripts and Tom Corbett: Space Cadet and others for TV. Yet the creative constraints of writing within commercial formats eventually nudged Bester to return to SF. "It was a safety valve, an escape hatch, therapy," he once said. Thus Bester's own "Golden Age" began in the 50s, which saw the publication of The Demolished Man, The Stars My Destination and numerous classic short stories, including the time-paradox masterpiece "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed."

Although he continued to write SF stories and novels as well as criticism, Bester focused much of his energy by the late 60s on the mainstream magazine Holiday. As senior editor, he enjoyed such plum assignments as interviews with Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Laurence Olivier plus visits to NASA and test driving new cars.

Though most SF critics concede that his later SF output paled in comparison to his earlier work, Bester was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1987; he died later that year.

As Harlan Ellison exclaimed, "Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us merely climbers toward that peak."