Alfred Bester

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  • Additional Information
    • Publication Information:
      Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2016.
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    • Original Material:
      216 p.
    • Abstract:
      Alfred Bester's classic short stories and the canonical novel The Stars My Destination made him a science fiction legend. Fans and scholars praise him as a genre-bending pioneer and cyberpunk forefather. Writers like Neil Gaiman and William Gibson celebrate his prophetic vision and stylistic innovations. Jad Smith traces the career of the unlikeliest of SF icons. Winner of the first Hugo Award for The Demolished Man , Bester also worked in comics, radio, and TV, and his intermittent SF writing led some critics to brand him a dabbler. In the 1960s, however, New Wave writers championed his work, and his reputation grew. Smith follows Bester's journey from consummate outsider to an artist venerated for foundational works that influenced the New Wave and cyberpunk revolutions. He also explores the little-known roots of a wayward journey fueled by curiosity, disappointment with the SF mainstream, and an artist's determination to go his own way.
    • Contents Note:
      Front Matterp.iTable of Contentsp.ixACKNOWLEDGMENTSp.xiINTRODUCTION: ALFRED BESTER: The Insiderʹs Outsiderp.1Like Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, Alfred Morton Bester (December 18, 1913–September 30, 1987) began his career in science fiction as a pulp fictioneer and finished it as a Grand Master, but he followed a far more curious path to the field’s highest honor than either of his big-name contemporaries. He focused on SF only intermittently during his nearly fifty years as a professional writer and, at times, maintained few ties with the field. He started his career in SF and finished it there as well, but in between, he kept to a pattern of voyage and return,CHAPTER 1 - BEGINNINGS: Early Life and First Storiesp.17Bester’s story as an outsider writer, perhaps not surprisingly, began with the pedigree of an insider. In fact, he witnessed the birth of genre SF firsthand. Although only twelve years old at the time, he was “hungry for ideas” and searching for imaginative outlets suited to his curious turn of mind but struggling hard to find them. He even remembered borrowing Andrew Lang’s Blue and Red fairy books from the library and sneaking them home under his coat, feeling self-conscious about reading fairy tales at his age.¹ Then, in April 1926, the first issue of Hugo Gernsback’s trailblazing Amazing StoriesCHAPTER 2 - OF THINGS TO COME: The Astounding and Unknown Storiesp.31To understand the breakthrough that “The Probable Man” represented, it is first necessary to consider the importance of a non-genre piece that Bester published at roughly the same time, a detective story titled “The McGrabb Bag” (1941). In it, Bester would take the emphasis on contextual clues in conventional mystery-and-detection stories and ratchet it up a notch through the introduction of a split viewpoint. The story features a father-and-son police detective team who notice and comment on a variety of early clues, all but pointing them out to the reader. However, unlike a typical Holmes-and-Watson exchange, their continual back-and-forth doesCHAPTER 3 - COMICS, RADIO, AND THE RETURN TO SFp.68“Hell Is Forever” marked Bester’s last publication in the SF field for eight years, but the next part of his career, during which he switched his focus to comics and progressively branched out from there into radio and television, deserves more than the passing attention it usually receives. Frederik Pohl, for instance, has more than once glossed over this portion of Bester’s career by characterizing him as a “money writer.” By Pohl’s account, when comics boomed, Bester followed the money trail there and then graduated to radio and television, where the pay was even better. When the financial incentives toCHAPTER 4 - THE EUREKA YEARSp.86Bester first told Boucher and McComas of his intention to write an SF novel in early May 1950, and afterward, aside from a few telegrams concerning the publication of “Of Time and Third Avenue,” his correspondence with them more or less ceased until the fall of 1951, when he again mentioned the novel and asked them for further advice concerning hardcover publication. During this period, he planned and drafted The Demolished Man , mostly in consultation with Horace L. Gold, an old acquaintance who was in the process of launching another new SF magazine, Galaxy Science Fiction . Although Bester and GoldCHAPTER 5 - TIGER, TIGER, BURNING BRIGHTp.135The change of outlook that characterized the next period of Bester’s career was not a sea change. Bester continued to show an interest in the workings of the mind and employ language play in his fiction, and he did not leave satire behind. However, he seemed less intent on dismissing pulp clichés through parody than on transforming aspects of pulp aesthetics in earnest. His next story, “Fondly Fahrenheit” (1954), would not poke fun at but revamp the mad-robot story, working around the rational view of technology encompassed in Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics to do so. The Stars My DestinationCHAPTER 6 - HIATUS AND SEARCH FOR A NEW STYLEp.164The period that followed “The Pi Man” and extended until Bester’s full-fledged return to SF in 1971 saw his fiction output dwindle and then come to a halt entirely. Although commentators often present Bester as simply shifting his attention to journalistic endeavors after he became a regular columnist for Holiday in 1956, he in fact wrote another contemporary novel around 1959 and every major publisher rejected it. Charles Platt, who some thirty-odd years later shepherded the novel to publication under the title Tender Loving Rage (1991), sensed that it represented Bester’s “bid for serious acceptance as a novelist” and thatCONCLUSIONp.179In the mid-sixties, a young Alexei Panshin offered up a dissenting view of Bester’s fiction. He dismissed it as a superficial mixture of thirties pulp SF and slick “Manhattan” style, and he criticized Bester for knowing too little about the development of “modern SF.” According to Panshin, when Bester returned to SF in the fifties, he “had been away a long time, and he didn’t know how the pros were working out their problems … so he made up his own solutions.”¹ Although Panshin perhaps underestimated Bester’s awareness of trends in the field and certainly offered this comment by wayAN ALFRED BESTER BIBLIOGRAPHYp.183NOTESp.187BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SECONDARY SOURCESp.197INDEXp.203Back Matterp.209
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      Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2016
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  • Citations
    • ABNT:
      SMITH, J. Alfred Bester. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-252-04063-4. Disponível em: Acesso em: 21 set. 2020.
    • AMA:
      Smith J. Alfred Bester. University of Illinois Press; 2016. Accessed September 21, 2020.
    • APA:
      Smith, J. (2016). Alfred Bester. University of Illinois Press.
    • Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date:
      Smith, Jad. 2016. Alfred Bester. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press.
    • Harvard:
      Smith, J. (2016) Alfred Bester. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press. Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2020).
    • Harvard: Australian:
      Smith, J 2016, Alfred Bester, University of Illinois Press, Urbana; Chicago; Springfield, viewed 21 September 2020, .
    • MLA:
      Smith, Jad. Alfred Bester. University of Illinois Press, 2016. EBSCOhost,
    • Chicago/Turabian: Humanities:
      Smith, Jad. Alfred Bester. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2016.
    • Vancouver/ICMJE:
      Smith J. Alfred Bester [Internet]. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press; 2016 [cited 2020 Sep 21]. Available from: