Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester

Jad Smith

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780252040634

Publisher: University of Illinois Press

Abstract

Like Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, science fiction author Alfred Bester started his career as a pulp writer 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 yet, as a result, developed a distinctive, outsider approach that opened up avenues for cutting-edge vanguards such as New Wave and cyberpunk. Making extensive use of Bester’s unpublished correspondence, this book carefully examines Bester’s entire career, giving particular attention to how his work across mediums, combined with his love of modernist and decadent authors, shaped his groundbreaking approach to science fiction. During the 1950s, Bester crossbred pulp aesthetics and high style to explosive effect, producing landmark novels and stories that crackled with excess and challenged the assumptions of Golden Age science fiction. His focus on language as a plot device and a tool for world-building, and his use of modernist style in the service of science-fictional extrapolation left the field changed forever. The book argues that what Bester brought to SF was not a radically new template but an idiosyncratic self-reflexivity about the writing and reading protocols of the genre that put the field into a highly productive and transformative dialogue with itself.