The Computer Connection (1975) by Alfred Bester

TheComputerConnection1Bester. If you’ve had any experience with his short fiction, or even his most famous novel, the first ever Hugo-winning novel, The Demolished Man (1952), you know he unleashes his prose at a gallop, with punchy, dynamic lingo that jabs, cuts, and bruises with unrelenting speed. The Demolished Man is special because that signature bold style is razor-sharp perfect for the unlikeable sociopathic protagonist and his foul point-of-view shaped by Freudian theory and old-fashioned mores. It’s a novel that’s powered by grating absurdity and ugly humanity, and could potentially put off modern readers not expecting such strong, repugnant flavors (and the taint of the poorly aged). Yet it’s a clever and transcendent way of telling a story about a guy attempting to literally get away with murder, in a telepathic world, no less.

Then there’s The Computer Connection, a sort of “coming out of writer retirement” novel twenty-five years later. General reputation alone suggests that The Computer Connection is not Bester’s best work, but I suspect those 1970’s negative reviews hinge primarily on, oh, I don’t know, the unwieldy premise, the throwaway absurdities, the stock characters, and other general nonsense, all of which I could handle if the nonsense amounted to any sort of entertainment. But on top of being the kind of nonsense you have to work at to even remotely care about, it’s also terribly, terribly offensive, and not in a Ballardian “look at how terrible this is” kind of way, but serves only to stroke the ego of a disconnected, irrelevant writer-hero lost in the ironic quagmire of the New Wave. (Not that he was the only one.)

Where to begin? The racist jokes? The topless thirteen-year-old Asian servant girl? THE TERRIBLE PUNS? I’m most annoyed by Bester’s use of what he calls “Black Spanglish,” a mix of what he thinks is Black American English and borderland Spanish that looks more like Ignorant White Mockery. In the novel, “Black Spanglish” has superseded what’s characterized as default English, “English XX” (20th century English, but he’s also trying to be cheeky with another dumb pun), as if that’s the “correct” version of English, as if it’s never evolved before. From a more in-tune writer, this might be an interesting look at linguistics and cultural evolution, but Bester puts it on like a bad Groucho Marx mustache that makes him look like a trippin’ pendejo.

Too bad the book sucks on so many levels because he is a study in linguistic energy and efficiency. In verbs. In adjectives. (Definitely not cross-culturally, though, apparently.) It’s also a shame because the story introduces a couple of interesting concepts: the idea that “catastrophism” in death will induce a kind of immortality, and the possible biological consequences of cryogenics– both involve completely bizarre and unusual depictions that grab interest.

Instead, he seems to throwaway these neat concepts in order to set up more dumb and offensive jokes. I say “he seems to” because I gave up close to the halfway point, thus allowing The Computer Connection to join the ranks of Time Enough for Love (1973) as the only two novels I have DNFd in the history of this blog. Mr. Bester, you have surpassed the limits of my interminable tolerance.

It’s the worster.

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29 thoughts on “The Computer Connection (1975) by Alfred Bester

  1. Warstub says:

    Bester pun ever!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The Demolished Man” has not aged well,and the faults can now be seen glaringly.The plot I found to be incoherent.”The Stars My Destination” was far better.

    The other novel of his I read,”The Deceivers”,was written not long after the one you’ve reviewed.I shall stay away from it therefore.It seems he had already gone mouldy a long time before he returned to writing.He should be remembed however within SF history,as the early guiding light for the later “new wave”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I saw The Demolished Man as more frenetic than incoherent, but I’m really looking forward to The Stars My Destination. And yes, I think 1970s Bester is the Bester to avoid.

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      • Yes it went along too fast.No wonder it didn’t make sense.Yes TSMD you should find much better.It must be good if it still holds up today,and was a seminal influence on later luminaries such as Dick and Delaney,as well as Michael Moorcock,whose only exposure to SF had been authors like H.G.Wells,Olaf Stapleton and Edgar Rice Burroughs,and only came to the actual genre through “Galaxy” magazine.

        When he came back to writing,he couldn’t keep up with the new,daring young braves.

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  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    I enjoyed both The Demolished Man (mostly due to the early infusion of Freudian themes) and The Stars My Destination for the prose (which you aptly describe) and cool locals… I was disappointed with many of his better known short stories in the only collection I’ve read of his — and have often looked at this particular 70s novel with suspicion.

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  4. The Dave says:

    My favorite works by Bester are actually his columns in the long defunct “Holiday” magazine, which unfortunately are nearly impossible to find.

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    • What did you like about them? I see in his wiki page he interviewed stars and covered far-flung locales for travel, but I can’t find much more about his columns. Did he seem just as rapid-talking and punchy in his nonfiction?

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  5. marzaat says:

    “Bester’s novel Extro … was arresting in parts, confusing in others, an uneasy mixture of bravura effects and outright self-indulgence; it was as though Bester, trying to recapture the manic extravagance of his earlier successes, could not quite remember how the trick was done.” — Malcolm Edwards, “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. antyphayes says:

    I read a chunk of Golem100 20 years ago, on a fruitless search for another Stars… The only good bit i remember was the cool cut-up illustration chapter which was then shown from a more textual perspective in the following chapter (?). Otherwise all i recall is that i didn’t finish it because it was crap…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester – I’m just going to copy my lines about Silverberg from above and revise them a bit: “Bester likes stomp all over the dangerous lines of brash, blunt, and inconsiderate, which will definitely alienate millennial readers because he doesn’t understand subversiveness, and this book is hard to give a shit about. This particular novel’s treatment of all things and all peoples is extremely atrocious.” To say the least. […]

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  8. […] annoying “Movies on Mute,” which I said I wasn’t going to apologize for but did, a few last minute book reviews, and then August SF Book Awards Extravaganza began. I blogged my opinions on […]

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