The Nomadic Alfred Bester, Renaissance Man

Last year, I picked up and read The Stars My Destination for the first time. It's an astonishing book, one that I alternatively wish that I'd read it earlier, and that I'm glad that I read it now, with the capabilities to really get how important of a book it is. The book was used in a science fiction class that I sat in on this past semester here at Norwich, and it was interesting to see the student's reactions to it.

I've been waiting to get to Bester for a while now, and after a bit of digging around, I'm astonished to see that there isn't more about him in the SF non-fiction arena. Certainly, he appears in a number of sources (see below), but often, it's centered around his two major, landmark works, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. He had an exceptional career, working in the SF pulp, comic, radio, television, magazine and novel markets over the course of his life, all the while turning out an incredible amount of material. His career is notable for his writing and his sheer influence on the genre, and there is possibly no other author writing at this time that had more of an influence on where the genre would go.

Go Read The Nomadic Alfred Bester, Renaissance Man, over on Kirkus Reviews.

Here's the sources that I used for this piece:

  • Hell's Cartographers, edited by Brian Aldiss: This book is a collection of biographical essays, and Bester contributed a fantastic one to this book. This was probably one of the more important sources I worked from, because it gave some considerable insight into Bester as a person and how he went about doing things. You can read the essay online here.
  • The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, edited by Arthur Evans, et al: This anthology contains Bester's Fondly Fahrenheit, prefaced with a short, but very good biography of the author.
  • William Gibson on The Stars My Destination, William Gibson: this short essay appears on the LOA website, and is a fitting tribute to the novel. Read it here.
  • Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, by James Gunn: This book contained some excellent information surrounding the formation of The Demolished Man, which was helpful.
  • Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, by Gerald Jones: This book contains a single reference to Bester, but discusses in depth the reasons for why he and his editors went over to DC Comics. It also seems that Bester had a fairly positive relationship with them, which is at odds with how they're portrayed in this book.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol 2 & 5, edited by Frank Magill: These two volumes contain reviews of The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, which helped provide some good additional insight into their works.
  • The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts: Roberts' text really talks at length about TSMD, and points to their influence when it comes to the New Wave and Cyberpunk.
  • Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History, by Frank M. Robinson. This book had some good, extra information on Bester's life.
  • Alfred Bester, by Carolyn Wendell: This short book is part of the Starmont Reader's Guides to Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy: This is a short book that I borrowed through interlibrary loan, which has some good additional information on Bester. As far as I can see, it's the only biography out about him.
  • American science Fiction: Five Classic Novels, 1956-1958, edited by Gary K. Wolfe: This volume is one that I've referenced before, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It contains TSMD, and a great biographical blurb on the author.

I'm also particularly indebted to Maxwell Neely-Cohen for sending me an interview with Bester in Tangent Interviews. This was an interesting piece taken sometime in the 1980s, with a fairly interesting interview with Bester about some of his stories, and how he generally went about the writing process. There's not a whole lot that's new here when taken against some of the other sources that I had, but it's a great look at Bester as a person.

John Joseph Adams also provided some extremely helpful materials: An obituary from Locus Magazine, which shed some interesting details on his life, as well as an excerpt from Paul Walker's Speaking of Science Fiction and a review of Tender Loving Rage in Science Fiction Eye.