Alfred Bester (December 18, 1913 - September 30, 1987) was a science fiction author and the winner of the first Hugo Award for his novel The Demolished Man in 1953.
Bester published his first short story, "The Broken Axiom", in Thrilling Wonder Stories (April 1939) after winning an amateur story competition. He continued to publish short fiction and in 1942 he began working at DC Comics as a writer for Superman, Green Lantern, and other titles. After four years in the comics industry, he turned his attention to radio scripts, writing for The Shadow and Charlie Chan.
His short fiction was initially collected in Starburst (1958) and The Dark Side of the Earth (1964), with further collections appearing in the 1970s. His short stories, such as "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" (about unsuccessful atttempts to change history thru time travel), cemented his reputation, but he is best known for two of his novels, The Demolished Man and Tiger! Tiger! (a.k.a. The Stars My Destination). (The title Tiger! Tiger! is a quotation from The Tyger by William Blake.)
Tiger! Tiger! had its origins in a newspaper clipping that Bester found, of a shipwrecked WW II sailor on a raft, who had drifted unrescued in the Pacific for days because passing ships thought he was a lure to bring them within torpedo range of a hidden submarine. From this germ grew the story of Gully Foyle, seeking revenge for his abandonment and causing havoc all about him: a science fictional re-telling of Alexander Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo with teleportation added to the mix. It has been described as an ancestor of cyberpunk.
The Demolished Man is a police procedural in which telepathy is relatively common; a major plot component is an obsessive tune that the protagonist has in his head to block his thoughts from casual scanning.
The strength of both novels depends on how well Bester integrated these science fictional elements into his societies.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, he was editor-in-chief of Holiday magazine. After the magazine ceased publication in the early 1970s, Bester returned to science fiction with more short stories and several more novels, although none captured the full brilliance he exhibited in his earlier period.
Bester wrote one mainstream novel in the 1950s, The Rat Race, in which a TV game show host, waking up after an alcoholic blackout, discovers that someone is out to destroy his life.
Notable short stories:
- "5,271,009", in which a character is placed within various science-fictional wish-fulfillment scenarios, and discovers the flaw in each (the Last Man on Earth, and no dentists...)
- "Fondly Fahrenheit", in which a malfunctioning android becomes murderously violent in hot weather
Alfred Bester is also the name of a fictional character in the television series Babylon 5, played by Walter Koenig. Bester is a senior Psi Corps agent who appears to be linked to the sinister alien race called The Shadows and the conspiracy which led to the seemingly accidental death of former Earth President Santiago.
The similarity of Bester's name to that of the science fiction writer is no coincidence. Psi powers were a recurring theme in the real Bester's work, and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski named the character in his honor.