Saturday, January 2, 2016

Thank You, Alfred Bester

Michael Salsbury
Continuing on with my effort to express my sincere gratitude to those people who have improved my world in some way, we come to the novelist Alfred Bester.

My gratitude for Mr. Bester begins with an appreciation of his written works that I've read to date, specifically The Computer Connection, The Stars My Destination, and The Demolished Man.  I found them all to be great books, but the one that really stands out for me is The Computer Connection.

Back in high school, which is now more than 30 years in the rear view mirror, I was very much into computers and science-fiction.  One of my best friends, and I know this will sound strange to many of you, was my high school librarian.  She deserves her own gratitude post, but that's off-topic today.  When she knew she could trust me, she steered me toward books in the library that she thought would interest or enlighten me in some way.  When she pointed me to The Computer Connection, she said something like "Don't say anything about what you read in that book."  She knew that in our relatively small community that any work that touched on religion but was anything less than praising of it could land the writer, reader, or possessor of that work into hot water.  Why would that matter with a work titled so innocuously as The Computer Connection?

The Computer Connection tells the story of a future group of people who have all been through a traumatic experience that should have killed them, but didn't.  The result of this experience is that a biological change has taken place in them such that they can no longer age or die.  As the only people around who essentially live forever, they've banded together.  They find themselves at odds with a newly-created supercomputer that has taken over the mind of a brilliant scientist (who, like them, is immortal), creating what is essentially a powerful and super-intelligent man who cannot be killed.  Still, you're probably wondering why this science-fiction plot would possibly draw the attention of those with a religious leaning, right?

Bear in mind that I'm not especially religious.  I'm probably more agnostic than anything else.  But to read a book in which one of the main characters is Jesus.   Yes, that one, from the bible.  He's seen smoking, drinking, and having relationships with women.  I remember feeling a cold chill and a shot of adrenalin run through me when I realized this.  I remember thinking things like "Is this legal?  Are you allowed to write books about religious figures like this?  If anyone finds out I read this, am I going to be in trouble?  This must be why the librarian told me to keep my mouth shut."  I did, too.  It was only after I was safely away at college, in another state, that I even mentioned reading the book or knowing what it was about. I felt like a member of some secret society.

As silly as it sounds in retrospect, this book expanded my mind and my worldview.  I realized that while a write might not choose to create a story featuring certain topics, people, or religious figures, there was nothing stopping them from doing so but their own sensibilities.  To Bester, including Jesus in his science-fiction story was perfectly acceptable.  To me, it seemed subversive and dangerous.  In many ways, it still does.

The book was an enjoyable read, but perhaps not the best book I ever read.  It's value to me, and the reason I'm grateful to Mr. Bester, is for its impact on my view of the world.  It allowed me to see that my instinctive view that there are some topics which are off-limits isn't quite true.  An author with the desire and courage to write about something can do so.  It might not make for a popular book, and maybe it would make the author unpopular in general, but it's not illegal to do it.  That was a shocking idea to a much younger version of me.  Thank you, Mr. Bester, for your novels and for showing me a larger world in which to write.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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