In Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, there is a minority of Espers (i.e. telepaths). So murder is unknown, because the telepaths will know any murderous intentions ahead of time. (Until Ben Reich figures out how to commit the first murder in a very long time.) But there is a permanent underworld of professional criminals, who habitually commit crimes other than murder. Is there any hint about why the Espers don't detect and prevent this? Or is it a nit?

  • 2
    Sounds like similar rules to Minority Report, where only murders are traumatic enough to be sensed by telepaths/precogs.
    – onewho
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 20:55

1 Answer 1


It’s not an unreasonable question.

Let’s review what we know, then conjecture a little bit.

  1. Crime is rare. It’s not really a totalitarian regime and it seems like everyone is more than happy to help out the cops.
  2. Espers are expensive, in part because espers of the same power can block espers of the same power or below. Having a high quality esper willing to work for civil servant pay is rare, as is made plain by the one guy we meet.
  3. Espers are not supposed to peep into people’s minds against their will, and the Guild takes that very seriously.
  4. If I recall correctly, the police espers also cannot legally peep into someone’s mind or act on anything they may accidentally see there.

Given these things, we can conjecture a bit:

  1. Even without an underworld, cops can settle disagreements and disputes. Something has to be going on or there wouldn’t be cops anymore.
  2. What really is the underworld anymore? Orgies are legal and common, as are drugs. Nobody bothers with murder because they know the cops and the guild will come down on them like a ton of bricks. So taking out sex, drugs, and murder and you are left with an underworld barely eking along at a living. It's unlikely to be anything organized like we would think. More likely you have a small number of people living on the edges, who find ways to act in a criminal way that is least likely to be suspected of having occurred in the first place.
  3. The cops will track down anyone careless enough to get caught, so only the really good criminals stay around.
  4. None of the criminals we meet sneer at the cops, they are all very, very careful. This would seem to back up the last point.
  5. The cops will have limited resources because people will think they don’t need the cops anymore, and because the cops always have limited resources. So they need to pick and choose their battles.

So it would seem that there is an underworld, but it’s a small, quiet, careful one. Because if they stick their necks out, they know the guillotine will come down, so to speak.

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