Monday, July 18, 2005

The House of Chooka Frood

The House of Chooka Frood

The House of Chooka Frood (2000)

From Amazon.com -- a review of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man by hairybloke:

It is one of the great shames of Twentieth Century Science Fiction that Alfred Bester never wrote more and Asimov less. This startlingly innovative, iconoclastic and experimental work, Bester's first novel, was in its own way the Neuromancer of its day. On one level it is a murder mystery in which the reader witnesses the murder, and from then on follows the investigation to bring the perpetrator to justice, or in this case, Demolition. Demolition involves having one's personality erased and rebuilt without the fatal flaws. In a sense it is Death, since one retains no memory of one's former life.

Bester portrays a future in which "peepers" (i.e. telepaths) comprise about two percent of the population and Humanity has spread out to colonise the Solar System. He creates a rich, fabulous and detailed tapestry of society in the Twenty Fourth Century, far more credible and sophisticated than can be found in the work of some of his contemporaries.

The same can also be said for the characterisation since even the minor characters in this fast-paced psi-thriller seem fully-rounded individuals, if a little grotesque and eccentric. There is for instance, the madam and clairvoyant, Chooka Frood, who lives in an "eviscerated ceramics plant" in which there was an explosion long ago. Her living space is a riot of colours, glazed onto the structure of the building.

From Science Fiction Studies (November, 1994) -- "Hell's My Destination: Imprisonment in the Works of Alfred Bester" by Fiona Kelleghan:

Ben Reich [the protagonist of The Demolished Man] is associated with enclosed spaces. Not only does he feel that his rival D'Courtney has him with "his back to the wall," but in Reich's scenes we always find some reference to the surrounding walls. On the opening page, awakening from a nightmare of the Man With No Face, Reich looks wildly around the room at its "walls of green jade, the nightlight.". Again, Bester takes pains to describe the garish and decadent walls of the murder room in Maria Beaumont's house as "curling orchid petals," tainting the atmosphere of sickness and blood-lust with grotesque hints of sexuality. In Chooka Frood's frab house, looking down through the glass floor of "a small round room, walled and ceilinged in midnight velvet," Reich has an opportunity to kill Barbara and Powell with impunity, yet stands inexplicably paralyzed. This bizarrely black, cellular boudoir symbolizes his lack of freedom to execute his own will; his subconscious, rather miraculously recognizing Barbara as his young half-sister, restrains his hand.

From The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester:

Bastion West Side, famous last bulwark in the Siege of New York, was dedicated as a war memorial. Its ten torn acres were to be maintained in perpetuity as a stinging denunciation of the insanity that produced the final war. But the final war, as usual, proved to be the next-to-the-final, and Bastion West Side's shattered buildings and gutted alleys were patched into a crazy slum by squatters.

Number 99 was an eviscerated ceramics plant. During the war a succession of blazing explosions had burst among the stock of thousands of chemical glazes, fused them, and splashed them into a wild rainbow reproduction of a lunar crater. Great splotches of magneta, violet, bice green, burnt umber, and chrome yellow were burned into the stone walls. Long streams of orange, crimson, and imperial purple had erupted through windows and doors to streak the streets and surrounding ruins with slashing brush strokes. This became the Rainbow House of Chooka Frood.

The top floors had been patched and subdivided into a warren of cells so complicated and confused that only Chooka understood the pattern of the maze, and even Chooka herself was in doubt at times. A man could drift from cell to cell while the floors were being searched, and easily slip through the meshes of the finest dragnet. This unusual complexity netted Chooka large profits each year.

The lower floors were given over to Chooka's famous Frab joint, where, for a sufficient sum, a consummate expert graciously MC'd the well-known vices for the hungry and upon occasion invented new vices for the satiated. But the celler of Chooka Frood's house was the phenomenon that had inspired her most lucrative industry.

The war explosions that had turned the building into a rainbow crater had also fused the ceramic glazes, the metals, glasses, and plastics in the old plant; and a molten conglomerate had oozed down through the floors to settle on the floor of the lowest vault and harden into shimmering pavement, crystal in texture, phosphorescent in color, strangely vibrant and singing.

Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun.

Alfred Bester

On Alfred Bester, from Wikipedia:

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. This novel is dedicated to H. L. Gold, the editor of Galaxy, who both published it and made a number of suggestions during its writing. Originally Bester wanted the title to be Demolition!, but Gold talked him out of it.

Bester stopped writing for Astounding when its editor, John Campbell, became obsessed with L. Ron Hubbard and Dianetics, the forerunner to Scientology. He found then in H. L. Gold an editor and a good friend.

[...]

The producer of the first Superman movie sent his son off to search for a writer. The name Alfred Bester came up. Bester wanted to focus the story on Clark Kent as the real hero, while Superman was only "his gun." Bester was devastated when the producer declined to hire an unknown writer and decided to go with Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather.

[...]

Bester has been memorialized by other science fiction writers in their own works. Notably, the character of Psi-Cop Alfred Bester is named after him (and the treatment of telepathy in Babylon 5 is similar to that in Bester's works), as is the time-travelling pest named Al Phee in Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series.

The Demolished Man made quite an impression on me when I first read it as a teenager. Bester, along with Philip K. Dick, profoundly influenced scifi and cyberpunk culture. Without Bester, works like Blade Runner and X-Men would not exist.

One late night, while working on this image, I realized I had, after many years, once again wandered into "the Rainbow House of Chooka Frood."

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