Alfred Bester is considered to be one of the ground breaking stylists of science fiction. He begin writing in the 1940s pulp era of science-fiction, and continued writing for almost forty years. But much like Cordwainer Smith, and perhaps Ray Bradbury, his reputation seems to not be as widely known as it could be, because he wrote very few stories in the form of the novel. When I read The Computer Connection, I learned a little about both the fame and lack of it that Bester has experienced.
The Computer Connection, also titled Extro, is not really a novel: it is the result of a serial called "The Indian Giver" which ran in the magazine Analog. The story in some ways reads as a novel, and in other ways reads as a picaresque adventure story. What stands out most about the story is the wild prefusion of style and ideas: the common people speak "Black Spanglish", a combination of black slang, English and Spanish, which Bester captures at times with great humorous detail. In anticipation of Snow Crash, the United States and the world is cut up into a variety of miniature interlocking corporations. The polluted bed of Lake Eerie has been taken over by the remaining Native American population of the United States, who have made it into the wealthiest part of the country. Jesus Christ is in the book, as a somewhat minor supporting character. The list of background details, some of them funny, some of them perhaps meaningful comments about society's development, is quite extensive.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the plot of this book yet. And the reader of the book might take a while to discover the plot, and might not even care once he has. At times the plot seems like it is just a vehicle for Bester to introduce us to the notion of what soap operas will look like a few hundred years from now. I think Bester did like his plot, though, and wanted us to like it too. The book centers around The Mole Men, a group of people who have endured life-shattering accidents and shocks, and who have because of this become immortal. They have been filling their immortal years gathering their resources and enjoying themselves and pursuing their separate interests. However, in the book, a new immortal is created: a brilliant Cherokee scientist whose transformation into an immortal is marred by the fact that at the same time, his brain comes under the influence of a worldwide computer network, that wishes to use him for its own ends, leading the other scattered immortals to go to war against him. That is actually a brief summary of the plot, leaving a lot out. The conclusion of the story, as well as the scenery that is passed getting there, is arrived at after many twists and turns. My description of the hyperkineticness of this story doesn't do it justice: you would have to read this book to find out how Alfred Bester jammed so much into a little over 200 pages, and how he is, indeed, a science fiction stylist and innovator of the highest order.