Alfred "Alfie" Bester (1913 - 1987) was one of science fiction's true renaissance men, writing two novels and a passel of short stories that would change the genre forever, almost as an incidental to a long and varied career in more or less every field of writing he could think of.

His writing was characterized by a wild, fearless experimentalism, epitomized by his love for typographic play and his almost Joycean ear for language. When he was at the peak of inspiration, nobody in the world could touch him. Unfortunately, when he wasn't inspired, you can tell from a mile off; Bester wasn't one for middle grounds, either in his prose or its quality.

Bester started writing science fiction during the old Thrilling Wonder Stories pulp era of the '40s, and showed no real signs of incipient greatness besides a certain flair for verbal pyrotechnics. Then, for almost ten years, he turned away from prose writing entirely, working as a scripter for television and radio, and as a comic books continuity director.

It was when he turned back to prose writing after this that he had his two greatest and most resounding triumphs, 1952's The Demolished Man (which won the first Hugo Award for Best Novel) and 1956's The Stars My Destination. Both were wildly exuberant and inventive, and are still incredibly influential, both directly and indirectly, today.

After writing these novels and a number of almost-as-brilliant short stories, he stopped writing science fiction for almost 20 years to become a travel writer, and eventually the editor of Holiday Magazine. In 1974 he re-returned to science fiction, but with much of his earlier spark lost. He wrote several more novels, some of which were interesting, but none showing the unrestrained genius of his earlier work. One, Psychoshop, was co-authored, after Bester's death, by Roger Zelazny, to no great reflection, unfortunately, on either of them. His most significant output during this later period were his still-insightful interviews and critical essays, and a few pieces of short fiction which seemed to be close to his earlier mark.

As an aside, you might be interested to know that the "Tension, Apprehension, and Dissension have begun!" that shows up front and center on the E2 front page every so often is a quote from The Demolished Man.