Demolished Man: Rewarding The Reader


Standard caveat, this is writing at the end of the month so contains spoilers for this month’s book, The Demolished Man.

Can I share with you my favorite bit of The Demolished Man? Of course I can, it’s my blog. Early in the book we’re shown a code book that protagonist(?) Ben Reich uses to communicate business transactions. First, as a side note, it’s somewhat quaint that the book conjectures a future where we return to the use of telegraph-style code books for encrypting business transactions. It was written in a time before public key infrastructures and strong computer encryption, and does not appear to foresee either. I’m glad for this, because the code book led to my favorite little detail. First, the code book as outlined in the book:

QQBA PARTNERSHIP
RRCB BOTH OUR
SSDC BOTH YOUR
TTED MERGER
UUFE INTERESTS
VVGF INFORMATION
WWHG ACCEPT OFFER
XXIH GENERALLY KNOWN
YYJI SUGGEST
ZZKJ CONFIDENTIAL
AALK EQUAL
BBML CONTRACT

Using this code book, Reich sends a message:

“This one’s confidential. To Craye D’Courtney. Send–” Reich consulted the Code Book. “Send YYJI TTED RRCB UUFE AALK QQBA. Get the answer to me like rockets. Right?”

To do the hard work for you, Reich’s message decodes to “Suggest merger both our interests. Equal partnership.” Even before he sends this message, he is convinced D’Courtney will rejected it. As expected, the reply comes at the end of the chapter:

The phone chimed once and then the automatic switched on. There was a quick chatter and tape began to stutter out of the recorder. Reich strode to the desk and examined it. The message was short and deadly:

CODE TO REICH: REPLY WWHG

“WWHG. ‘Offer refused.’ Refused! REFUSED! I knew it!” Reich shouted. “All right, D’Courtney. If you won’t let it be merger then I’ll make it murder.”

See what happened there? Of course you do, because I’m drawing your attention to it. However, if you’re reading the book you have to skip back a half dozen pages to get back to the code book. It’s not shown again. The only way the reader could know that Reich has misread the code is to flip back and verify it for himself. The only clue that something is remiss is if, like me, you don’t remember any line in the code book for “REJECT OFFER.” There are several extraneous items in there, but the biggest possible red herring of all isn’t.

That aside, for the rest of the book Reich obsesses on this one element. In his chapters it is the reason for the murder of D’Courtney. He is single-minded in his quest. Which is interesting as a reader when seeing his motive is all backwards. It rewards the reader for calling the character out, for going back and seeing Reich as the unreliable narrator he is.

This little thing, so simple as to be potentially overlooked on the first read, is even how Reich comes closest to getting away with the murder.

So thank you, Demolished Man, for putting that in there for me to find, and rewarding me over the long run for finding it. Details like these are what make books more enjoyable, they’re what make rereading books possible. Miss that the first time through? You’re bound to catch it the second time, slap yourself on the forehead, and say “of course.” Those are my favorite moments in books.

Got a favorite moment from Demolished Man? Got another book that rewarded you in the same way? Leave a note.

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)


%d bloggers like this: