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Book Review: The Stars My Destination

February 15, 2015

Suppose you were stranded in the scattered, floating remains of a demolished space vessel. Barely surviving by sheer will, hoping for rescue and constantly disappointed, hovering close to death for no less than 170 days…would you begrudge a passing ship that took notice of you but continued on its way? And what would you do about it?

If you’re Gulliver Foyle, a shiftless, illiterate, unmotivated nobody, this act of cruel indifference would galvanize your resourcefulness and finally give your life purpose. This it does for Alfred Bester’s antihero in his 1956 novel The Stars My Destination.

What this classic SF tale may lack in nuanced elegance, it more than makes up for with a headlong plunge into exciting space adventure. Set in the twenty-fifth century, the story employs advanced biotechnology, the presence of telepathy, massive corporate power struggles, a highly secretive and highly dangerous new chemical compound, and the common practice of personal teleportation, a skill uncovered and perfected by the human race over the last century.

Gully Foyle is quite the character, and his vengeful quest is quite the ride. This and The Demolished Man – also good – are generally considered Bester’s most important contributions to the genre, and Stars incorporates a few concepts that became common over the next few decades. While this novel has never received the film treatment, Hollywood is at work on an adaptation of one of Bester’s short stories, “Fondly Fahrenheit”, which can be found in this collection.

Wild and inventive, this is mid-century SF at its best. You’ll be anything but bored, so go ahead and strap in!