Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

A revenge tale in spaaaaaaaace!

The Stars My Destination

Berkley, 1955, 258 pages

Marooned in outer space after an attack on his ship, Nomad, Gulliver Foyle lives to obsessively pursue the crew of a rescue vessel that had intended to leave him to die.

When it comes to pop culture, Alfred Bester (1913-1987) is something of an unsung hero. He wrote radio scripts, screenplays, and comic books (in which capacity he created the original Green Lantern Oath). But Bester is best known for his science fiction novels, and The Stars My Destination may be his finest creation. With its sly potshotting at corporate skullduggery, The Stars My Destination seems utterly contemporary, and has maintained its status as an underground classic for over 50 years.

This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living and hard dying... but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice... but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks... but nobody loved it.

This sci-fi classic was a dated yet still exciting and entertaining pulp adventure that broke ground and used a lot of tropes that were not yet well-worn back in the day.

Gulliver Foyle is not a likeable hero. He's a low-born, gutteral, uneducated feral man, aptly expressed in the dialect Bester creates for the lower classes. We find him stranded as the sole survivor of a space wreck, pillaging supplies to prolong his miserable and hopeless existence out in the void, when another ship cruises by. Foyle sends out distress flares... and the ship passes him by, leaving him to die. Consumed with rage, Foyle swears to survive and wreak vengeance on the crew of the ship that left him to die. "Kill you filthy!"

I have commented before that expanding my reading list to the classics, to literary fiction, to books outside the SF&F that I used to read almost exclusively, has broadened my appreciation even for my favorite genre novels. The best authors, especially Golden Age authors, were familiar with the classics as well, and you often see them borrowing and adapting from much older books. It's a real pleasure to read a sci-fi novel and realize you know what this author is up to. So it was that I realized early, before I finished the book and before I read other reviews and the Wikipedia article, that Alfred Bester essentially wrote a SF version of The Count of Monte Cristo.

It's not just a copy of Monte Cristo's plot with a space theme. Golly Foyle is a very different antihero than Edmond Dante. He's a brute, he's a liar and a swindler, he's also a rapist. He's not a good-hearted hero who was betrayed by jealous comrades. But like Edmond Dante, he turns from an uneducated sailor into a wealthy, refined gentleman who uses his immense wealth to train and equip himself and become a superhuman vengeance machine, while capering beneath the noses of his targets of vengeance without them realizing who he is.

The story goes weird places towards the end - time travel, multi-universe hopping, and psychic powers, all reflective of the era when it was written. (There is no real explanation ever given for how all of humanity just learned to "jaunte," or teleport.) But it's a great (short) epic and deserves its status as a classic in the field

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, reviews, science fiction

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