on November 14, 2001
I came to Alfred Bester's oeuvre long after he died, and when most sci-fi readers thought that Frank Hebert's Dune was the be-all and end-all of all science fiction. (I am not dissing Dune here -- that book remains the definitive example of what critics mean by "worldbuilding" and is a must-read in its own right.)
But The Stars My Destination is something completely other. What I mean is, the writing is crisp. Unlike Clarke and Asimov, Bester's Gully Foyle doesn't explain, he DOES. In fact, that is what makes Gully Foyle so special, both as a character in a fictional novel, and as the main character in Bester's fast-paced story. Gully, with all his anger and violence and baser instincts, manages to become a groundbreaker because he is not hampered by conscience or intellectualism. Gully does everything from the gut -- the personification of what it means to have a "fire in the belly." Consequently, nothing he does is boring. Gully will keep you on the edge of your seat, hungering for what's next. That's what makes this book so compelling, and keeps it compelling nearly fifty years after it was written. We believe Bester's vision because it is not based on airy-fairy, overthought "what-if" concepts that have plagued science fiction writers from the beginning. Bester's vision draws from our animal instincts, those parts of us we just can't seem to think away. It's a breath of fresh air, even today.
Maybe that's why some of today's most innovative writers cite to Bester's work, and this book particularly, as a key influence.
on March 24, 2001
As with other top-notch works of science fiction, "The Stars My Destination" is filled with insightful social commentary and psychological insight, is powerfully written, tremendously imaginative, audacious, exciting (I couldn't put it down and finished it in 3 hours), even very funny at times (i.e., the parody of scientific notation - "quant suff" for "sufficient quantity," the round-the-clock New Years' Eve parties and the amusing/pathetic spectacle of rich people desperately seeking a thrill!). All in all, an amazing feat by Alfred Bester, who wrote this book in the 1950s, wrote relatively little else, and died in 1987 a relative unknown outside sci-fi circles.
In some ways, "The Stars My Destination" is a visionary work, including numerous science fiction elements that have become standard nowadays (in fact almost clichés) but weren't necessarily in the 1950s when this book was written. In fact, I would say that Bester was far ahead of his time in his views on the colonization of the solar system, conflict between Earth and her satellites, the rise in power of massive corporate conglomerates (and the relative shrinking power of the government and national sovereignty), the disruption of an entire economic/political system by a mutant with unusual powers/characteristics (Gulliver Foyle) and/or a rare yet absolutely critical physical substance (PyrE), androids and intelligent robots, issues of mind control, identity, and memory (echoed in works like "Total Recall" and "Blade Runner," among other sci-fi works). Despite the fact that it was written almost 50 years ago, "The Stars My Destination" remains relevant, original, and fresh today - quite and accomplishment for any author!
Major themes of "The Stars My Destination" include: 1) the great power -- both potential and actual -- of our minds, and how in most people this power is sorely underutilized or misused; 2) the different ways of perceiving "reality," and the lengths that some - the very disturbing Skoptsky sect, for instance, which believes in living without any sensation whatsoever, and so has its members submit to an operation which severs their sensory nervous systems - will go to block it out; 3) the concept of "jaunting" - transporting ourselves over great distances (and even through space and time) by harnessing the power of our minds; 4) obsession/monomania; 5) various forms of repression (economic, psychological, social); 6) the "common" man vs. the "aristocracy," 7) issues of privacy, individuality, and freedom; and much more.... The bottom line is that there's a lot of "meat" -- satirical and otherwise -- here to sink your teeth into, besides the intrigue, mystery, and rip-roaring action!
And what a great character Bester has created in Gulliver "Gully" Foyle ...definitely one of the most memorable in science fiction. In less than 200 pages, Gulliver (appropriate name, by the way, reminiscent of Swift's character who, among other things, travels to all kinds of strange destinations and sometimes seems to be a giant next those around him) evolves from a pathetically limited, passive, dull, miserable, wretched, almost sub-human lump of flesh at the beginning of the book to a smart, clever, complex, quasi-godlike creature by the end; from a psychologically "disconnected," violent sociopath consumed by anger and the desire for revenge (a theme borrowed from "The Count of Monte Cristo" and possibly "Moby Dick') into a psychologically complex, mature, resourceful human being with a conscience and evolved sense of ethics; from a nobody to (possibly) mankind's greatest hope for salvation. And, ultimately, Foyle is transformed from someone we look at with scorn and disgust to a heroic figure we admire and even find inspirational!
The bottom line: this is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read, and I am just amazed how little known it (and its author) are, especially compared to far lesser works like "Stranger in a Strange Land," for instance (once again proving that life's not fair!). I'm also amazed that this book hasn't been made into a movie, although given how Hollywood usually screws things up, maybe we should all be grateful for that! :) Anyway, I'm glad that someone (a fellow Amazon.com'er -thanks) recommended this book to me, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you!
on February 26, 2001
Heck, what makes a 'classic'? Is it staying power?
I first read THE STARS MY DESTINATION about 25 years ago. I couldn't believe it.
And I wouldn't part with the book. I told all my friends about it, SF fans or not (probably converted a few in the offing). I used to talk about it, go to bed thinking about it and wake up right where I'd left. I dreamt about making a movie out of it - or at the least a 'Comix' book. I was totally, unashamedly, captivated.
OK, that was quarter of a century ago. Time took its toll. The fascination eventually faded and I finally even managed to lose the book... familiarity breeds contempt.
Oh, yeah? I re-read the book last week and was AWED afresh!
So what's so special about this story? Well, to begin with, the story itself. It's, er, FRESH. Yes, after a half-century. You rarely get to read such an original expression of a tired old idea. Which one? Revenge, surely.
Then there's the plot. It unwinds in the best tradition of the finest detective or spy stories. Parallels with Le Carre come easily to mind; but THE STARS can only be compared to THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD for sheer inventiveness.
There's more: THE STARS is, amazingly, a Love Story. What? Oh yes, and a very good one, to boot. Superbly penned, too. Mr. Bester's staccato prose reminds one of Hemingway, but if need be it borders on poetry with deceptive ease.
So what is this? An Oedipus tale, a murder mystery or Romeo and Juliet of the Stars? Surprisingly, all and none. It is an SF story from a Master who realizes that humans will still be human even when they will have conquered the Stars. Whim, disappointment, wrath, cunning, greed, hate and -yes- love will always be the mark of a man.
Is this insight into Human nature then that makes this such an excellent read? Nah, methinks it's a Classic because it has succeeded in setting stardards other creations will have to match.
on February 8, 2001
I was fortunate enough to read this novel at the age of 13--possibly the best age to read it. I was never the same afterward. I don't know what went on in the wild and wonderful mind of Alfred Bester, but there should have been more like him. This book is indescribable--a pyrotechnic, psychedelic comic book of a novel. I sometimes suspect the explosive wham-blam style of such movies as _The Terminator_ and the lesser-known _The Hidden_ were influenced by Bester's writings. Heck, for that matter, since this book was published, what science fiction _hasn't_ been influenced by it? The world in this novel is marvelously well-thought-out and realistic. And there's never been a hero (or is it anti-hero?) quite like Gully Foyle. It is quite obviously based on _The Count of Monte Cristo,_ and I suspect also _Moby Dick._ I sometimes wonder if it wasn't also based on an okay novel by Edgar Rice Burrough's called _The Mucker,_ which was about a brutal Gully Foyle-type character who
becomes educated and turns completely into a different, and better man. But no matter what _Stars_ is based upon, it is a classsic SF novel, and one that any reader of SF should be familiar with.
on June 15, 2000
The science-fiction in this excellent book is actually of the soft kind. 'How can it be soft?' you may ask , with Gully Foyle's agression and even cruelty so obviuos (?)- Well , looking at the story sci-fictionally , it's a story of a 24th century human civilization that discovered mental-teleportation , told through it's protagonist's quest of unrelenting revange. It deal's mainely in the humans and the society , especially through Gully's mental-state. the way he achived huge feats with his twisted motivation.
The book is an excellent action-adventure , Gully is violent , dark-mooded , unstopble and cruel. He fights against a whole society from the inside and in a way , wins.
What is so great about it is the way Bester created this world where it's obvious you can teleport (given you know where you are and where you're going) , you must file official reports about your distance-jumping grade (according to mental level) in order to get even a simple job!
Gully Foyle himself is one of , I guess , the most memmorable protagonists in all the field of science fiction ever. So dark , focused , unrelenting , cruel , fast and not-forgivin (hu-hu).
Any way , I could just keep on and on - buy it.
on April 18, 2000
Alfred Bester blew through the field of science fiction like the storm of the century, leaving little behind but making sure that everything else had to be rebuilt from scratch. The influence of "The Stars..." (still known in the UK as "Tiger! Tiger!") and "The Demolished Man" is unquestionable and, for once, their reputation is wholly deserved. When he returned to sci-fi years later the anger and energy had faded, but these early works pack a punch you will not easily forget. Nothing is easy here, no loveable rogues, no stock concepts, no cardboard sets: Bester raised the mark for an entire generation of writers and proved that sci-fi doesn't have to be silly. The only real problem is deciding what to read once you have finished these two books, they really are that far ahead of the pack (but if you're looking for a living author who comes close then I suggest K.W. Jeter). To understand science-fiction at all you need to read a little H.G. Wells, a bit of Asimov, a pinch of Cyril Kornbluth and the two works by Bester that turned it all on its head.
on October 22, 1999
_The Stars My Destination_ is one of the best novels I have ever read. It's so good that the first time I read it, I was overwhelmed by the number of amazing ideas and action-packed scenes filled in the book. Gully Foyle is one of the most wonderfully ruthless and tortured protagonists ever to be written. And the novel has no limits to its sense of depth and imagination; jaunting across Earth, Foyle's quest for revenge against Vorga, the number of interesting and unique characters Bester created, as well as his wonderful experiments in elaborate prose manipulation...this book is the very definition of compelling. About the only flaw I can say that the novel has is that some of the references are a bit dated from the 50's. But it's still so fresh and innovative that it makes a lot of today's SF novels seem dated. And it has influenced thousands of other writers, myself included. Along with this book, there's Bester's _The Demolished Man_. Another great book that shouldn't be missed.
on April 6, 1998
The synopsys above says: "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".
That's like describing _Les_Miserables_ as "Ex-convict Jean Valjean collides with the French Revolution. Lots of death and despair."
(Not to mention that the details of that synopsys are all wrong: the Nomad was not his ship, he was just a third-class spaceman on the merchant vessel, and Vorga was not a "rescue vessel", but a sister ship of the Presteign conglomerate, but that's nit-picking :-).
This novel is a superb example of science-fiction as practiced by the great SF authors:
Take the world as you know it, modify a few basic postulates, mix in an interesting plot related to those postulates, put in fully-rounded characters, and see what develops:
Several centuries in the future, jaunting --teleportation by will alone-- has utterly changed civilization in a span of little more that a hundred years. The old post-colonial Solar economy and society is straining on the changes created by a jaunting population.
Although jaunting is confined to the surface of the Inner Planets and Outer Satellites, the virtual disappearance of the transportation and communication industries has turned the commercial war into a shooting war. In an age where physical security is served by jaunte-proof confusion mazes, walled-up houses, radar trip-fields and elite private security forces, women are sent back to purdah, and power is held ---no, *gripped*-- by the political and economic classes.
"This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks... but nobody loved it."
Gulliver Foyle starts as the archetypical "Common Man", a cipher, a dead-end, though he has talents no one suspects, least of of himself. Being marrooned by an attack of the OS and spurned by his purported mates triggers a change that turns him into a human predator, a "lecherous, treacherous villain," "without mercy, without forgiveness, without hypocrisy."
Clawing to the top, he manages to draw the attention of the political, military, intelligence and commercial establishments of both the Outer Satellites and the Inner Planets. After tweaking his nose at all of them and getting away with anything and everything, they catch up with him, but more importantly, he catches up with himself: he picks up a "rare disease called conscience."
In the end, Gulliver Foyle transcends all the petty interests the Establishment is after, and realizes that he has the keys to transform the human race.
Tiger! Tiger! was my *first* sci-fi book (when I was 8) and it hooked me for life. As a matter of fact, I have a well-worn Penguin Books 1974 reprint right here behind me in my bookcase (if you didn't notice, I've quoted some of it :-).
Apart from the fascinating characterizations and roller-coaster plot, it's sci-fi attributes aren't dated. If you gave this book to a hard SF fan today who didn't know the book or author, he would be hard pressed to place the decade when it was written. (Granted, there are a *few* elements that give it away, but you get so engrossed in the book you probably won't notice them until you think about them.)
I really can't say enough about this book. Buy it now that it has been re-issued, read it, re-read it, treasure it.
on December 18, 1996
In the early Seventies, as a young writer churning out Superman stories for a comic book company every month, I came upon Bester by accident in a doctor's office and innocently asked my editor who he was. Turned out he was the guy who had gotten my editor his job 30 years earlier, and probably the finest writer who had ever brushed by the genre at that time.
Bester is tough to imitate; and I've tried very hard. He's at once quite literate -- might have written more science fiction if the field had garnered more respectability at the time -- and of the old school of pulp writers: mind-numbingly, self-consciously exciting.
Remember the old pulp writer's credo? ... If the plot bogs down, then have somebody walk in with a loaded gun. In Bester's case, somebody walks in with radioactive hair. Same effect.
Bester tried a lot of stuff in his life, but writing for a living seemed to be what he kept falling back on: a message from his Fates. Too bad he didn't write more books. He could have been the one who brought to the genre the kind of respectability he craved. This book is his best, and that makes it the best work of his generation of genre writers.
on November 13, 1996
What incredible news for another generation of science fiction
fans. Ever since I first read this novel, more than twenty-five
years ago, I have always included it in my own "Top 10" list.
This is rich tale of revenge and redemption set in a well-sketched,
complex future society, bouyed by enough semi-hard SF to mask [pun
intended] plot origins in Dumas, "The Stars My Destination" is a
catching page-turner for a captive afternoon's enjoyment. THIS
is one science fiction novel that would be a great movie.
Arnold, are you listening?
The central figure, Gulliver Foyle, floats through his life on the
bottom of his society's ladder, until, under duress, he exhibits a
skill that transforms him, and his society. In the process, he
loses himself, his freedom, his heart and his humanity, in an
excruciating series of incidents and challenges, ultimately finding
simple love and simple human bonds are the true steel of existence.
And society's beauties/norms/conventions may in truth be ugly.
As would be typical of almost all novels from this era, the future
society lacks obvious modern touches, but, overall, this book will
have aged well. The S-F, rockets/space travel, planetary colonies,
and the like are merely stage dressing for a psychological adventure.
But don't worry, this isn't a psychobabble baby story. We should
hate and despise Foyle, yet but the tale's end we are
cheering him on. Since, "feeling his pain," we undergo the
same transformation, and the stars are truly our destination.
Can I say enough? They don't make them like this anymore.